Law firm DEI and company culture in a hybrid working world: Top takeaways from Sandpiper’s London Legal Conference, June 2021

In June, law firm leaders across the UK met to discuss key topics and trends in diversity, equity and inclusion, hybrid working, and firm culture at Sandpiper’s latest virtual conference.

Throughout the entire afternoon, there were some very interesting discussions on a number of topics, and some key discussions that shone through as something firms are actively addressing now, along with strong opinions on what the best strategies are to ensure success.

  • The Coronavirus pandemic has shone a huge light on the need for legal work allocation to be managed in a much more effective way. Not having a framework for legal task delegation, or data on resource capacity is causing a number of challenges. Firms see this as a way of being more efficient and have a much more granular view and predictability (of both internal process and cost). It also has a significant role to play when crafting their DEI strategies by ensuring equitable allocation of work and access to opportunities. 
  • DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) is something that law firms are very focussed on, but actually tackling it effectively requires careful consideration. The key question firms should be asking is “how do we support and develop everyone across our organisation whilst also ensuring we keep client service at its highest level?”. Having a detailed plan here is no longer a nice to have but is a must and should not be considered as a project, but a habit and a culture that needs embedding for long-term success. Clients are putting further pressure on law firms to demonstrate how they are resourcing their matters.
  • Hybrid working is very much here to stay but there were differing views on what this is going to look like moving forward, with differences in opinion across different law firm leaders on “what the office of the future looks like”. Most agreed that the benefits of being in the office are too big to just ignore, but there is certainly a balance to ensure staff remain engaged and happy in their roles. What firms must avoid is the creation of a “two tier system” where people in the office, who are in line of sight, get a lot of the opportunities, and those at home are slightly forgotten about. There may be no single answer to how this will be addressed, and each firm will likely take a slightly different approach. The big question firms are asking is “what does hybrid working actually mean?”
  • The challenge with trainees. Many law firms have had a large intake of trainee lawyers. Historically, in an office-based environment, trainees have been able to learn their trade through osmosis. They have been able to attend face to face meetings and as a result ask sensible questions afterwards that furthers their development. A question all firms are asking themselves is “How, in a remote / hybrid working world, do we continue to develop the talent we have?”.

In my opinion, the role technology can play, and the clever use of data to firstly understand and then inform future direction and decisions, will be key. Technology has its place in solving the above issues, but a careful and considered implementation plan, ensuring the needs of the user are addressed, is critical. Technology, including legal workflow software, Resource Management, and legal BI tools can be a gamechanger if adopted successfully. There was a resounding belief that change management is still something that law firms need to improve on to harness all of the benefits technology can bring, whilst being clear on the challenge firms are actually addressing.

My overarching takeaway was that the above issues can and are being addressed in a whole host of different ways, and law firm leaders are thinking carefully about the pros and cons of different approaches to clearly understand and quickly act upon their client’s needs, The above themes require considerable thought. Most importantly, firms are very focussed on ensuring their workforce remain engaged and are given the best platform to learn and excel, enabling law firms to retain their best and brightest talent which has a direct impact on their client relationships.

About BigHand Resource Management

BigHand Resource Management is a legal work allocation tool that allows law firms to identify resources, forecast utilisation, manage workloads and add structure to career development for lawyers. The solution delivers real-time visibility of team availability, improved profitability on matters and supports DEI goals and equitable allocation of work.

BigHand Resource Management