After nearly two years, the global COVID-19 pandemic persists. Though vaccines are widely available in many countries and, in some cases, mandated, the same isn’t true for other countries. Then there’s the new variant, Omicron, posing relatively new and unknown threats while the Delta variant continues to dominate.
As such, getting ‘back to normal’ simply isn’t happening. But you may not have known that if you are a lawyer.
According to Kastle Systems Back to Work Barometer (updated weekly) and as of the start of December 2021, all industries but the legal industry in the United States have returned to the workplace at a 39.8% rate. For legal professionals, however, the rate is nearly double that number with a rate of 66.7%.
There are reasons for this. One, law firms are paper-heavy industries. Two, associates require in-person guidance from attorney supervisors. Three, old habits die hard. But – and that’s a big ‘but’ – the return to the office doesn’t mean a complete return to those old habits. Younger associates as well as many partners liked the flexibility of remote legal work and the better work-life balance that followed. They now demand some degree of continued flexibility. To keep their talent, law firms must adapt to a new normal.
Not only that, but law firm clients also demand flexibility. In fact, your clients are likely still remote and will stay that way for some time or to some extent. Nicholas Bloom for Stanford’s Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) suggests that ‘about 70 percent of firms – from tiny companies to massive multinationals like Apple, Google, Citi, and HSBC – plan to implement some form of hybrid working arrangements’.
The bottom line, whether a law firm or legal department is back in the office permanently or not, you have to work with others who work remotely. That’s part of the new normal: a hybrid work space born from the interplay of pre-pandemic and pandemic work spaces.
What this new normal looks and feels like is not yet defined. There are indications, however, that technology will be the backbone of this new normal.
In the United States, before the COVID-19 pandemic, up to 90% of law firms of any size (except solo attorneys) had traditional office spaces – that’s according to ABA TechReport 2019. At the start of the pandemic, MyCase found that nearly 80% of law firms started working remotely by April 2020.
Law firms’ capacity to transition so quickly was in large part due to technology adoption. Forbes stated the same when it labeled the pandemic as the tech disruptor the legal industry needed.
In effect, the pandemic did three things:
- required lawyers to retreat to their homes;
- forced law firms and in-house legal teams to reduce costs; and
- required law firms and in-house legal teams to do more with less.
How does a law firm or legal department do more with less? Imagine the scenario (though very real for many) where a few staff and associates quit their positions. How does the same amount of work get completed with less resources to do it? In very simple terms, it’s tech.
Legal tech offers effective ways to collaborate and communicate with teams, clients, and third parties. It makes attending virtual meetings and court hearings possible. It accommodates document management and matter management. What is possible depends on what legal technology the law firm or legal department adopts.
Until recently, law firms and legal departments have been slow to adopt new technologies. They see tech as a cost not as a means to reduce costs. They see tech’s efficiencies as a killer of billable hours and not a driver of revenue. They also see it as a security and privacy risk rather than as risk mitigation.
But the pandemic forced law firms to adopt or suffer the consequences. According to 2021 Wolters Kluwer Future Ready Lawyer: Moving Beyond the Pandemic Report, law firms that adopted tech quickly during the pandemic profited while those who did not encountered financial hardship.
Suddenly, legal professionals were faced with the need to effectively work and collaborate outside the office. In-office meetings weren’t possible and so real-time chats were necessary. The office view lost its appeal to clients while a curated digital experience impressed. As time passed, the novelties of remote legal work wore off while the conveniences, benefits, and drawbacks clearly materialized. A need for a system to incorporate the best and address the worst of remote work and in-office work was born. Thus, the dawning of the new normal.
By its very definition of incorporating the best and solving the worst of remote and in-office legal work, the new normal is legal work’s sweet spot (or should be).
The benefits of remote work is the flexibility (remote facilitates a work/life balance), the cost-savings (remote reduces the need for things life lavish office spaces), and boosted productivity (a 2-year study by Stanford University revealed remote workers are 13% more productive than in-officer workers).
The benefits of in-office work is the collaboration (being able to knock on a colleague’s door and pick their brain), document storage (having all hard copies in their rightful place), and supervision (associates get the guidance they need).
The disadvantages of remote work include security risks (is the wi-fi secure?), miscommunication (less in-person encounters create spaces to misinterpret, assume, or misunderstand another person or project), document mishandling (was a doc saved on a mobile saved to the on-premise DMS, too?), and poor client relationships (does you client prefer to interact with you regularly?).
The disadvantages of in-office work include the imbalance of between work and life (more hours in the office equals less hours elsewhere), long commutes (5 hours sitting on a train weekly = 5 unbillable hours), and lots of paperwork (back to the office full-time could mean back to the old ways of doing things, like printing, printing, printing, and filing all that printed work).
The new normal is a hybrid work space that incorporates remote and in-office experiences. Tech is where it all comes together. Using a platform where you can integrate your own system and benefit from new functionalities that address most if not all of the above benefits and disadvantages is the sweet spot for legal work. An open industry, collaborative, matter management platform is now the goal. Fortunately, it’s also now available.
At Lupl, we are just getting started. The pandemic may have indeed been the disruption the legal industry needed to move forward with legal tech and create a new normal for legal professionals. Just the same, Lupl is the disruption legal tech needed to provide a better way for legal professionals to work.
Lupl is how law firms and legal departments will better manage their workflows in this new normal.
[ Artificial Lawyer is proud to bring you this sponsored thought leadership article by Lupl. ]