Will Covid-19 be a wake-up call for the profession?

Posted by Neil Hudgell, managing director of Legal Futures Associate Hudgell Solicitors

Hudgell: Increased flexibility is the future

I’m sure the past four weeks in particular have been the most difficult faced by most businesses – no matter how big or small, no matter what line of work.

Facing a situation none of us have ever dealt with before in the wake of the rapid spread of Covid-19, each and every business has had to rapidly consider its immediate future.

It has certainly caused major challenges across the legal profession, one which perhaps should largely already have been flexible enough to continue with minimal disruption.

Businesses across the country have faced the challenge of enabling their staff to work remotely. For some industries this has proved impossible, but for ours, is greater remote working and flexibility not the way forward?

When we finally have this pandemic under control and the working world returns to some normality, I wonder how many legal firms will be amazed at just how well they handled it and adapted to it over the weeks, or maybe months it lasts.

I imagine also that the most forward-thinking and entrepreneurial firms will begin to question the merits of simply returning to all the old traditional ways of working.

When the dust settles, surely it will be time to consider how changes implemented in such a rush could actually provide solutions and help individual firms, and the system, working more efficiently, and modernly, in the long term.

In just under two weeks, we completely transformed how we were working at Hudgell Solicitors, with almost our entire team of lawyers and all other staff – who usually work from four city centre-based offices – working remotely from home.

Fortunately, we had a business continuity plan in place for such eventualities.

We’ve also benefitted hugely from having our own in-house employment lawyer, keeping us and clients informed of the unravelling situation, and an IT team led by industry leader Nigel Stott who was ready to react at speed.

We did, of course, need to quickly invest in new equipment and systems to ensure all were able to continue their work remotely.

We’ve also had to offer support to staff with home connectivity to our systems, especially those who, until now had only ever worked in an office environment. There have been teething problems, but daily communications have been overcoming these.

As a firm we had already embraced remote and home working and long trusted many members of our staff to work alone when it benefits both parties.

We’ve also worked hard over the past few years to remove any bureaucracy within our business, opening up clear lines of communication across the business, at all levels, no matter where our staff are based at any particular time.

That perhaps made us better placed than many others to respond to this crisis situation, switching to almost 100% remote working at pace, running thousands of legal cases which had days earlier been managed across a number of offices and locations.

Moving forward, I’m certain increased flexibility in the way we work is the way for forward-thinking firms to stay ahead.

I’m also sure it will be appreciated by clients, who have come to expect more modern methods of communication in all walks of life.

A successful, remote working platform could perhaps help firms such as ourselves recruit talent more widely, removing issues with locality and offering the flexibility so many workers seek in the modern world.

The limitations our lawyers are currently facing in the light of the upheaval of the past weeks are more to do with the impact on the legal sector’s ability to become truly flexible, not ours as a business.

Yes, of course there are obvious difficulties with regards to holding physical court hearings and trials which need to be addressed, but they have become much more reliant on technology and video links in the modern era, and surely will continue to be so.

It is only the lack of flexibility across the sector which means we are now dealing with uncertainty over upcoming court hearings and appointments.

We are currently being given daily updates and advice from the courts which we are passing on to our staff as to how to manage case e-bundles, how to conduct remote hearings and joint settlement meetings.

I imagine the impact of the present situation will certainly accelerate our plan to develop towards an entirely paperless office.

The question which needs to be asked now is should we not as a profession being doing a lot of this already?

Much of what we implement over the coming weeks could well play a big part in how we work in the future.

The agile, entrepreneurial and forward-thinking firms will surely not simply view this period as a challenge they faced and survived.

Surely they must question how they have always worked and how the changes brought in as a necessity, could become common practice.

We are certainly opening dialogue with other parties such as defendant firms, insurers and all those who play a role in the longer term support of our clients to work collaboratively towards new, efficient working processes and methods not just now, but for the future.

It will be for the benefit of all.


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