By Legal Futures’ Associate Moore Legal Technology
Hope seems to be building that there is an end to the lockdown in sight. We’re still not exactly sure when this is going to happen but other European countries are loosening restrictions before the impact on their respective economies becomes intolerable. The predictions seem to change by the moment, oscillating between pessimism and optimism, depending on which news outlet is being read or heard at that particular point. One thing all seem to agree on is that it is going to take some time for the economy to recover.
Fortunately, as covered in previous posts, the legal sector is not one of the areas where business has simply stopped. There are of course areas where work has dried up, but there are others that are busy, so money should still come into the majority of firms – albeit perhaps at a reduced rate. If you haven’t seen our previous posts then I do recommend them to you. The first covered Coronavirus’ impact on law firm website traffic, alongside 5 practical tips. The second covered realignment, areas to reinforce and one significant lesson for online business generation in these times.
This week I was thinking that it might be good to focus on some of the positives to come out of this situation – areas of opportunity for law firms and lawyers. Perhaps the COVID-19 lockdown has given us some time to reflect on potential positive changes to modes of working, new skills we can develop and new markets that might potentially open up?
So, here are some reasons to be cheerful (more than 3) about working life post-lockdown.
1. Business Travel
The travel industry is losing big time, and, personally, I don’t believe it’s going to be just during the current situation. If nothing else, the enforced lockdown has taught us that a huge amount of business travel is unnecessary, which is good for the environment and our travel budgets. Our main base is in Scotland, but we regularly travel to London and other areas of the UK and beyond for meetings. Sometimes this involves a very early start, cramped travel and an array of expenses for one or two meetings. Travel interruptions can result in a delayed return and fatigue for the following days. We don’t see our families (which after a few weeks of lockdown may seem like a good thing) but the question is ‘for what?’ Why do we put ourselves through this?
For a ‘face-to-face’ meeting.
Until homeworking was enforced, I (like many others according to recent usage figures) had rarely used Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Houseparty, but, I’ll tell you this; I’m sold. Yes, there may be security concerns around some of the solutions but nothing that won’t be rectified over coming months and the main thing is that the technology is unbelievably effective. These solutions give you an experience that is as close to a face-to-face meeting as possible without all the delays, cancellations, logistics and juggling of diaries. A virtual face-to-face meeting is just easier to set up.
What’s more, the cost savings are potentially immense and that, along with reductions in one’s carbon footprint, are two reasons to be cheerful going forward.
2. Work-life balance and Presenteeism
The Moore Legal Technology team has been absolutely brilliant over the past few weeks and I’ve not physically seen one of them. The fact that they haven’t seen me after my sons shaved my head is probably a bonus too.
Every morning we meet for our virtual scrum where we talk about the work we have on that particular day – this is basically an online equivalent of what we do in the office – and I’ve got to say I’ve enjoyed it. We make an effort to communicate more and as such the meeting takes a bit longer than normal, which is fine because we’ve not spent double that time travelling to the office. We then get on with our work, using a variety of digital project management tools and communicating progress or questions via Slack, the instant messaging platform, and signing off at the end of our day. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the tasting and this pudding tastes pretty good; no time wasted commuting, no travel expense and a homemade lunch treats the wallet a lot better than a £7 soup and sandwich combo from Pret (I do have quite expensive tastes). Do the team prefer it? I think in some ways they do. We don’t want it to go on forever but there are elements of it I’m sure we will continue with.
I suppose the question I am asking here is; will you come out of this with a different approach to an office-based job? Where is the office? Does it have to be one place? One physical location? Will you be able to attract different staff, or talent, as a result of having a more flexible approach to working? Could it be like the new approach to business travel and end up saving you a whole load of money, helping you to make more effective use of a space that you previously thought too cramped?
I’m not sure, at this time, what the solution is for us at MLT but I’m definitely up for thinking about it, canvassing opinions from staff and working out the way forward to meet our commercial, social and psychological needs.
3. Serving a local market
What is the new local market? Small law firms (which make up the biggest portion of the legal marketplace) typically serve a geographically local marketplace, because of the perceived convenience of face-to-face meetings (see reason to be cheerful number 1) but perhaps recent events have unwittingly opened up new markets for you and offer you a chance to sell your particular expertise further afield through the use of technology and more expansive marketing? If you’re ambitious there is no reason why not.
If you’ve introduced online consultations, over-the-phone payments, remote money laundering checks and perhaps digital signatures, what is holding you back? Suddenly your market could have doubled, trebled or grown even more. This, for sure, is another reason to be cheerful.
4. Upskilling in technology
The first law firm I worked in was more advanced from a technology point of view than many we see today because it had a typing pool, as opposed to individual secretaries, but even then I couldn’t see the point of dictating a letter to be sent to someone else who then typed it, printed it out and left it on my desk to be checked – surely it would be much better if I simply typed the letter (which I would do as quickly as I could dictate it)?
This firm had a visionary senior partner who embraced technology in a way that transformed it and quickly he moved from the typing pool to an array of style letters that were automatically pre-populated from a database resulting in a vast decrease in typing requirements. Every case management system facilitates this but the truth is that the vast majority of lawyers will use approximately 10% of their case management software’s capability. You may have more time on your hands than you would want right now but my suggestion would be to use it working out what the technology you already pay for can do for you to make your life easier, your offering better and your workplace more efficient.
The current job situation is not one that anyone would wish for but can you use the decreases in staff resource to your advantage? Can you examine your processes and procedures, your software, and identify areas of repetitive work that can be eradicated through the effective deployment of technology? Can you do more, yourself? The answer to these questions will be yes and the results will be increased efficiency and a decrease in costs. The outcome will be a leaner, more scalable, more attractive law firm.
So Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3 by Ian Dury mentions ‘a bit of grin and bear it, a bit of come and share it’ and there are definitely parallels here. We’re grinning and bearing it and at MLT we’re collecting the data and trying to share it, but out of all of this, there are positives and absolutely reasons to be cheerful – news ways to make money, save money, adapt services, make more of existing technology and potentially introduce a better work-life balance, for everyone.
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Following recent requests from a number of law firms who are keen to keep things moving forward for their firms at this time, we have developed our quick set up Your Law Firm Success™ –2020 Toolkit . This has been created to deliver business continuity and growth and to help you make your firm more efficient and more robust now and for the future.