In a world marked by social distancing, the coronavirus pandemic has given new impetus to teleworking. Law firms in which this practice was not at all developed were forced to adapt overnight when Boris Johnson announced the start of the lockdown in the UK on March 23, 2020. They began to roll out laptops and other equipment and technology to their employees, which made many firms wonder why they had never done this before?
As firms slowly begin to carefully reopen some of their offices to receive clients, what might the “new normal” look like in the future? Is this the beginning of the end of the law firm as we have known it?
Benefits and opportunities about remote working
The "virtual" firm is born in the minds of lawyers via an ideological approach and / or by necessity. When a law firm is created, it makes sense to want to keep costs as low as possible, such as buying or renting expensive offices. This ability to virtualize will depend on the type of firm. While it is made up of senior lawyers, the need to closely supervise the day-to-day work was not going to be necessary, making remote working possible. In the event of the employment of trainees or newly qualified lawyers, it will be necessary to be more in-person but remote working remain possible several days a week.
Some lawyers are considering passing the cost savings associated with working remotely through the fees charged to clients.
2020 is a strange year to qualify, but it is also a year that offers many exciting opportunities such as consultant / freelance assignments and flexible opportunities that are becoming possible for NQs and junior lawyers.
Lawyers no longer have to feel that their only choice when it comes to working style is between private practice and in-house (or even in the public sector) and it is positive to see companies adopting working from home. for a more junior staff whereas it seemed until then reserved for the more experienced. The flip side is that unfortunately many interns and future NQs might be worried about this flexibility at this point in their careers and prefer the certainty that fixed hours and a fixed annual salary can offer.
The move towards working from home will undoubtedly influence the future of law firms, which will likely focus less on fancy offices and more on the talents and USPs of their individual lawyers. Has this particular year led some professionals to consider building a personal brand and boosting their social media engagement while we were all forced to spend a lot of time in front of their screens? Setting up a blog and publishing regularly, developing its network have enabled certain lawyers to maintain their level of commitment and activity.
Covid as a catalyst for change
In the past, the limited technology available simply did not allow working remotely. So there was no choice but to have staff working full time in a designated office. However, advances in technology have meant that a physical presence in a designated office is rarely required today, whether for document preparation or legal research or even for meetings with clients. Even reception, secretarial services and administrative support can be provided remotely.
Covid-19 has forced many law firms to rethink the way they operate and realize that previous concerns about underperforming staff if they are not physically present in the office were in fact irrelevant. to be. This has caused companies to reconsider their future and how they work and many seem to be thinking about closing some, if not all, of their offices and having a system in which staff work, at least part of the time, remotely. This has been widely hailed on various social media platforms as proof that the unstable old profession is finally entering the modern era.
It will then be interesting to see if the technology and the digital transformation of the legal profession leads to a disappearance of the billable hour and an increase in fixed rates.
The limitations of remote working
Despite all the talk about Covid-19 causing a revolution in the workplace and the possibility for companies to implement universal flexible and remote working policies, there are actually limits to what most companies become totally virtual. Physical contact is important even with social distancing and exchanges between colleagues are part of the cohesion and the feeling of belonging to a law firm. The model towards which we should strive is therefore flexibility and not "100% remote work".
To sum up, there is a real need for flexible working for some, but if the latter is truly flexible. A general policy of working remotely could do more harm than good, and ultimately individual autonomy should govern how and when we work from the office. Thus, law firms have accelerated their digital transition in 2020 but they are not necessarily going to disappear, simply to evolve.