Amid rapidly changing market conditions prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the legal sector is undergoing multiple simultaneous shifts, all of which are having a significant impact on industry professionals. From wholesale digital transformation to an overhaul of working patterns, the industry undoubtedly is entering an exciting and challenging new phase.
Here we will be investigating these issues further to help you adapt and thrive in this fast-changing legal landscape.
Technology adoption in the sector
The Covid-19 pandemic has necessitated a near total shift to home working in almost every industry, and the legal sector is no different. To facilitate this, businesses have adopted new technologies and digital platforms. This in has in turn stimulated further hiring activity, with many major law firms and multinational businesses beginning to hire heads of legal technology to ensure alignment with key technological developments.
With businesses prioritising digital transformation, it is often suggested that leaders can add value in the longer term by recruiting candidates with more ‘disruptive’ viewpoints on the benefits of legal technology. But further adoption of technology will only continue if it can be more than a short-term reaction to the pandemic and truly benefit day-to-day operations. This is a difficult balance to strike. In the legal profession, nothing can replace the need for human interaction with stakeholders. But the pandemic has nonetheless shown that technologies can reduce the amount of time spent on basic legal issues, enabling lawyers to spend more time supporting business growth.
The other strategic advantage provided by legal technology is a significant increase in workforce mobility, and the creation of a far less London-centric candidate pool. With lawyers now able to work from anywhere, companies with the right legal technology can attract the very best candidates regardless of geography.
Shifting working patterns
The Covid-19 pandemic supercharged a transition to more flexible working patterns for the vast majority of lawyers, regardless of sector. In an industry often associated with presenteeism, this shift to home working has proven a welcome change for many lawyers, facilitating more control over working patterns.
But has the adoption of home working practices in the legal sector truly improved work-life balance? And will the home-working practices which became so common during the pandemic ultimately outlast it? Arguably, the answer to both is no. Whilst the candidates we work with have been grateful for the time and money saved on commuting, they have also found themselves logging on earlier and logging off later, with no natural buffer between their work and home lives.
One candidate commented: “It’s become really difficult to decide when to down tools for the day. Normally you would get to 6-6:30 pm and head for home. Now I find myself working late into the evening. And this isn’t a one-off occurrence – it’s 5 to 6 days a week. Working from home is just disguising a resourcing need in our team.”
Lawyers are without a doubt working harder than before: higher expectations from stakeholders and smaller legal teams without growth budgets, coupled with longer working hours, are creating a real squeeze on free time. It is clear that lawyers will need a more flexible approach to working following the pandemic. However, as one client recently told me: “It’s all well and good for the business to have a flexible working policy – but they have to make sure this isn’t a one size fits all approach. The whole point of flexibility is to ensure that we, as a business, are able to cater for everyone’s different needs, whatever they may be. It’s going to be incredibly unhelpful if the upshot of this is that a business makes assumptions about what employees want, and simply cut and paste a 3- versus 2-day office/home split and assume that this will make employees feel heard.”
Another client also pointed out that: “We are slightly at the mercy of the business. They are our stakeholders, and we are there to support them – if they want to see their legal teams in the office, then that’s where we need to be.”
Greater emphasis on the rather open-ended term ‘flexible working’ will be a key change post-pandemic. But with many businesses retaining large real estate footprints, lingering concerns around the ‘work from home’ debate, and the need to visibly support stakeholders, the same degree of flexibility may prove infeasible once social distancing measures are lifted.
The effects of the pandemic on the legal sector, from adoption of technology to new patterns and ways of working, will not be going away any time soon. At Michael Page Legal, our consultants are experts in the industry, and help businesses of all sizes to grow through our tailored talent solutions. If you are looking for top legal talent to join your team, reach out using the details below, or, for advice on related issues, check out our articles section here.
Thomas Watson, Associate Director, Michael Page Legal
Email: [email protected]
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