KEYPOINTS FROM ARTICLE:
- The most immediate challenge for law firms in 2022 remains hybrid workforce implementation.
- The 2022 Citi Hildebrandt Client Advisory found many firms believe valuable hybrid models seem daunting and expect it to require specialists for implementation and migration.
- Most firms said in a survey they’d like their lawyers back at least three days per week, but only if hybrid tools are secure and flexible.
- Demands for Unified Communications systems include Document Storage, Sharing and Signing, as well as Real Time Collaboration and High Def Conferencing/Meetings.
According to the experts at Law.com (reference) legal firms faced a very daunting, unprecedented challenge when COVID-19 forced the entire industry into fully remote work in March of 2020.
Now over a year later, after several false starts and a few hiccups, Remote working has morphed into Hybrid, which is creating some new issues, while of course, at the same time, delivering multiple new benefits.
So, when Do We Return to Work…? Or do we?
As you probably recall, the return to office plan for US based law firms was largely scheduled for Q3/Q4 2021, but quickly ran into Thanksgiving and through the December/New Year holidays and eventually got pushed towards Q1 2022.
And well… here we are.
Some firm leaders acknowledged that there just may not even be an ideal return to work date, and began committing to moving forward with hybrid or remote mitigations. This was more the case especially with COVID-19 spikes in particular jurisdictions. Some decision makers have completely moved away from target dates altogether, opting instead to later just give notice for future return dates and to turn existing remote resources into functioning hybrid solutions.
Some even admit to enjoying 2021 office cost-savings so much, that they’ve decided to move towards (or even permanently develop) these hybrid workplace technologies and policies. Chief decision makers continue to agree that “a complete return-to-office scenario” may not even be possible or ideal now, deferring to policies in place before the pandemic.
One of the most noted expectations, the ability for attorneys to work remotely or in a hybrid way “to whatever extent it makes sense,” is leading the way as 2022 quickly comes storming upon us all.
And so it finally begins…
Getting phased office returns right is still the most pressing challenge facing law firms heading into 2022. Many believe the current norm of part-time, in-person work is presenting more hurdles than the initial wave of the pandemic, which sent most everyone home 100% of the time.
What Firms Want, is One Solution.
What legal firms want, and what they are willing to pay for, is one solution. One that provides the same tools and foundations for all employees, that is accessible from anywhere and works on any internet device. Period.
As an example of why implementation is moving so quickly now, is when NY Judges called for in-person appearances to cease as Omicron forced its way into their courthouses (reference). Many firms tell us that implementing a hybrid model is proving to be incredibly important and has risen to the top of planning and strategic implementations for Q1 2022. These new, primary concerns revolve around secure document storage / signing, the ability to collaborate in real-time, and the necessity of best-in-class HD audio and video platform conferencing.
Firms noted this delay caused by variants were somewhat expected, given the data about the disease itself and how it’s handled has been akin to a moving target. Many firms aren’t even preparing to have people back at pre-pandemic levels at all, pointing to how traditional thinking has changed on this particular aspect of firm management.
Hybrid? Yes, Now More Than Ever.
Noted in this recent Citi survey of firm leaders in the US, most said they wanted their lawyers back in the office at least three days a week and that the pace of implementing hybrid technologies was quickly starting to escalate.
They resoundingly agree the hybrid trend is “the most immediate challenge or opportunity, largely depending on how firms perceive it.” It is the one solution that allows them to continue forward and put in place tools to accomplish whatever is coming in the short term future.
The report also found that many firms believe the remote-only environment has damaged personal relationships at work and the culture ot sense of belonging amongst many lawyers. This is playing out in the ease with which lawyers—from partners to associates—have moved firms during the pandemic, often with little inkling of their impending departure.
Secure Document Storage/Sharing/Signing, Real Time Collaboration and HD Conferencing Lead the Way in Requirements
The fact that 2021 will likely go down as one of the strongest financial years on record is due in part to expenses remaining low after many office returns and associated costs were thwarted by multiple COVID variants.
According to the report, some firms found their initial investment in remote workforce technologies had actually helped break down some barriers of communication and that they’d like to keep or adapt them as they move to more of a hybrid approach.
Finally, thanks in part to these low expenses, the technology implementation funding budgets are surprisingly high for many law firms, and they are finally ready to commit to platforms that deliver these frameworks of particular functionality.
Brad Hildebrandt, founder of Hildebrandt Consulting and an author of the Citi report, noted in an interview this week that the logistics of hybrid work remain an obstacle for everyone, from managing partners to associates looking to move up.
“Only through flexibility and proper tools can firms begin to reorganize their technologies, and that a solid foundation resulting in technical equality
for everyone is paramount in development.”
– Brad Hildebrandt, Founder, Hildebrandt Consulting
This line of thinking raises several more questions, like how do you coordinate working if you’re allowing workers to be in the office three days a week, but everyone’s picking a different three days? And most importantly, how do you manage client demand in this sort of situation?
