Innovations Fresh Thoughts For Managing

Keeping Pace with the New Law Firm Work Environment

The outbreak of COVID-19 around the globe has forced businesses to innovate and change the way they conduct their work. Offices have become less important and work from home has become the norm. It's this sudden need for work from home is driving the digital transformation of the workforce and the evolution of the work environment at an unprecedented speed. 

Phillip Ernst
Some attribute this to new and innovative technologies that brought about this digital workspace; however, this premise is false. The mass adoption of telecommuting has become a vital business change agent since the outbreak of the virus. 

Many assert that the adoption of technologies focused on delivering a complete virtual workspace for remote users is a profound difference in how we worked in the pre-COVID world. They point to the remarkable rate of moving to virtual workspaces and the leveraging of service as a software (SaaS) platforms, especially in industries that normally would be adoption adverse given the nature of the business. The legal services industry is emblematic of this thesis.

The legal sector illustrates an interesting aspect of the digital transformation of the workforce, as it deals broadly with a variety of personally identifiable information (PII) and highly confidential information (CI). Understandably, the legal sector is risk averse due to regulatory requirements and client-lawyer confidentiality. Historically, the primary defenses of protecting such data were through physical means — access controls and door locks as well as network security via firewalls and similar. Today’s mobile and remote access is in stark contrast to the legal sector’s previous security paradigm. 

By necessity, legal firms globally have transformed themselves into organizations not solely dependent on the physical aspects of data security. There are three relevant elements that have assuaged previous concerns: 

  1. Security has always been a high priority for firms. The advent and evolution of multifactor authentication for any device provides a much stronger method for securing access to data. 
  2. Hosted virtual desktops, virtual servers, virtual networks and telephony have drastically reduced the need for on-salary, on-premises IT staff and hardware. This element also offers an added benefit by driving down capital expenditures. 
  3. Cloud computing is not necessarily a new construct, but it has evolved with more software companies enabling the use of their products in the cloud, such as enterprise content management, practice management, accounting, as well as the Microsoft Office suite.
Firms have realized that the result of digital workspace adoption initially driven by necessity has produced some unforeseen benefits. Workplace surveys confirm that 85% of law practices have reported higher productivity because of greater flexibility. It has also been reported that attorneys are experiencing an improved work-life balance. Finally, firms have a vastly wider talent pool due to no longer being constrained in hiring by geography for all positions. Job seekers today view firms offering remote working as more desirable.

Many of the challenges the legal profession has confronted over the past two years were especially intimidating to smaller firms or newer legal professionals. This need not be the case moving forward. Networking with colleagues and reaching out to legal technology experts can help alleviate some of the worry and clear obstacles. Managed service providers with extensive experience in the legal sector are available to help legal professionals overcome technology challenges or provide long-term partnerships that considerably reduce the time investment in IT. 

Overall, the global crisis that began in 2020 has yielded some unpredicted benefits that will likely continue to transform the legal sector forever.