A recap of our conversation from the panel, “Re-Imagining the Future of Work” during the October 2020 The Changing Lawyer LIVE! Conference.

A year ago, could you have predicted how quickly the legal industry would adapt to remote working? The pandemic has accelerated many aspects of how legal work is performed and how it is evolving. A survey early in the pandemic found that nearly 75% of companies plan to permanently move some of their employees to remote work after the pandemic is over.

For many in the legal profession, it was expected that you would work in the office nearly every day. However, once the pandemic is over, 10% of lawyers and law firm staff say they want to stay completely remote and 44% would only come into the office once or twice a week.

It appears working from home will be embraced by organizations and staff more so than prior to the pandemic. Litera Evangelist Alma Asay moderated a panel where our four participants discussed working from home’s lasting impact in the legal profession and shared where they see the future of work headed.

The change to work from home has led to new ways of thinking

Adapting to all the changes caused by the pandemic and working from home has changed our brains, explained Eric Laughlin, CEO of Agiloft. “This change has happened more quickly than anyone could have imagined. It feels like we are all experiencing the impact of a collective LSD trip. Neuroscientists tell us (when you take psychedelics in a therapy session) all those well-worn ruts on your brain get smoothed over and you develop all these new ways of thinking. And that rewiring is something that we’ve collectively gone through and there is no reason legal should be any different than any other profession in being able to be more imaginative now about how they do work.”

Jason Barnwell, Assistant General Counsel – Modern Legal, Microsoft, has seen two interesting patterns emerge as a result of the changes – removing constraints and less focus on strategy. “There is this whole new set of constraints that have been put on us and it’s waking up a surprising amount of creativity. The other thing we’re seeing is strategy, when you have this level of volatility, complexity, and ambiguity, (strategy) starts to fall away quickly and ultimately your ability to be a really successful business falls to adaptation. How quickly can you perceive an opportunity? How quickly can you figure out the best way to approach it and start executing on it?”

While change can lead to new ways of thinking, we must be careful not to introduce too many changes to lawyers and staff too quickly, explained Oz Benamram, Chief Knowledge and Innovation Officer at Simpson Thacher. “Yes, we have to be adaptive, but there is a fatigue moment. There were major changes that already took place in all kinds of settings that make life harder, that make work harder in some ways, and if we keep coming on fast on them, with more and more of “let’s try this,” we have to be careful. We have to be strategic in what of those initiatives we are pursuing.”

Working remotely has had little impact on productivity and can lead to meaningful change

The shift in most workforces to working remotely has shown that people can be just as productive – if not more so – when working from home as compared to the office. According to a recent survey from Mercer, 94% of companies in the U.S. said that productivity remained the same or improved since their employees began working remotely due to COVID-19.

Basha Rubin, Founder & CEO of Priori Legal, has heard pushback from companies questioning why the lawyers at Priori aren’t working at big law and why they would choose an alternative career path. “There is something about the work from home moment that has finally clicked in everyone’s minds, that there might be real benefits to having a more flexible lifestyle. Not that everyone wants it or is right for certain kinds of legal work. Certainly, if you are doing multibillion M&A transactions, you still want the resources of a large firm, but most legal work isn’t that.”

Beyond the impact of working remotely, the four panelists were asked about what other innovations they see occurring in the legal profession in the next five years because of the pandemic.

There is innovation around measurement – what we are measuring, how we are measuring and growing from there. Laughlin said: “Everyone should be rethinking how they are measuring their productivity. You aren’t being measured on setting your butt on chair but are being measured on the output you have and the quality of the output.”

Purchasers of legal services will have much more robust and usable expertise and experience data for each attorney, which will impact hiring decisions. Rubin believes using objective, measurable data to hire a legal services provider should benefit diversity and inclusion within the industry. “If you can look at the individual attorney rather than the law firm as a unit of analysis, that means you can route to the person rather than having to look at the overall superstructure.”

Benamram pointed out that today law firms are focused on one point that can be solved right now, but instead they need to build a matter assembly line by connecting the data that sits in billing, DMS, extranets, and elsewhere, so they can see the bigger picture. “(When) we see our matters as a whole, we can compare them, price them, measure them – all those things we want to do to improve the quality of the service. (Then we can) derive insights for similar experiences in a faster way.”

Watch the full conversation here.

Key Takeaways:
  • People can be just as productive working from home rather than in the office.
  • Organizations must be careful with how much and what type of change to implement to avoid overwhelming people and creating fatigue.
  • Objective, measurable data will help to define and reach productivity goals and create more diversity and inclusion in the industry.