Is Remote Working Here To Stay For Law Firms?

Today's Conveyancer

28 August 2020

Throughout 2020 businesses of all kinds have been forced to adapt, and the legal sector is no exception.

It’s one of many sectors that have had to implement remote work largely across the board, and it’s hard to imagine that going away after all of this is over for most, as shown in a recent BBC report looking at the plans of 50 of the UKs top businesses.

So, how strong is the case for continuing to implement remote/flexible working practices moving forwards for the legal sector?

The demand for remote working
Employees in many traditionally office-based roles are increasingly interested in remote working and law firms are no exception.

Lockdown life has given a lot of people a taste for it, as shown by a survey by the IT solutions company Atlas Cloud of over 3000 UK workers (including many in the legal sector). They surveyed employees from a variety of industries and sectors, including legal services. Despite nearly two thirds of respondents not having worked remotely in any capacity prior to lockdown, four fifths reported that lockdown has shown they can work from home effectively.

What remote working means for managing partners
However, Atlas Cloud’s research shows that employers must take steps to adequately prepare their remote workforces. Almost 60% reported that their employers should be doing more to help them work from home productively.

This appears to go beyond mere sentiment, as the survey also found that a quarter of respondents were using personal laptops to work from home, and that half of those were storing work files on those devices. On top of that, over 50% logged on with only a password, despite leading industries recommending multi-factor authentication for work devices.

But with its potential to vastly improve work/life balance, remote work can really benefit employee engagement, but that isn’t to say working remotely doesn’t present its own challenges. It’s important to adjust your management style accordingly to make sure everyone stays engaged. Effective communication becomes even more important when you can’t just walk down the hall to talk to someone, so it’s important to have the right tools to enable effective virtual collaboration.

Remote work can also vastly improve a firm’s hiring potential. Not only do applicants no longer have to worry about relocating to a new city, but it also opens up these careers to people who cannot commute due to physical disabilities or personal commitments, like caring for children or a vulnerable relative.

Wellbeing matters in remote working and law firms
A good work/life balance makes such a difference to engagement because of its impact on wellbeing. Lawyers don’t need this article to tell them that the legal sector can be incredibly stressful, but working remotely can help by eliminating the commute and giving these associates a greater sense of control over how they carry out their casework.

Again, a managing partner’s duty of care to their remote associates essentially boils down to good communication. Even though remote work is very appealing to a lot of people, those employees still value having a sense of connection with the firm and its other staff members. Making time for video stand-ups and virtual one-to-ones can help to provide the sense of direct social connection your employees need to thrive.

The impact of remote working on firm finances
Despite the steps partners should take to ensure remote working firm staff have the proper setup, one of the main advantages of remote work is its ability to scale back office costs.

Of course when people (usually those outside the industry admittedly) think of law firms, they think of huge prestigious buildings in the heart of our leading cities. But that’s changing as firms such as Slater and Gordon downsize to smaller offices, often in less central locations, in favour of a greater emphasis on remote teams.

Other firms like DWF and Clifford Chance have responded to COVID by going paperless as both a time and cost-saving exercise. This may lead to more of their work being digitally documented in the future and less reliance on a physical work space.

Then there’s the increase in fully virtual law firms, like the San Francisco-based VLP Law Group LLC, which has no brick-and-mortar offices. Each staff member is responsible for their own work environment, whether it’s their home or rented office space.

With the apparent success of this business model, it’s starting to look like remote working and law firms really can go hand-in-hand where the will (or necessity) exists. It remains to be seen how much the popularity of remote work will endure in the long-term, but for now, it’s looking like it’s here to stay.


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