Remote Working is a Permanent Reality for Law Firms, Finds ALA Change Management Poll and Expert Webinar Panel

Flexibility, Workflow Management, and Performance Tracking Will Be Essential for Legal Practices Managing in the New Normal.

In response to the pandemic, law firms have been faced with many challenges including the pivot to a new more technology-driven work-from-home (WFH) model seemingly overnight.  But are these changes temporary or permanent, and what long-term effects will this have on law firm operations?  A recent Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) webinar and poll entitled “How to plan and manage when change is the only constant” addressed these questions.

The ALA webinar panel included Murray Joslin, Senior Vice President of Global Creative Services and Business Enablement at Integreon; Kacee McCalla, Director of H.R. Operations at Baker Donelson; Eric Wangler, President, North America at BigHand; and Eric Seeger, Principal at Altman Weil, Inc.  April Campbell, Interim Executive Director of the ALA, moderated and conducted polls throughout the session.

Below are key poll findings, bolstered by insights and recommendations provided by the webinar panelists. Poll respondents were ALA members working within the legal support function of U.S. law firms.

    • 91% of respondents believe the changes in working practices, including more remote working, are permanent.
      Assuming the poll findings prove correct and law firms will continue to work remotely for the foreseeable future, they will need to have a clear view of their legal support performance activity and analytics, and leverage this insight to make informed decisions to ensure efficiency.  An example would be the proactive monitoring of the distribution of support tasks to ensure staff is highly productive, but not overloaded.
    • 75% of respondents believe that the current situation will accelerate law firms’ plans to change their back-office services structure.
      Pandemic conditions have presented ample opportunities to rethink attorney support, which is leading to accelerated change. Law firms are assertively and rapidly modernizing their operations and technology, and it’s expected that this trend will continue over the next 5 year
    • 74% of respondents either agree or strongly agree that COVID-19 has made their staff more willing to change their working practices.
      While many law firms are often reticent to change, the events of the last four months, as the poll results show, reveal openness on the part of law firm staff to change how they work, adopt new technologies, and refresh collaboration techniques.
    • Visibility of workflow and task delegation is the main challenge faced since support staff has been working from home, poll respondents say.
      With everyone working from home, the traditional model of walking by an assistant’s desk to delegate work or check productivity is no longer possible. Technology is helping firms gain visibility into what people are doing and how well work is moving through the pipeline, which was cited as the most significant challenge. Only 3% were concerned about quality of work, proving that firm employees are still able to perform in a remote model.
    • 56% of those polled are planning on treating each office location differently when it comes to return to work plans between now and October 2020.
      To cope with individual variables based on geography, comfort level, transportation and personal obligations, fluid approaches to reopening will be necessary.  Law firms will face questions about when they can reopen offices and whether to require people to be physically present.  They will have to balance priorities to ensure people’s safety and comfort while still maintaining fairness and quality service.
    • A great effort by firms’ IT staff made WFH possible and this is set to remain even as returning to the office is encouraged, say 42% of respondents.
      It’s clear that firms are looking for ways to better support their attorneys, regardless of where their support staff is physically located.  The panelists noted that many lawyers began to do more administrative work for themselves as they struggled to connect with their support teams.  As firms face more scrutiny from their clients about what they will or will not pay for, this clearly becomes problematic.  Plans for go-forward utilisation of legal assistants remain unclear with 24% of firms saying they will likely need fewer but 10% saying they will need more.

 “Law firms are changing and many are rethinking the fabric of their organisations,” remarked Joslin.  “The most successful adopters will be ones who are excited about changing, seeking new technology, discussing issues with clients, and embracing challenges.  The magic of innovation lies in the ability to collaborate and be efficient.”

 “Law firms have a unique opportunity to make difficult decisions now that they had wanted to make a long time ago,” said Wangler.  “Since it’s unlikely that people will be 100% back in offices, the long-term operational model will never look the same. This opens new possibilities for workflow, collaboration and back-office structures, facilitated by new technologies and strengthened infrastructures.”

In the near future, Integreon will be producing an ALA white paper including more detail and analysis on this poll data, as well as insights from the webinar panelists about change management at law firms.  To request to receive this white paper when it’s published, email [email protected].