As we enter the year 2024, there will be significant changes in office design. The highly anticipated “Great Return to Work” is altering our understanding and creation of workspaces. This article explores the shifting landscape and important trends that will shape office interiors in the upcoming year.
Like almost every industry, the legal profession has encountered numerous difficulties during the global pandemic brought about by COVID-19. Some of these challenges include transitioning to remote work, converting to remote litigation, and facing higher competition for talent.
At this moment, it’s uncertain whether the legal industry will permanently implement remote work and litigation once the current situation settles down, but law firms that adapt to current best practices are guaranteed to have a better chance at succeeding in the “new normal”.
Fortunately, many law firms have already accepted that things won’t go back to the way they were pre-COVID. A recent survey conducted by MyCase shows that around 70% of firms agree that the current pandemic will have a lasting impact on the operations of law firms and functions of the courts.
But the question still remains, how big of an impact will there actually be?
Legal industry adapting to remote work
Since the pandemic started in early 2020, employers have started applying necessary changes to make workplaces more suitable for the post-COVID environment. Numerous offices are now converting to either a hybrid work model or permanent remote work setup. These steps are meant to ensure the safety and well-being of employees, as well as to abide by policies set nationwide.
The abrupt changes made by employers due to the pandemic have reshaped the workforce which has also influenced the labor market. Here’s how:
- Stricter Competition: Most employees are now looking for remote work as a benefit in potential employers – many have adjusted to the more flexible schedule provided by working from home. That’s why companies must look into offering a more workable schedule for candidates.
- Larger Talent Pool: One of the benefits of adapting to remote work is having access to a broader range of talented professionals. Companies are no longer limited to geographical restraints and can now even take into consideration the possibilities of hiring offshore.
- Better Engagement: A study by Gallup shows that around 60-80% of employees who are on a flexible work schedule are often more engaged. The leniency and trust in their work ethics boost morale, which encourages them to be more involved with work and other organisational activities.
- Higher Retention Rate: We’ve established that professionals around the world prefer employers that provide flexible work setups. That’s why a number of employees chose to resign when their companies asked them to resume working on site. This caused a number of concerns for staff, namely their safety and traveling restrictions. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense that organisations which allow employees to work from home tend to retain more of their personnel.
Remote litigation—is it here to stay?
There are a lot of changes to the law practice brought upon by COVID-19, and it’s reasonable to assume that these adjustments would still be carried on in the “new normal”.
Though difficult to imagine at the beginning of the pandemic, the virtual litigation process is occurring with greater frequency over the last 18 months. And even if there were glitches and minor issues initially, the overall online deployment of virtual litigation proved to be effective. It is unlikely that once everything settles down, litigation will be done completely virtually, but it’s guaranteed to be a potential solution for courts in the future.
Technology adoption is one of the most important factors to consider. Software such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Webex are used by many courtrooms to conduct hearings remotely. It’s important for users to be well-versed in utilising these tools to ensure every meeting and hearing is facilitated effectively.
With remote litigation, the public can have easier access to court proceedings. Nowadays, the media and public audience do not have to endure sitting in an actual court to watch an ongoing trial. By using livestreaming mediums, viewing can be done from anywhere. Experts in litigation have noted that the court attendance rate is much higher now with online access than when it was done in-person.
Before deciding to go remote permanently, law firms and organisations must take a number of things into consideration, including the following.
The reality is, lawyers aren’t the only ones affected by the remote work setup in the legal industry—clients are equally as impacted and must be taken into consideration when making a decision for the law firm’s future.
During the pandemic, clients have become more acclimated with doing things online—shopping, bank transactions, virtual consultations, and even communicating with their legal counsel. Lawyers must identify the preference of their clients, so they could make an informed decision to either continue remote business or to resume face-to-face meetings and briefings.
Tools and Solutions
One of the most critical aspects of making remote work, well…work, is to make sure cloud-based management tools and productivity solutions are being utilised across the organisation. It’s important for every personnel in the firm to fully adapt to the new technology being implemented within the company. It’s normal to be met with resistance in the beginning, especially from lawyers, judges, and paralegals who are more used to doing day-to-day operations manually. But professionals have now had a year and a half to get used to certain tools, so the introduction to more advanced solutions will be much smoother.
With the shift to remote work, professionals struggled to balance work with the stress caused by the pandemic. External factors such as family members interrupting and noise from neighbors also contribute to the distractions that hinder lawyers from focusing and meeting their targeted billable hours. However, these are manageable situations that can be addressed. For firms looking to re-allocate their finances, they can downsize on real estate and re-allocate the budget for more hybrid-enabled workspaces. The money could also be used to provide staff with technology and hardware that would make home-based work better. All of this can improve the morale and boost the productivity of law firm personnel.
Law Firm Culture
As lawyers adjust to remote work, they must also take into account the work culture they would like to establish in the long run. For example, there are firms which opted to implement dress codes, strict daily schedules, and regular check-ins for staff to maintain an appearance and mentality of “being at work”. However, this kind of old school method may not be the most efficient approach given the current state of workplaces.
On the other hand, some firms went the other way and instead allowed employees to dress casually. They also broke down barriers by getting rid of the traditional 9-5 work hours, foregoing micromanagement and trusting staff to finish their workload in a timely manner.
Many law firms believe that it’s still necessary to maintain an office. This may be true, however, the way they look at the purpose of office spaces must be reconsidered to fit the needs of a modern, hybrid workplace. It should be a place that will allow for better collaboration and client interaction without restricting the space.
The future of the legal workplace may not be set in stone yet. However, we’re seeing an industry, which is considered to be one of the most dated, embrace new technology and methods to accommodate the current needs of firms, clients, and even the justice system.
Embracing more flexible work models offers many benefits to legal departments. With organisations in different sectors, and a workforce that welcomes remote work and its advantages, it’s a good time for the industry to try taking bigger steps towards change to the “new normal”.
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