The pandemic caused a paradigm shift toward remote and hybrid work environments, and law firms are no exception. In a 2021 survey by Bloomberg Law, 40% of attorneys reported their firms allowed complete flexibility regarding their work environment. Only a quarter of respondents said they were expected to be in the office at least 3 days a week, and only 1 in 10 said their in-office presence was expected full-time. If lawyer preferences are any indication, these trends are likely to continue. Only 11% of lawyers surveyed said they would prefer to be in the office full-time, and only a quarter said they wanted to be in the office 3 or 4 days a week.
But while flexible work environments have certain benefits, they cause communication challenges that must be overcome if a law firm is to succeed, remain productive, and effectively serve their clients.
Before the pandemic, many lawyers took for granted the benefits of informal interactions in the office. Lawyers could walk down the wall to bounce ideas off a colleague or strategize around the proverbial water cooler. In a nationwide survey by the American Bar Association about practicing law in the pandemic, many attorneys said replacing these naturally occurring conversations with scheduled calls was not the same. Other attorneys reported that they missed out on vital details from in-person discussions that took place among lawyers working in the office while they worked remotely.
The pandemic forced law firms to improve their video chat capabilities, and many firms now host firmwide or department-wide meetings via video chat on a regular basis. This has helped ensure colleagues receive firm news and status updates so that everyone is on the same page. ABA survey respondents noted plusses and minuses to video chat versus in-person meetings. On a positive note, video chat encourages one person speaking at a time and neutralizes distracting sidebars that often occur during in-person meetings. On a negative note, the lack of interpersonal connection allows participants to be more passive or tuned out than they might be in an in-person meeting.
More than half of respondents to a Law 360 Pulse survey said mentorship (57%) and training (52%) worsened with the shift to remote work. In a traditional in-person work environment, early-career lawyers have more opportunities to learn from observing and collaborating with firm partners and other senior members. As a lack of mentorship and training opportunities lead to decreased long-term commitment to the firm among attorneys, it is important for law firms who adopt a more flexible environment to ensure that mentorship and training opportunities continue to be robust.
Develop a Communication Strategy
If your firm plans to institute a permanent remote or hybrid work policy, you need to develop an appropriate communication strategy. Start by surveying your entire firm to find out what has worked well in terms of communication and what has not gone so well over the last two years. What were attorneys’ and other staff members’ frustrations? What did they feel was missing communication-wise? How effective was the firm’s technology for supporting their communication with colleagues and their ability to service their clients, and what improvements could be made? Develop short-term and long-term communication goals, and brainstorm ways to achieve these goals while creating a firm culture where everyone feels connected and committed to the firm and its clients.
Ensure Your Technology Supports Your Strategy
Law firms have traditionally been slow to adopt newer technologies. But nearly overnight, the pandemic led to widespread adoption of cloud-based technologies and managed IT services, as law firms realized they needed to be able to function remotely while ensuring the utmost security for client privacy and data.
Teaming up with a professional IT partner, such as Tabush Group, can help law firms successfully manage a flexible work environment in the long run. Tabush Group provides enterprise level IT that takes a comprehensive approach to delivering solutions to meet a law firm’s needs. Tabush Group assigns a client manager, who functions as the law firm’s virtual CTO and works closely to understand the firm’s business needs to help them fully leverage IT.
For more information about how Tabush Group can support your law firm’s communication and business needs in a flexible remote environment, click here.