When it comes to positive change, sometimes we need a push in the right direction.
For the legal profession, that push came in the form of COVID-19. Law firms everywhere had to do things differently. But with the coronavirus’ influence waning, how much of that change will stick?
Alison Laird, Senior Director at Morae Global, unpacks the key innovation trends defining the post-pandemic legal sector – and why they’re here to stay.
A new way of doing things
For years, the legal profession saw face-to-face meetings as essential to client relationships. Travel was common, and when not on the road, presenteeism at an office desk evidence of working hard.
But recently, that’s changed. As Alison explains, the pandemic put paid to in-person meetings: meaning that lawyers have had to adapt to maintain those all-important client connections.
“They’ve had to figure out how to circulate documents, get feedback and signatures, and maintain that close client communication – when catching up over a coffee isn’t possible.”
In other words, lawyers have had to embrace innovation. The result? Evolution.
“All of a sudden, law firms were thrown into a working-from-home environment,” says Alison.
They’re realising that they don’t have to work in the same way they used to. That they don’t need a partner or senior lawyer next to them, or a secretary sitting right outside their door. And more often than not, productivity has in fact increased with new WFH and hybrid environments.
“It’s been a unique opportunity to ask – how can we do things differently? How can we re-engineer those processes while meeting and exceeding client expectations?”
Reshaping roles and sculpting new skillsets
The workplace isn’t the only aspect of the legal profession that’s evolving.
Post-pandemic life has also seen a shift in the sector’s well-established roles and responsibilities – and the skillsets required to succeed.
“New skillsets and roles have emerged: from project managers, legal engineers, legal design, and change managers to legal ops,” Alison muses. “All of which are changing the shape, look and feel of what it means to deliver legal services and client-centric solutions.
“We’ve seen business support roles evolve as client demands shift,” she continues, “firms are leveraging the efficiency gains technology delivers, and evolving traditional roles including legal secretaries who are transitioning into Client Liaison Officer and Legal Project Manager positions – offering increased responsibility and welcome career paths.”
But the onus of legal innovation isn’t on employees alone. Firms have been forced to rethink their own ways of doing things: be that hiring, onboarding, or collaborating.
“Law firms are exploring remote onboarding processes,” explains Alison. “But the trick is, how do we get new starters to feel like they’re part of the firm – and make sure they understand the culture – all online?
“There’s still plenty to do.”
Wherever, whenever – collaborating from all corners
Sometimes, innovation takes a jolt to get it going.
The sophistication of legal tech has, after all, been growing for years – particularly the last ten. Its adoption rate, however, hasn’t quite kept up.
With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, that changed.
“Firms are suddenly waking up to the fact that there’s technology out there,” Alison says. “And that there are different ways of doing things that are, well…better!”
Developments in tech are empowering lawyers to work remotely, and to explore novel ways of communicating and collaborating.
That could be adopting a video conferencing tool, such as Microsoft Teams. Or a document management platform for creating, sharing, and co-authoring encrypted legal files – in real time, from anywhere in the world.
“Technology improves consistency and standardises things,” adds Alison. “It frees staff up to focus less on the mundane, routine stuff, and more on higher-level value-add activities.”
With technology comes automation. And automation, Alison explains, unlocks an exciting realm of possibilities for lawyers.
“There’s a lot of tech that can augment the delivery of law firms’ internal efficiencies and improve client services. We’re now able to automate a lot of task delegation and dictation. And unshackle our IT teams from a lot of manual processes, as well as KYC and conflict checks.”
Empathy and engagement – putting clients at the fore
The workplaces, roles, and tech of the legal industry are all changing. But this evolution is by no means limited to law firms.
Clients, too, are adapting – as are their expectations. Post-pandemic life, Alison explains, is already heralding a renewed client need for tailored, user-centric experiences – and more bang for their buck.
“Now more than ever, clients are demanding better value for money. ‘What extra value can you provide us?’ they’re asking law firms. ‘And how are you going to deliver it?’”
Going forward, clients are differentiating firms not only by their legal prowess or reputation, but by their levels of empathy and engagement. On their humanity – and whether the firm’s values align with the client’s own. This is proving critical when it comes to attracting and retaining new business.
With the influence of legal tech growing, client demands are scaling in tandem. In 2022, tech-savvy legal service providers aren’t just desirable – they’re essential.
“Clients are no longer willing to pay junior staff to sit there and read reams of documents, looking for a specific clause. Not when there’s technology that can do it for you – in the blink of an eye.
“If firms don’t adapt and change – with their clients – they won’t get to work.”
The bigger picture – innovation for good
Utilised well, platforms and processes can reshape the way law firms do business. But to succeed, this infrastructure requires a third, equally vital element: people.
Positive change requires buy in and involvement from all your staff. Tech alone doesn’t constitute innovation – rather, it’s how those tools are adopted and applied at all levels of your organisation.
Before an innovative approach becomes mainstream, though, the right mindset must be in place. A culture and collectivism that embraces, rather than rejects, change. Managing the people side of change is essential to successfully delivering innovative initiatives.
Firms must cultivate a future-oriented mindset not where technology is concerned, but in relation to the bigger picture: be it sustainability, social justice, or EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion).
But like all evolution – and, indeed, all good things – innovation doesn’t happen overnight.
“Innovation requires investment,” Alison reflects. “It requires time, and the right mindset. That if something doesn’t work the first time, it’s okay. Firms need to cultivate a safe space, where staff are allowed to fail.”
The pandemic forced all of us to become more comfortable with change. To realise that evolution isn’t something to be avoided, but harnessed. Now, we need to take the next step, and implement those innovative processes and pathways throughout the legal industry.
To do new things – and start reaping the rewards.
Want to know how innovation might look at your firm?
You can, when you learn directly from Alison Laird, your Teaching Fellow, with The College of Law’s 12-week Innovation program.
You’ll earn CPD points, while finding out how to identify and implement innovation.