By Legal Futures Associate VirtualSignature-ID
According to Lawcare, the mental wellbeing charity for the legal community, there has been a recent increase of 24% in people contacting them for support. In the organisation’s October news article, it states that “Legal professionals are feeling overwhelmed and stressed, and these mental health concerns can be exacerbated or caused by their work environment.”
Why are lawyers at risk from burnout?
There are a number of reports and surveys* which cite the reasons for the deteriorating mental health of our legal professionals, from excessive case loads and lack of management support to adapting to a hybrid working environment, all of which are unfavourably tipping the scales of their work-life balance. However, with Labour’s intention to introduce “right to disconnect” legislation should it win the next general election, mental health issues are currently a central topic of conversation and need to be taken seriously.
In its recent report Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain,2022 the HSE stated that the total number of working days lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2021/22 was 17 million days. This equated to an average of 18.6 days lost per case. They also mention that “in terms of occupation averaged 2017/18-2019/20, higher rates of stress, depression or anxiety were found in Professional occupations amongst others.
The legal sector in particular has been going through rapid change, particularly during and post-pandemic, in adopting technology to facilitate remote working and remote interaction with clients. This has resulted in it having one of the highest rates of hybrid working, a phenomena that seems to be here to stay but one which, it is suggested, adds to the stress levels of lawyers.
It is therefore important to ensure that our digital working environment is healthy and productive and helps to alleviate stress rather than add to it. With many people inclined to resist change and reluctant to add more to their workload, firms may find it beneficial to consult more widely with their teams before implementing new technology, as a way to get them on board and prepare for such change.
How can technology help?
An array of labour saving technology is currently available on the market that promises to ease the burden but what questions should you be asking to make sure it will be fit for purpose, satisfy stake-holders of a good return on investment, be welcomed by employees and easy to use for clients?:
- How will this technology integrate with our existing case, practice or document management software?
- Will our employees and/or clients find it easy to use?
- Will it give us a good return on investment?
- How long will it take to set up?
- How can it be adapted to suit it to our current workflows?
- Will we receive ongoing training and support?
Given that remote working and remote client engagement is increasingly prevalent, it is important to identify and pick specific areas that deliver the most value whilst helping to reduce stress. One such key area is Client Onboarding. This is also an area which particularly lends itself to automation with digital remote working and engagement.
Although the good news is that there are now many tools available for client onboarding, not all of them are designed in a way that alleviates the pressure and helps reduce lawyer burnout. However, the latest generation of tools, such as are available from VirtualSignature-ID are developed alongside lawyers and do make a positive difference. Their design of an all-in-one client onboarding solution that can be easily integrated with most case, practice and document management systems takes away the stress of dealing with multiple systems and tools. The design is aimed to not only help professional services businesses streamline their processes, stay compliant, reduce risk and increase client uptake but also reduce the effort and stress related to working remotely with clients. For example, a few clicks can start a client onboarding process, complete checks, exchange and sign documents all from within a case management system and have the data returned back to the system. This not only eliminates the need to have a physical meeting but also the re-keying of information which can be prone to error. It also provides clients with a much better and easier way to complete the required information and checks in their own time.
Another example where the all-in-one tool helps is in the chasing up of clients to get back required information in a timely manner. Automated texts and reminders take away that burden and pressure, especially when handling larger case volumes.
It is therefore important that professional firms, when selecting technology to help automate processes, look carefully to ensure they are not adding to the burden by selecting numerous point solutions but choose instead, solutions that are fully integrated and reduce the overall burden on the employee whilst still delivering measurable value to the firm and its clients.