How can law firms adapt to post-pandemic working?

Posted by Lauren Riley, CEO of Legal Futures Associate The Link App

Riley: The pandemic has changed clients’ expectations

As law firms emerge from the pandemic, they face the challenges of coping with its aftermath while settling on new ways of working in the long-term.

Many firms have coped well financially in the pandemic but the vast majority have done this in two ways.

A BigHand legal workflow management report in July 2021 found that “while law firms maintained profits in 2020, this was achieved primarily through cost-cutting measures and senior staff going above and beyond to meet client needs.

“As the post-pandemic economic business model begins to evolve, costs are escalating again, creating new pressures to achieve the levels of profitability achieved last year.”

Lawyers are facing a backlog of cases caused by Covid-related delays and high workloads are a major stressor just now.

A recent LexisNexis Bellwether report quoted one lawyer as saying: “We’ve seen some extremely high stress levels. This tends to be where working from home has been difficult because of children running around or other domestic situations.

“Combining that with high workloads and not having your support network alongside you, it’s been really difficult.”

Another challenge is that the pandemic has changed clients’ expectations around how much work can be done online and on the move.

Keeping up with clients’ demands was cited as a major cause of stress in the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division wellbeing survey in 2019, and that’s become an even more acute issue since, with some firms sending out pre-emptive apologies to their clients for Covid-related delays in their processes.

The 2020 Wolters Kluwer future ready lawyer survey found that just 25% of lawyers felt “very prepared” to keep pace with clients’ changing needs; while it’s no surprise then that 67% of firms reported investing in new technology to support firm operations and client work, many lawyers reported resistance to new technology within their firms.

Some 43% of lawyers cited resistance from leadership and 31% a “lack of technology understanding, knowledge of skills”.

These innovations aren’t out of reach: only 26% of firms said that finance was a concern when considering investments in technology, and the Bellwether report cited above found that 53% of respondents were still trying to or planning to convince key decision-makers to modernise business practises.

How can firms navigate this? Nick West, chief strategy officer at Mishcon de Reya, told the LawTechUK report 2021 that his firm thinks about tech investment across different dimensions, from “horizon”, speculative R&D work like blockchain and smart contracts, to “core technology”, which is about basic modernisation of business processes.

Tech investment doesn’t have to be big to be beneficial, and it’s illustrative that a firm thinking about smart contracts isn’t losing sight of the kind of everyday innovation any law firm could start implementing today.

If decision-makers at your law firm are resistant to new technology, you can rest assured you have clients on your side.

The same report said clients increasingly want digital communication with their lawyers via email or an app rather than in person, and 71% of clients are totally comfortable with video consultations.

It would seem the pandemic has permanently changed clients’ preferences around digital communication, and law firms should keep an eye on that.

Paul Mosson, executive director of the Law Society of Scotland, is quoted reinforcing that, saying “Covid has forced legal practices to go right back to basics and focus on the client experience and making sure they can operate digitally”.

He went on: “Practitioners need digital skills to enable that. Those skills are already in all the syllabuses in some Scottish universities and they are increasingly critical for modern day competence – we are evaluating how we meet this need for the future…

“What is important is that lawyers capitalise on the digital momentum created by lockdown and keep digitally-enabled client service and their own digital capability at the forefront – not slipping back to old ways when the pressure of the pandemic eases.”

One insight in that quote is the cause of these changes: should it have taken a global pandemic for law firms to modernise their business practises?

In the future ready lawyer survey above, 91% of law firms said technology has been “important” or “very important” for them in delivering client services during the pandemic, but just 30% say they were prepared to support clients remotely at the start of this crisis.

The world around us is not slowing down and the next disruption is already waiting around a corner.

As working life starts to feel slightly normal again, firms should take this time to be proactive about becoming the kind of tech-forward organisation who might have been ready to jump to digital early on in the pandemic.


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