Global law firm leaders discuss the future of the workplace, client service and business strategy

October 12, 2020

The pandemic is clearly going to be with us longer than many of us anticipated and although law firms around the globe are learning to cope with a remote working culture, there are still some big questions facing the legal industry: What lies in store for the future of the workplace? Have client demands changed during the crisis and is this the time for law firms to make radical changes to their business strategy?

Clare Hart, CEO of Williams Lea, joined a panel of UK and US law firm leaders during the 13th Annual Sandpiper Partners Global Law Firm Leaders Virtual Conference to discuss the future of the workplace, client needs during the pandemic and building a business strategy to emerge from the crisis stronger. Here are the key takeaways from the panel discussions:

In the future, lawyers will work at home and come to the office to collaborate

Even before the pandemic, the law firm work environment was evolving. The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the pace of this change. The panel spoke of a paradigm shift where law firm space would be used less for solitary work and more as team and client collaboration space. The panel pointed out that firm offices still need to act as cultural hubs for onboarding new hires and transferring skills to younger lawyers. One panelist suggested looking to what accountancy and professional services firms, especially the ‘Big Four’, did two decades ago: Moving to an agile, hoteling model with few dedicated offices or even desks.

The future workplace is a hybrid model with people coming to the office on a part-time basis to collaborate, build camaraderie and forge partnerships while balancing home working. This model allows firms to take less real estate in major cities, and links to business transformation strategies. Firms that adopt such a model can become even more agile by outsourcing support functions such as document processing, secretarial, finance and marketing. If they layer in workflow and data analytics tools to measure and manage utilization rates, productivity, resources, they can build greater efficiency and truly transform firm operations.

Clients need faster and more effective delivery from law firms

Even with the complexities of today’s world, little has changed in what in-house counsel values in their law firm partners. “Service delivery, for me, is one of the absolute challenges for law firms” stated one panelist. “The crisis has brought law firms into starker belief about the criticality of getting it right.”

Delivery speed was a primary concern for the law firm clients on the panel. The GCs feel their teams were able to react quicker than private practices during the crisis. As one panelist stated, “A number of times a piece of advice at the eleventh hour would arrive too late even though everyone knew what the deadline was.”

The issue of certainty and honesty from law firms during the crisis was discussed. “There’s no right or wrong answer, but if law firms are not sure on something then they should say they’re not sure, rather than have us going down one path and then changing direction” said a panelist, as this can hurt the perception and trust between the law firm and client.

Data management, digitization, change management and process re-engineering should be part of law firms’ future business strategy

We’re in an unprecedented period of change, so it’s important to build flexibility into any business strategy. A panelist pointed out that their firm is in a period of “reset” when reviewing business strategy, “There were a lot of terrible things about COVID, but it has given us a gift of acceptance and acceleration.” Another speaker on the panel added that strategy execution speed will be crucial, “There’s so much change happening so quickly, partners would not be happy with a strategy that moves at a snail’s pace. So, we changed the period of our strategy down from five years to three years.”

Data management, particularly when measuring productivity of a more virtual workforce, should play a big part in a law firm’s strategy. Workflow and analytics tools, legal technology, change management, and process re-engineering, are some key focus areas. However, a panelist pointed out that digitization will also play a major role in efficiency and delivery speed, “It’s here to stay in terms of how we engage with our staff and our clients. That digital focus must now come to the fore with any firm.”

For more insights, download our instant survey report, The Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on Law Firm Support Operations.

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