How the pandemic has dragged the legal industry into the 21st century - Hannah Strawbridge

The legal industry has been dragged into the 21st century as a result of Covid and the recent restrictions.

Law firm culture came from a place, on the whole, of 9-5 in the office, with little flexibility for homeworking. Or, where homeworking was permitted, it usually had to be for a specific reason preventing an individual coming into work (for example a poorly child, the car won’t start, there is snow). Traditionally, there has been a suspicious/micro-management style of culture which doesn’t sit well with the idea of flexible or home working.

There have been numerous surveys done as to whether post-Covid, employees want to work from home or from an office, and most of these suggest a combination is preferred, which makes sense. The gains from working at home: avoiding the time, cost and energy wasted on the daily commute; being able to achieve more of a life/balance; enjoying quiet isolated work.

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Versus the gains from working in an office: the buzz and energy of a team environment; getting out of the house; the routine around getting up in the morning, getting ready and the physical act of ‘going to work’.

Attitudes to flexible working have changed
Attitudes to flexible working have changed

Law firms that listen to what their employees want, and who promise to deliver a combination of office and homeworking, will attract the best talent and the best clients. They already are.

Those small to medium-size firms in particular that continue to enforce a 9-5 office culture post-Covid will struggle to survive.

Why?

Because lawyers are waking up to the fact that it is possible to work flexibly. More and more lawyers are setting up their own businesses or are opting to join consultancy business models where they can fit their lives around their clients’ needs, not their employers. Clients have grown accustomed to instructing lawyers virtually. Meetings are virtual, court hearings are virtual.

The author says the traditional 9-5 working day is out of date.

Social media, in particular LinkedIn, is enabling micro firms with small overheads to establish themselves as global businesses from the comfort of their own homes.

I’m not sure anyone yet realises how phenomenal the impact of this will be for the future of the industry – it’s revolutionary.

SME businesses are beginning to question why they are paying £500 an hour for advice from an experienced solicitor in a city centre office when they can have the exact same advice without having to foot the bill for questionably unnecessary overheads in a culture that lags behind other industries.

When challenged about this, partners in many firms will say time and again that it is impossible to train junior staff without them being in the office every day. Is it impossible? Of course not.

It’s not always easy, or ideal, and maybe not the preferred approach for either party. But if we are really honest is the statement about giving junior lawyers the best experience, or is it about wanting to micro-manage?

Every time that statement is uttered it feels as though the consultancy model businesses and the firms who truly embrace flexible working are rubbing their hands together. Those make up a small proportion of the industry, but they are growing, and rapidly.

Daniel Priestley in his book, The Entrepreneurial Revolution, talks about the increased numbers of individuals founding their own businesses, and how boutique businesses that focus on the client, with a passion and purpose for what they do, are challenging traditional, corporate models of business.

Recession can in fact be a good time to start a business, particularly for those that can adapt and offer something differ-ent from the norm. We are on the cusp of ‘The Entrepreneurial Revolution’ for the legal industry, and it will be fascinating to see how the landscape lies over the next few years.