As with many industries, the legal industry has been dramatically impacted by the pandemic — from small firms to big law giants. In fact, most law firms were forced to go “remote,” and this shift has become a permanent possibility as we enter 2022.
Lawyers have had to adjust to video meetings with clients instead of in-person meetings, and have had to learn how to collaborate remotely with colleagues, too.
Naturally, the Covid pandemic has created a number of challenges for attorneys used to working in the office environment — but it has not been without its advantages. Many attorneys are starting to recognize that remote work may be preferable to an in-person presence.
- Covid excised the commute, adding valuable time to attorney workdays (and giving them an opportunity to get more rest, too).
- Many attorneys took the opportunity to recalibrate their work-life balance. This has helped defray burnout.
- Many attorneys realized they could be effective and efficient advocates while remote. Productivity is increasingly measured by data metrics, and not by “seeing how busy” someone appears to be at work.
In fact, when some law firms started announcing plans for attorneys to return to the office full time, they faced a backlash of protest from some of their employees. That backlash caused a shift in the industry as a whole – with some attorneys seeking out new law firms that were willing to submit to the demand for remote work opportunities. This flux in the job market, coupled with a strong economic recovery, has resulted in a high demand for attorneys across the nation.
Notably, this trend — the “Great Resignation” — has affected many other careers, too.
But while many attorneys have gone fully remote, others have established hybrid schedules (establishing a mix of both remote and in-office work).
In response, legal employers are re-evaluating their requirements — but they also realize that working remotely may pose a challenge when trying to foster a “firm culture.” It can also pose a challenge for attorney engagement.
A survey by the American Bar Association showed that more than half of all attorneys are now working from home almost exclusively, which confirms the general industry trend. However, it’s interesting to note some of the additional findings in that survey, including:
- Almost 75% of lawyers missed seeing people in the office.
- 51% of lawyers found it difficult to keep home and work life separate.
- 49% felt a sense of disengagement from the firm.
Even for those law firms that are enacting a strict back-to-the-office policy, there is the further question of office dynamics. Will vaccinations be required for all employees? What about booster shots? If someone refuses to get vaccinated, what is their status in terms of employment? If they are allowed to come into the office, do they have to remain masked or have limited interaction? What consequences will befall someone who breaks the rules?
The politics of office returns are tricky to navigate, but most law firms want their employees to feel safe and protected. Many law firms are deciding how to act on a case-by-case basis.
Something that most law firms across the nation did not foresee is the “Great Resignation.”
American attorneys have been leaving their jobs at law firms and in-house departments, looking for better opportunities as the pandemic continues to grip society. This flux in the job market has pushed many American law firms to look north of the border, bringing Canadian lawyers into their firms.
Canadian lawyers are not a panacea, however. According to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) Foundation for Law Career Research & Education, associate hiring decreased by nearly 50% between 2019 and 2020. In 2021, many firms are scrambling to attract and retain associates, upping compensation levels to sweeten the deal.
As law offices convert to a hybrid or remote working model, how will new lawyers be trained (if not in-person)?
Industry observers believe that firms will have to invest in and develop remote mentoring programs and integrate new technology that is better suited for remote training. Whether remote training will be the effective equivalent of in-person training for new attorneys is yet to be seen, however.
Although some changes in the legal industry have caused friction, there have been positive changes, too.
Many attorneys are now staunch advocates of either remote or hybrid work models and are pushing for these changes to be more permanent, as they more closely align with their professional and personal goals. If pandemic numbers continue to ebb and flow as new variants arise, a remote or hybrid work model will offer the best possible flexibility.
According to a 2021 Legal Trends report, remote work is here to stay. The report confirms the reality that most attorneys want the option of working remotely or not – no matter what happens with the pandemic.
The surprising news is that clients themselves prefer the remote option, with 79% admitting that they’re more likely to hire a firm if it offers remote communication options. Law firms must adjust to what their clients want.
Despite remote communication becoming the “norm,” one-on-one meetings will more than likely remain part of the attorney-client protocol in some cases. So it’s important not to remove that option from the table, so to speak. The same Legal Trends report found that many law offices are choosing to reinvest their money into new technologies. They are spending more on online marketing strategies, communication and legal software, and practice management software.
In this sense, the pandemic has provided a gateway to streamlining firm processes through the implementation of new technologies. In fact, the legal industry was already poised to increase the digitization of litigation workflows and enable remote collaboration before the pandemic.
Interestingly, the Covid pandemic did not slow the volume of client work in many areas, and there has actually been an uptick in large litigation matters being put out to bid, inundating many firms with Request for Proposals, or RFPs (especially in the areas of security, employment, labor, real estate and bankruptcy).
The pandemic — and its consequences — aren’t over yet. Legal industry trends have yet to settle. How law firms adapt to those challenges and how they accommodate employees will make all the difference in their performance as the uncertainty of the pandemic still unfolds.
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