• New horizons for legal firms

New horizons for legal firms

As we move cautiously from lockdown into “ease down” and the uncertainty of what the future has in store for us, we are facing myriad challenges to overcome. The immediacy of securing prosperity for both employees and the firm, along with resilience and client engagement, are common themes that leaders are focusing on.

Law firms, more than other industries, were relatively well prepared to pivot almost overnight to a remote working model, with most, if not all, fee earners working remotely, and a large proportion of support and administrative staff too.

However, this hasn’t been without its challenges in terms of collaboration for fee earners and the availability of tools for the support functions. More importantly, remote work brings with it some unique issues, putting a strain on the mental health of individuals. A PwC survey reveals an increased effort in protecting the health, safety and well-being of employees, seeing it as key to safeguarding an organisation’s long-term reputation.

As lockdown restrictions continue to ease, plans are well underway for a phased return to the office. Expectations vary wildly as to the timeframe for full occupancy, but it’s clear that a hybrid workforce is here to stay as a lasting result of the pandemic. This raises the question of space. Some firms now require less space, while others need more. This has seen an uptick in enquiries into taking on flexible coworking space.

Looking to the future, with its inherent uncertainty, firms are prioritising strategies that will help them weather the storm and emerge well prepared for a return to profitability. Is there anything we can learn from previous downturns? The answer is both yes and no, as the impact of the pandemic is unprecedented, presenting numerous challenges that require planning for.

Some of the key areas of focus are:

  • Clients. Use this time to work with them as their own agendas shift in 2020 and beyond, shifting your teams to meet their needs
  • Relevance. Provide the guidance or advice that your client base is looking for frequently, and deliver it at pace
  • Billing. While fixed fees and capped arrangements are becoming more commonplace, pressure from clients may increase as everyone looks to protect their cash
  • Resource. Move to more flexible resource models that partner with outsourcing providers and explore process automation efficiencies for repetitive tasks and currently unprofitable workstreams

Overall, though, law firms have pulled through previous downturns relatively unscathed. However, it is worth noting that while some practice areas benefit from a downturn, others don’t fare so well. It’s about being able to change to meet shifting demand, continuously and consistently, and to pivot into growth areas quickly. This is where the accuracy of your demand outlook can pay dividends as we emerge from under the cloud of COVID-19.

The pandemic has exposed persistent inefficiencies in law firms’ traditional ways of working, processes that look increasingly out of place as digitisation takes hold. It has also triggered a rethink on expensive overheads, such as space and support services, driving the adoption of hybrid working models to flex with client demand. It’s better to provide enough resource for the quieter times and augment them with legal service and outsourcing providers when demand is higher. Resource-intensive processes will fall under the microscope as the appetite for digitisation grows and the automation of these types of processes becomes inevitable.

new normal workplace challenges

This will see a rise in the usage of RPA (robotic process automation), possibly supplemented with AI to provide benefits in efficiency and cost. Additional digitisation services will also be considered (if not already implemented) to drive efficiencies as well as mitigate risk should continuity plans be invoked again. These services include digital inbound and outbound mail, personalisation for B2B and B2C communication, accounts payable automation and print on demand, which are all available from Xerox.

Final thought

On a more positive note, the lockdown has provided something that has been in short supply for so long: time. We’ve taken a collective pause and have looked around and evaluated our lives, careers and relationships. Organisations, too, have taken stock of their priorities and are exhibiting greater authenticity and integrity. As mentioned earlier, as they focus on the well-being of their staff, organisations are helping to form the new normal.