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Strengthen Your Internal Communications to Fortify Your Law Firm’s Future

Prior to 2020, law firm colleagues communicated in hallways and conference rooms, on coffee breaks and during desk-side chats. Building and maintaining connections was built into our everyday routines.

Ruchie Chadha

In 2022, firms have disassembled, re-examined and rebuilt those routines to meet the new reality of hybrid work. But many still struggle to replicate a sense of in-office connection. 

A study of 61,000 employees at Microsoft, which went from 18% remote to almost 100% remote in March 2020, found individuals spent 25% less time collaborating across teams and also spent less time with "new connections” — colleagues they hadn’t previously worked with. We did our own survey related to these issues and the Great Resignation and found that 64% of firm leaders say the lack of in-person interaction hurt their practice’s culture. Nearly all (89%) of these firms work in a hybrid setting at least one day a week.

With hybrid as the new normal, it’s critical that law firms adopt effective internal communication strategies, paired with technology to enable greater productivity, foster healthy work-life balance and maintain the connections that make your firm a special place to work.


Communication isn’t the only aspect of firm life to suddenly shift in 2020. Even the slowest-to-adjust legal practices were forced to take their physical files to the cloud, accept electronic signatures and bill clients through online portals. 

This technology didn’t just help firms keep the lights on during 2020 and 2021 — it had a measurable effect on the way they do business. Our own survey found that more than 60% of firms that added client intake software increased their billable hours. And 45% that began using collaboration software also added new areas of law to their practice.

By adding technology that enables a consistent client experience and better teamwork, these firms actually grew their practices during COVID-19. At the same time, 22% of firms told us they decreased their overall hours worked thanks to new technology — they grew more efficient because of tools that eliminate manual processes, deliver a universal view of the firm and organize all matter communications in one place.

The bottom line: When every member of your firm can easily access every file related to a case, they’ll have more informed, productive conversations — without the “where’s this document?” moments.

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Initially, law firms may have worried that a lack of in-person monitoring would lead to teams working fewer hours while at home. Instead, one 2020 survey found 45% of professionals regularly work more hours during the week than before the pandemic, while another showed employees spend 10% more time logged in every week. 

This over-work, compounded by uncertainty, led to the addition of “burnout” to the American vocabulary. Last year, on average, 89% of full-time U.S. employees reported experiencing burnout while working remotely.  

Due to the nonstop nature of the profession, attorneys and legal staffers were already familiar with feelings of exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress that define burnout. More than two-thirds of firm leaders who responded to our survey reported personally experiencing burnout since the pandemic began. 

“Make changes based on employee suggestions and expert advice, including setting boundaries on when and how clients — and even colleagues — can communicate.”

Unfortunately, most leaders also told us less than 10% of their employees reported burnout. We suspect that’s because firms aren’t proactively addressing the issue and must instead create a safe environment for communication about burnout and mental health. Send anonymous surveys, host webinars with mental-health experts and be frank about your own struggles. Then make changes based on employee suggestions and expert advice, including setting boundaries on when and how clients — and even colleagues — can communicate.  

The bottom line: Open conversation is the difference-maker for employee retention and business success. While overall, 95% of firms reported to us that they were optimistic about their long-term futures, that number dropped to 66% among leaders who were unsure how many employees had reported burnout.


Routine workplace conversations — what one new study calls “relational communication” — naturally have suffered in the hybrid workplace. The effects: loneliness and feelings of isolation; a decrease in social support from the workplace community; and a higher threshold to contact with colleagues, among others.

The solution: Think smaller. Employees in Microsoft’s study spent more time communicating and therefore built stronger connections with members of their immediate team. And 33% of firms with two to five employees in our study actually reported a positive effect from COVID — the environment bolstered all-hands-on-deck camaraderie.

Help teams connect in smaller groups related to mutual interests — like pets or sports teams — via internal communication tools. Assign official mentors to new employees and encourage employees to form their own informal mentorships. 

And — relying on your firm’s legal calendaring tool — schedule an in-person reunion. (For example, at Smokeball, we’re in the midst of planning our second annual Homecoming week.) 

The bottom line: Hybrid workplace communications are inherently different from in-person. By reuniting around common interests and goals — supporting your community, your clients and one another — you can strengthen your firm for the long-term.