By Legal Futures’ Associate Moneypenny 
The nation eagerly awaits news on the government’s lockdown exit plan and many firms are looking to the future to consider how operations may look in a post-COVID world. In times of complete uncertainty, one thing’s for sure – the Coronavirus outbreak will have a lasting impact on the legal sector. The firms that will thrive in future are those that put robust plans in place to adapt to the changing needs of employees and clients and now is the time to do so.
Over recent months, legal employers have found themselves in completely unknown territory, faced extraordinary challenges and had to respond quickly to navigate through the outbreak. The majority will have also been forced to make difficult, potentially unpopular, decisions for the good of the firm. However, with lockdown measures rumoured to ease over the coming weeks and many beginning to benefit from government financial support, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Legal practices that adopt these three key traits can lay the foundations now for a quick recovery and successful future.
Research released last month revealed that 55% of UK workers had little or no experience of working from home  prior to Covid19, so shifting to a remote working environment was a huge learning curve for many businesses.
By April, Moneypenny research found that a third of companies had transitioned to a completely remote team, with a further 16% saying that around 90% of their workforce was now working from home and 19% saying around 75-90% of their team was now home-based. And, despite any initial reservations, technical glitches or logistical hurdles, it’s predicted that the option to work from home will remain a lasting feature of many firms moving forward.
The challenge now is for firms to formalise their ‘quick fix’ solutions so that agility is engrained in their operations. For example, a skeleton office-based team taking messages or giving our mobile numbers may have sufficed during the first few weeks of lockdown, but it’s not an appropriate long-term solution in an agile age.
Lawyers need sophisticated telephony systems, call answering support and other tools, such as phone system mobile apps, outsourced switchboards and live chat. These solutions give firms the means to embrace changing styles of working, while maintaining their professional image and ensuring they remain accessible to clients. This is business critical, not just because another lockdown could be on the horizon, but because the last few months have made many firms consider whether they need their city centre offices at all. An agile workforce with the right tools, makes it possible to reduce or potentially remove the traditional office overhead altogether.
Firms that have demonstrated flexibility have experienced a much more seamless transition to remote working and this attitude will be crucial for those that wish to thrive post-pandemic. Whether it’s empowering employees work comfortably and productively around childcare commitments or partners’ schedules, or helping clients in difficult financial circumstances by offering useful resources; these acts will be remembered and valued for years to come.
Prioritising the needs of employees and clients over business commercials will be vital in maintaining their goodwill over the coming months, or winning back valuable custom.
Keep Culture at the Core
Strong workplace culture has the power to transform a business and carry it through the toughest of times. By putting solidarity and high morale at the top of the corporate agenda, legal employers can ensure that culture plays its part in a successful recovery from the outbreak.
Employees can be a firm’s biggest brand advocates and should be kept engaged with corporate vision and goals – particularly during times of uncertainty. Without the usual daily face-to-face camaraderie, it’s important to develop a workplace culture that can still function when employees work remotely and this comes down to two things – communication and collaboration. Supporting effective interaction, regularly checking in with staff and encouraging teamwork will ensure that employees feel part of a wider movement and reinforce company values.
Lockdown has been a catalyst for firms to try new tools ways to maintain the culture they’ve worked so hard to instill. At Moneypenny, we use Workplace by Facebook, which offers an informal yet interactive forum for colleagues to keep in touch with each other and up to date with company news.
Unfortuantely, many within the sector that failed to prioritise internal communications before the pandemic are now struggling with a demotivated workforce and widespread lack of accountability. By learning from their mistakes and putting in the necessary measures, they can boost employee wellbeing which quickly translates into improved client service.
Trust the Experts
Since the implementation of lockdown, firms have operated from the homes of their employees. As such, employers have had to explore new ways of working and communicating internally and externally. Some have found that the solutions they’ve traditionally relied on no longer serve a purpose, while others have discovered that the equipment they have available at home doesn’t meet the standard of that in their workplace. As a result, 38% of businesses have had to invest in extra software or technology.
Without the luxury of time and security of guaranteed cashflow to build and implement bespoke solutions, savvy practice managers have turned to the experts to support them with business continuity. For some, it’s been a case of capitalising on existing relationships but for others, new products have been investigated and partnerships formed.
Research carried out pre-COVID revealed that 70% of businesses planned to increase their use of outsourcing in 2020, with 35% planning to do so significantly . A global pandemic has only served to accelerate these decisions and organisations are seeking the support of professionals to help them streamline processes, save costs and enable employees to focus on core business objectives without the distraction of tasks outside of this area.
Investment in technologies – such as telephone answering and live chat – to help keep firms afloat during the crisis will become especially valuable post-pandemic. They will help to support new ways of working and improve client experience – putting themselves in a stronger position than they were prior to COVID and presenting a unique opportunity to accelerate growth.