He further notes in this report that he expects to see more lawyers, particularly younger lawyers, going back as offices start operating at about 50 to 60%, because how does a young lawyer stay away when meetings are happening and when they’re not sure how this is going to affect their benefits or even partner track?
Technology is a BIG part of Where Talent Chooses to Work
According to Gretta Rusanow, managing director and head of advisory services for Citi Private Bank Law Firm Group, the war for legal talent is also coordinated with these emerging technological considerations. But there are other considerations that firm leaders must make when managing remote, hybrid and in-person work preferences, noting they didn’t necessarily have those competing concerns at the start of the pandemic.
“One of the points we make in here is in moving to this hybrid model, firms not only have to think about what their lawyers and staff want, but what is best for the firm and what do their clients want as well. It’s important to consider those other two factors—that’s not so easy when you’re in such a strong talent war at this moment,” Rusanow said. She said she and many others expect several different approaches to hybrid work to shake out during the next year.
“Whichever way firms structure their hybrid model,” the report concluded, “their focus on how best to assign work, provide feedback, and mentor associates will be critical in getting the combination of remote and in-office work right.”
2022 Sure Came Quickly
Following recent engagements with a top-tier Law firm concerning their digital transformation, it was clear that the legal sector’s use of technology is advancing at rates never seen before. This is in part, as we all know, as a product of our environment. The global pandemic has forced law firms to adapt to this digital methodology of working, as their staff, clients and partners have all been required to work remotely.
“Over the past year, no area has undergone more rapid transformation than the way we work. Employee expectations are changing, and we will need to define productivity much more broadly — inclusive of collaboration, learning and wellbeing, to drive career advancement for every worker, including frontline and knowledge workers, as well as for new graduates and those who are in the workforce today. All this needs to be done with flexibility in when, where, and how people work.” – Satya Nadella – CEO at Microsoft
Don’t Forget About Your Existing Technology!
Furthermore, with cost-saving initiatives being at the forefront of decision making and an ever-evolving list of flighty, often expensive platforms and applications to choose from, it can be easy to overlook existing, underutilized tools that firms already have. The question is, how can firms use the tools they have to adapt to hybrid working to offer innovative solutions that employees love? In turn, empowering them to communicate, collaborate, and be more productive, wherever and whenever they are working?
A good example of this, and a beginning point of hybrid implementation for many firms, is the combination of Microsoft Teams and the Microsoft 365 suite. As most firms are already using Outlook and Teams, they simply have not yet unlocked the full potential of all the tools in the platform. Beneficial as licensing has already been bought and paid for, many are missing out on the opportunity to collaborate securely with clients, increase internal productivity, reduce errors, and securely share knowledge and expertise.
Firms and Users need Solutions, Not Tools
Most noted by leading firms is that users need solutions, not tools and it is vital that when implementing Microsoft 365, considerations are made on how users will interact, learn, and embrace technology in a hybrid world.
Better yet, clients of law firms are very likely to be using these technologies too and expect modern interactions that are secure, and simple to use. Interestingly, many firms have publicly indicated or highlighted their decision to use Teams and Microsoft 365 to provide a secure, modern digital workplace and that to date, it has gone very, very well.
“Many of our clients have insisted that they will only use
Microsoft Teams for calls and collaboration for security reasons.”
Dal Virdi – IT Director at Shakespeare Martineau
At In The Cloud Tech, we’ve seen a huge uptake in technologies such as Microsoft Teams, Exchange Online and Intune within the organizations we work with. We have partnered with several to manage and address the specific needs of Law firms to help with the rapid shift towards hybrid working.
Law firms are using Microsoft Teams and 365 in several new and different ways to ensure compliance, drive efficiencies and promote adoption of these new ways of working. Through this managed, partner strategy, firms get solutions that provide consistent, best-in-class technologies that are complete with inbuilt governance, document templates, metadata. Best yet, document storage, sharing and signing, real-time collaboration, and HD audio and video conferencing aspects are all securely linked to case management systems.
In The Cloud Tech provides Unified Communications solutions that extend Microsoft 365’s ability to accurately create, structure and store confidential client information through process automation and intelligent design. With incoming new solutions such as Microsoft Viva Connections, Learning, Topics and Insights, preparing for a hybrid workplace should be at the forefront of every law firm’s agenda.
We invite you to contact us to discuss how we can help you better serve your staff, your clients and even your community through best-in-class Microsoft solutions for law firms and legal professionals. Please use our contact information below to setup a meeting or group conference and let us explain how managed Unified Communications services equate to technical equality for your organization and as attractive features for incoming talent, while at the same time creating winning situations over competitive agencies.
Read Part Two: How Lawyers are Using Teams is an Existential Change, not an Elective One
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