June 15, 2021
“Be bold” was the resounding sentiment at the Sandpiper Partners’ UK-focused Working Differently at Law Firms virtual roundtable, during a robust discussion among leaders in the UK legal industry. Several topics were discussed, including: hybrid working, returning to offices, maintaining a strong culture, ensuring clients remain a top priority, investing in technology, and achieving operational efficiency and expense reductions through outsourcing. All agreed that law firms need to move forward in a deliberate, intentional fashion with a continued focus on culture and connection. Williams Lea’s CEO Clare Hart was among the panelists, sharing ideas on how to tackle workforce challenges through operational innovation.
Here are the top three takeaways from the event:
Law firms need to work harder to value their employees as remote working in the UK continues
As pandemic uncertainty lingers, the UK government guidance remains to work from home if you can. At the same time, firms are preparing for their teams to return to the office. Live polling at the event revealed that 81% of attendees said that their firm either had a return to office/virtual working policy in place or were working on one. Only 19% reported their firm was either taking a “wait and see” approach or have no plans to formalize their strategy. Polling also revealed that a growing majority of firms are building strategies that allow employees to feel comfortable when returning to the office.
As a panelist and leader at a global law firm emphasized, this should not just be from a hygiene and safety perspective, but also from a psychological perspective as he said, “there is a collective exhaustion and anxiety, and (as leaders) we really need to understand that. That anxiety might be due to family issues, the commute, Zoom fatigue, overwork, or job security concerns. There are a number of reasons why people might feel anxious. We need to offer strong security about the steps we are taking for the future.”
The panelists also agreed that equal appreciation for the hard work from lawyer and non-lawyer staff, whether they have been in the office or remote working, is necessary to forge a culture of togetherness and collegiality.
Change management and strong corporate communication are crucial success factors in a hybrid working environment
On the theme of being bold, Clare Hart, Williams Lea’s CEO, stressed the growing importance of administrative oversight for the proper functioning of the office and the firm as we navigate a hybrid working environment over the next few years.
Although there is a strong case for people coming to the office, especially for client and colleague collaboration, law firm leaders have recognized that to be effective, executive assistants don’t necessarily have to be sitting down the hall; billing teams do not need to be sitting near the CFO; and support teams don’t have to be near a managing partner or CAO. This has led to more activity in the legal sector around outsourced administrative, financial, marketing, and other business support services. However, an outsourcing strategy can only succeed through clear change management with strong communications. As Clare went on to say, “Change management, above all comes down to communications and communications requires a lot of attention and making sure that senior management is heard, whatever the change is, whether it’s the hybrid work environment, or whether it’s outsourcing. Simple messages guide people throughout the process.”
Clare continued, “the most important thing around change management is making sure people understand why you’re making the decision and that requires multiple communications on the topic, and then continuous updates on how it’s working and how successful you are being in the process of this change.” [READ: Change management: Today’s change agent, tomorrow’s hero]
Law firms need to be innovative with their clients
Law firms that can think ahead are only destined to succeed as clients would be willing to go back to those law firms who are proactive thought leaders and trusted advisors. A panelist representing a top tier global investment bank gave the client perspective on this, saying: “I would encourage law firms to really think of themselves as thought leaders and a creative voice for advising their clients,” said the panelist. “Please don’t wait for your clients to mandate how your working setup should be. Those law firms who very quickly provided insights on what the challenges were around remote working and what we needed to think about were the ones that we kept going back to throughout the pandemic, so you know, equally as we go back into the working world we’ll be working closer with them to have that eagle-eyed view on future impacts and challenges and will be seeking their advice.”
The clients on the panel also reminded the audience not to forget about the human aspects of lawyers, as we have all navigated through a challenging journey in the past fifteen months.
To find out more about hybrid working affecting business sectors including legal, download Hybrid working: A future of work brief, which explores the challenges and opportunities of this agile work model.
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