The Law Firm of the Future. Will Big Firms Survive?
The year 2020 has seen unprecedented events in Canada and the world. The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly impacted society, forcing a worldwide economic slowdown. Law firms big and small have been dealing with the struggles presented by Covid-19. Some have put the future of big law firms into question. Fortunately, we have counseled with Diamond & Diamond senior partner, Jeremy Diamond for advice on how firms can move forward. Here's his tips for staying afloat during the COVID-19 crisis.
Dealing With Covid
For law firms big and small, staying safe should be the number one priority when dealing with covid. Implementing procedures like mask-wearing and social distancing is key. Each firm will face personal difficulties when attempting to abide by the new procedures. Unfortunately, firms should expect to face more challenges directly and indirectly linked to the pandemic.
How big law firms survive will depend on their specific reaction to the pandemic, and whether or not they can keep a safe workplace for lawyers and clients. Law firms must maintain a high level of productivity while working with new health and safety procedures. Reduced office hours and more work-from-home flexibility are great options to implement.
Shifting to a Remote Workforce
Statistics Canada suggests that 45% of law firms in Canada shifted to a full work-from-home schedule in May 2020. It is also expected that only 16.5% of law firms will continue this full work-from-home schedule after the pandemic is over. Many law firms can accommodate the needs required to work from home, but it is clear that firms are eager to return to work in person.
Our ability to research and meet with clients in our offices is vital to our firm's success. Also, less than 50% of Canadian workers over the age of 45 have the capacities to transition to full work-from-home. Therefore, it's understandable if law firms big and small don't continue a full work-from-home schedule post-pandemic. Each firm will have to evaluate on a case by case basis using their own cost vs. benefit analysis.
Large firms like ours may have the option to use separate board rooms for client meetings throughout the day. Having many areas to meet with clients allows us to get back into the office while maintaining social distancing measures.
Jeremy Diamond: Embracing Digital Technology and Tools is Key
Connecting in-person with co-workers and clients is a daily occurrence in many law firms. These connections can help in completing tasks promptly and in boosting morale. A work-from-home scenario leads to law firms connecting in person much less than usual.
Losing forms of communication, such as face-to-face contact, will slow down the work being conducted in any law firm. Leadership must implement the correct communication tool for their firm. Having the right software at your disposal is almost essential for any working at home situation.
Another way to help ensure that productivity is kept high is through the digitization of files for remote access. Having a way to access files is imperative to a firm while closing a deal. Law firms do require more confidentiality than other professional arenas, making the digitization process complex. If a firm can successfully undertake digitization, it will not only make working from home during the pandemic less difficult, it will also prepare the firm for the future.
Automation is yet another way for firms big and small to help with the challenges of working from home. Client intake is a work process which law firms may look to automate. In lieu of having a receptionist at the front desk, automating a way for clients to reach out to the firm through a website can allow your firm to be reached at any hour. These processes can stay in place long after the pandemic to help with the flow of work.
How to Serve Clients Amid Pandemic and Post-Pandemic
With the break in the courts, law firms have seen potential back logging in certain areas. Serving clients certainly became more challenging during this time. Like the rest of the world, the courts have learned to move forward and have implemented the steps necessary to resume work.
The legal profession involves many duties that require face-to-face meetings or close contact with other people. The restrictions imposed due to the pandemic have made these confabs more difficult. If clients request a meeting or consultation face-to-face, we will do our best to accommodate them. Video and phone calls or meetings with reduced personnel are all options on the table.
It is important to stress to our clients that all health and safety precautions are being taken. If clients are still worried even with the precautions put in place, law firms can maintain relationships over the phone with these clients, and we will be prepared to open our doors as soon as the client feels comfortable.
Early in the pandemic, courts in Canada took leave to slow the spread of Covid-19. While systems slowly return to a normal workload, the amount of face-to-face contact in courts may lead to an overhaul of the system in Canada due to ongoing restrictions related. For now, firms need to ensure the safety and professionalism for lawyers and clients in their own offices.
Adjusting to Changes in Outlook
Businesses have seen their sales slow and have had to completely shut down in many parts of the world. In some areas of law, firms must wonder if businesses will be able to afford to retain lawyers if their section of the economy is at a standstill. The good news for law firms in this scenario is that Covid-19 has created just as many new opportunities for firms as it has taken away.
The global pandemic has likely made more people inquire about wills at a law firm. The increase in demand for wills may induce a backlog of requests. Attempting to maintain regular duties with new health and safety procedures will slow the routine process of creating wills. Other areas of law that require a number of resources and court personnel like criminal law and eviction law may also face a huge backlog.
"Pandemic or no pandemic, the world is changing, clients are changing, and client requirements are evolving," says Diamond & Diamond Senior Partner, Jeremy Diamond. "Big firms have the resources to adapt, so they should take advantage of the opportunity now to innovate, modernize, and digitize."