Past, Present, and Future: How will COVID-19 change the way law firms operate?

Agile Working

Legal Support Services

Virtual Support Services

Jul 29 2020

In 2020, the world we live in changed dramatically. The global pandemic shattered barriers between onsite and remote working. Our instant survey, conducted with Sandpiper Partners, points towards the pandemic and associated economic fallout driving behavioral change in legal services, specifically around who goes to an office, and when. Although COVID-19 cases in parts of the world are still surging and we’re not out of the woods yet, it’s still not too early to imagine the future infrastructure of a more agile law firm.

We’ve looked at four key aspects of the workplace – people, place, process and technology. Based on the valuable insights from our law firm partners and our recent survey findings, we see a rapid evolution, which can be explained by visualizing the “before, during and after” workplace.

The Old World: Before COVID-19

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Before the pandemic, most lawyers and staff went to an office each day. Law firms typically had fee earners and their support teams including secretarial, marketing, finance support and HR located together in offices in central locations. Technology was on premises and many firms hesitated to adopt cloud-based technology for security reasons. Remote support normally only extended to IT. Flexible working, due to millennial and gen-z lawyers entering the workforce, was gaining traction, but was not considered for supporting roles, such as secretarial, e-billing and marketing.

The Present World: Slowly returning to work after lockdown

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Now, offices are mostly empty with only minimal staff supporting essential services onsite. Most fee earners and their support staff are working from home. In some cities, offices are reopening, albeit with scaled back occupancy to support social distancing requirements. On premises technology has made way for virtual private networks and online collaboration. Remote delivery of processes and tasks is exposing pockets of inefficiency, as some support staff don’t have enough to do when working remotely. With fewer people in the office to receive mail or hard copy documents, the focus has shifted to digital solutions to accommodate traditional paper-based activities.

The New World: Greater efficiencies and resilience

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In the future, there will be a shift towards greater agile working with most staff blending office and remote working. Law firms will reassess their real estate and many will reduce their footprint in prime locations, saving that space for meetings and collaboration, but with some hot-desking space for fee earners and support staff. Processes will be centralized with more support functions virtualized and outsourced to less expensive onshore and offshore locations. To accommodate this, law firms will adopt workflow tools with data analytics that deliver informed decisions on productivity, particularly for support staff who aren’t measured through billable hours.

Our research tells us there is no doubt the COVID-19 crisis has altered the law firm operating landscape. Firms are looking at the big picture, instituting measures that will enable them to address business obstacles and ultimately thrive in a post-pandemic world. Law firms are looking at centralizing functions to reduce costs through economies of scale, drive growth, and improve their bottom line. The future will be more than just about managing costs. It will be about improving efficiency, optimizing productivity and building a more resilient business to withstand future impacts.

To find out more, download our instant survey results, The Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on Law Firm Support Operations.

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