Mobliciti hosted part III of their “Legal in Lockdown” strategy discussion with 13 delegates, each providing representation from separate top 50 firms.
The session began with a recap of the previous discussion points, including where we were back in June: the home-business network, virtual meetings, the office of the future, business continuity planning and initial learnings.
For part III, the focus was on lessons learnt from the past 6 months, the brief return to the office, considerations for home working and key priorities moving forward.
Back to Normal-ish?
Since the last discussion on the 17th June, there have been some mixed messages from the government concerning working from the office. Whilst many Law firms had started to make the transition back to the office, the most recent announcement has pushed employees back to the home office.
Legal itself has always had a strong presenteeism culture, a sentiment which was echoed around the group. However, because of this forced work from home, it has shown that firms can work effectively away from the office.
Karen Jacks, Bird & Bird commented that a focus group were engaging with each country to discuss the future workplace post-COVID-19 and many countries indicated that a more agile workplace was likely.
Another IT Director agreed, saying:
Tony McKenna, Howard Kennedy stated:
Holman Fenwick Willans’, Mark Parr, stated that back in September they encouraged their staff to work from the office and only around 12 people began to and more recently, despite the recent announcements, there’s now around 50 coming to the office, which surprised them.
However, regardless of location, productivity and output initially appear not to have changed. Chris Browne, Slaughter & May said:
One delegate said, “I think the novelty of working from home has almost exclusively worn off,” which then prompted similar views from the wider group. The general feeling was that people are ‘tired & bored’ and so more consistent numbers are starting to work from the office once again.
However, with the announcement on the 31st October, it will be interesting to see how many people continue to go to the office even during this 1-month lockdown.
What About the People?
This was a question asked during the discussion and a concern which was shared amongst delegates, specifically in relation to those more junior within the firm. Chris Browne stated:
Comments arose from many around learning from osmosis and how will they learn from those around them if not situated in an office together?
The debate then continued with how Lawyers needed to find new ways to coach and mentor now that teams are likely to be remote for at least 50% of their working week.
The conversation moved onto how the lack of face-to-face communication is challenging, particularly for those with certain disabilities and that people are missing out on being able to support their teams by reading body language.
David Aird has invested time with his team specifically in supporting them to try and really understand them and how they are feeling.
Mark Parr agreed with David’s approach and said:
The final thoughts on this subject were that everything is doable with technology, but you miss the subtleties of in-person communication. This is especially poignant for junior members of the profession as they benefit from the interaction with their mentors and managers.
It is now more important than ever to ensure that extra time is spent with team members. People need people and one thing that lockdown has shown is that people can feel extremely isolated when working from home and often struggle to talk about it. As many of our attendees said, spending that extra time with team members trying to understand and help them is a crucial business skill and helps to increase morale during this trying time.
And Back to Collaboration Tools
Collaboration tools have been a key topic of discussion within all parts of the ‘Legal in Lockdown’ series, and the agenda once again moved to this hotly debated topic during part III.
Since day 1, conferencing tools have been a key part of a firm’s day-to-day communication. Andrew Powell, Macfarlanes stated that they went from “100 Zoom meetings a month to over 7,500.”
Users are requesting a greater choice of conferencing tools and so firms have had to roll out the software of choice quickly to meet needs. However, IT teams are also finding that users are requesting software without a real definition of what the requirements are.
One IT Director said:
A number of firms now support both Teams and Zoom; however, this can cause confusion with some lawyers sending out links on both platforms for the same meeting.
Whilst it is important to take on the views of staff regarding platform choice, Law firms need to ensure they have a clear strategy when it comes to collaboration tools, ensuring that all staff understand which platform to use at any given time and how each platform works.
Firms are starting to look forward and see that change can happen during COVID restrictions, “the legal sector was down on itself and were backwards in certain instances but we were actually ahead of the game compared to organisations in other verticals.”
However, not all firms feel that change has happened smoothly whilst remote:
Many agreed that they have a window of opportunity right now but are coming up against a number of compliance challenges, therefore they need to look at the lessons learnt from previous deployments and consider what the requirements are for the firm moving forward. The key takeaway is not to rush.
In general, IT teams are still working to the best of their abilities and the credibility that IT teams have received has been positive and great to receive.
So, What’s Next?
From a tech perspective, firms have adapted and worked well from day 1 and now they are considering the future and the increasing reliance on technology to shape businesses.
Echoing the sentiment from a previous ‘Legal in Lockdown’ discussion, change should be embraced before firms revert to their old way of working.
With staff welfare also high on the agenda, technology will undoubtedly play a critical role in legal over the coming months and beyond.
So, where do Law firms go from here? The first ‘Legal After Lockdown’ discussion scheduled for December will move this topic forward and start to look at plans for 2021.