Remote Working is a Permanent Reality for Law Firms, Finds ALA Change Management Poll and Expert Webinar Panel
Flexibility, Workflow Management, and Performance Tracking Will Be Essential for Legal Practices Managing in the New Normal
Below are key poll findings, bolstered by insights and recommendations provided by the webinar panelists. Poll respondents were ALA members working within the legal support function of U.S. law firms.
- 91% of respondents believe the changes in working practices, including more remote working, are permanent.
Assuming the poll findings prove correct and law firms will continue to work remotely for
the foreseeable future, they will need to have a clear view of their legal support
performance activity and analytics, and leverage this insight to make informed decisions
to ensure efficiency. An example would be the proactive monitoring of the distribution of
support tasks to ensure staff is highly productive, but not overloaded.
- 75% of respondents believe that the current situation will accelerate law firms’ plans to change their back-office services structure.
Pandemic conditions have presented ample opportunities to rethink attorney support,
which is leading to accelerated change. Law firms are assertively and rapidly
modernizing their operations and technology, and it’s expected that this trend will
continue over the next 5 years.
- 74% of respondents either agree or strongly agree that COVID-19 has made their staff more willing to change their working practices.
While many law firms are often reticent to change, the events of the last four months, as
the poll results show, reveal openness on the part of law firm staff to change how they
work, adopt new technologies, and refresh collaboration techniques.
- Visibility of workflow and task delegation is the main challenge faced since
support staff has been working from home, poll respondents say.
With everyone working from home, the traditional model of walking by an assistant’s
desk to delegate work or check productivity is no longer possible. Technology is
helping firms gain visibility into what people are doing and how well work is moving
through the pipeline, which was cited as the most significant challenge. Only 3% were
concerned about quality of work, proving that firm employees are still able to perform in
a remote model.
- 56% of those polled are planning on treating each office location differently when it comes to return to work plans between now and October 2020.
To cope with individual variables based on geography, comfort level, transportation and
personal obligations, fluid approaches to reopening will be necessary. Law firms will
face questions about when they can reopen offices and whether to require people to be
physically present. They will have to balance priorities to ensure people’s safety and
comfort while still maintaining fairness and quality service.
- A great effort by firms’ IT staff made WFH possible and this is set to remain even
as returning to the office is encouraged, say 42% of respondents.
It’s clear that firms are looking for ways to better support their attorneys, regardless of
where their support staff is physically located. The panelists noted that many lawyers
began to do more administrative work for themselves as they struggled to connect with
their support teams. As firms face more scrutiny from their clients about what they will
or will not pay for, this clearly becomes problematic. Plans for go-forward utilization of
legal assistants remain unclear with 24% of firms saying they will likely need fewer but
10% saying they will need more.