Within the span of a week in March, the COVID-19 pandemic brought more change to the legal profession than had been seen in the prior decade. Nearly overnight, many judges who once insisted on in-person status conferences now allow litigants and their counsel to check in by phone. And concerned with clogged dockets due to shutdowns, courts are experimenting with civil hearings via Zoom and encouraging online mediation. Meanwhile, attorneys are practicing remotely, meeting with clients virtually, and notarizing documents and arguing cases online.
Fortunately, many firms have already seen the writing on the wall. A recent survey by MyCase shows that approximately 70% of law firms agree that COVID-19 will have a lasting way on how law firms operate and courts function.
Just as fortuitously, many firms are ready for what lies ahead. Data collected by MyCase is instructive: over 80% of law firms surveyed have transitioned to working remotely some or all of the time.
Remarkably, nearly half of the firms surveyed moved from office to home in less than a day.
The ease with which firms have transitioned to home-based practice suggests that pre-COVID, most firms had the way, but not the will to work remotely.
Remote Work is Here to Stay, But How Will That Look?
Over the past decade, remote work has come a long way. Post-pandemic, remote work is here to stay—if only because employees will begin to demand that option. In fact, over half of the lawyers surveyed were unsure as to whether they would ever allow staff to return to practice in a physical office.
Cloud-based practice management tools and online billing solutions are a key component of a remote workplace. But transitioning to the cloud is the beginning, rather than the end of post-pandemic practice. More importantly, firms must start thinking strategically about how to maximize the use of cloud-based tools in anticipation of increased absences caused by COVID-19.
As lawyers acclimate to remote work life, they must also consider what kind of work culture they want to build for the long term. Some firms have chosen to replicate the vestiges of the office online by maintaining strict dress codes, strict schedules, and daily check-ins for employees—though evidence suggests that the old school approach isn’t particularly effective in today’s circumstances. Other firms have discovered that employees work better when dressed casually or trusted to get the work done on time even if outside of the confines of the traditional 9-5 schedule.
Firms can take other steps to reduce stress on lawyers and employees so that they can work more productively.
Twenty percent of lawyers surveyed reported having trouble meeting billable hour goals, at least in part due to difficulty in focusing in a new home environment under the added stress of financial uncertainty. These are problems that lawyers can—and, indeed, must—manage for themselves and employees. As many firms downsize their real estate footprint or relocate to cheaper suburban dig, they can reinvest the resulting cost savings to purchase monitors or other technology hardware for home-based staff or pay for employees to order lunch a few times a month or participate in online coaching and mindfulness sessions. These small comforts can go a long way to improving your focus and boosting firm morale.
We’ve discussed how remote offices may impact lawyers—but equally important is what lawyers must do to serve clients. Because many clients have been shopping, banking, and dating online for a decade, they are already comfortable with online self-scheduling, completing intake forms, uploading information to an attorney through a client portal, making online payments, e-signing documents online, and communicating with their attorney online.
Transition With Ease
Spodek Law Group P.C. was able to transition to a fully remote business with little effort, managing finances, staff, clients, and cases with limited face-to-face interaction. Learn how.