How Will Coronavirus Change Law Firms?

The Coronavirus pandemic has rapidly changed all our lives, both in terms of work and home. The legal profession will, along with other sectors, face enormous challenges and opportunities dealing with the continuing pandemic and as we hopefully move into a post-Covid-19 world in 2021.

Homeworking is now accepted

One area which has dramatically changed as a consequence of Coronavirus, is the acceptance of homeworking. The pandemic has provided a platform to mitigate employers’ fears that productivity will drop if most employees forgo the office.

In a webinar, Lockdown: Tackling the agile challenge , representatives from law firms DWF and newly-merged South-East firm Moore Barlow, along with experts from Moneypenny, a major telephone answering and live chat provider, and Claremont, (workplace interior designers), provided insights into how their firms were managing the shift to homeworking.

Karl Warmbold, DWF’s director of facilities, property, and procurement, said the firm was already some way down the road towards implementing agile working, with 40% of the firm’s total 4,500 staff engaging with the practice. A fully digital mailroom was also being considered.

Mr Warmbold confirmed that the pandemic had accelerated the agile-working process. The firm reopened offices on 1 June with only around 7% occupation, mainly people operating under financial regulation and those who for their wellbeing, wanted to return to the office.

“Crystal ball gazing I think we’ll end up with plus or minus 80% of our population remaining as some kind of permanent homeworkers or transient workers – for instance, those who work three days at home and two days in the office.”

More women moving into senior management and partnership

An unexpected opportunity that homeworking may provide is that women, who are underrepresented in senior positions in city law firms, may feel more confident in accepting partnership roles. The long hours, evening networking events, and travel required at senior levels, not just in law but other white-collar professions, results in many working mothers feeling that career progression to this level impacts their ability to be available for their children. Being able to work from home, ditching the commute, and embracing online meetings and networking will transform working mothers’ possibilities. And as more women taking on senior roles, the gender pay gap will decrease more swiftly.

This hypothesis has been supported by Ghazala Azmat, Professor of Economics, Sciences Po; Research Associate, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE et al. who, after analysing the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on presenteeism at work and gender inequality, concluded :

“In the longer run, however, this crisis might actually help to reduce gender inequality. Over this period, many firms have invested a great deal in internal reorganisation because of the need to accommodate for working from home. While this reorganisation is likely to have come at a cost, by targeting the organisations’ structure in such a way that tasks are performed in a satisfactory way from home, it can make it less costly for those holding a unique job to not be present in the workplace. By changing the infrastructure in such a way that it reduces the penalty for an unpredictable absence (because of say, caring for a sick child), firms could thus inadvertently help to reduce the associated gender disparities it generates.”

Investment in technology

The Coronavirus pandemic has hastened the requirement for technology investment. Law firms that did well during 2020, quickly recognised that the firm’s website was the key tool for customer engagement.

Bernadette Bennett, Moneypenny’s head of legal, commented on the Lockdown webinar :

“Your website will become your friend that’s the face of your business now, but you have to make it easy enough for clients to know how to get in touch with you.”

Videos, livechat, blogs, social media engagement, and an easy to navigate website are now essential tools for successful legal practices.

Wrapping up

None of us knows the full extent of the impact Coronavirus (and Brexit) will have on the legal profession. But one thing is certain, the coming few years will remain ‘interesting times’.

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