In an industry ripe for innovative change, 2020 may have been a tipping point for the legal profession. And a recent report on the state of the legal market by the Center on Ethics and the Legal Profession at Georgetown Law and the Thomson Reuters Institute suggests legal professionals should prepare for these changes to be lasting.
The pandemic, coupled with an economic downturn, and social and political unrest, accelerated trends like the rapid adoption of technology, according to the report. While some legal professionals may be waiting for things to return to “normal,” many of the changes in the legal market could be permanent, the report says.
The Surprising Success of Remote Work
While the pandemic’s duration can’t be predicted, law firms have learned several lessons over the last year that may stick around once COVID-19 is under control. The first lesson may be apparent: the success of remote work. Not only do most firms (81%) believe remote work will stay, but more lawyers are expressing an interest in working remotely.
According to the report, “U.S. lawyers who now want to work remotely at least one day a week has doubled from the pre-pandemic period. While 37% of lawyers expressed an interest in remote work prior to the pandemic, 76% now favor the remote work option.”
In tandem with the success of remote working, many firms have come to appreciate and accept rapid technological change. While this doesn’t mean firms won’t resist future changes in the legal market, the report says “the experience of adapting to the radically changed market conditions in 2020 may well create more openness to experimentation in other forms of service delivery.”
Adapting to Change
The severe economic impact of the virus forced the legal market to find ways to reduce costs, including adapting their firm’s office spaces to better suit a remote working environment. The report noted that 72% of law firms believe there will be significant changes in office and administrative space planning in their firms over the next few years.
Other cost-saving measures included reduced business travel and in-person meetings, and staffing changes. At the same time, firms are investing in technology. Eighty-four percent of firms expect to increase their investment in technology in the coming years.
Rethinking Priorities in the Legal Market
The experiences of the past year have forced firms to rethink their well-being efforts, including mental and physical health, work-life balance, and family responsibilities. Some 82% of law firms have implemented new programs to support staff in managing their mental health according to the report. (Watch “How Lawyers & Law Students Can Prioritize Well-Being in 2021” for wellness strategies.)
Similarly, firms are rethinking the importance of workplace culture, with many leaders actually reporting the pandemic has “strengthened their firm cultures.” (Read “Cultivating Corporate Culture During COVID-19” for tips on how to bolster your organization’s culture.)
Lastly, firms are reporting “greater openness to new practice models, including collaborations with other firms and new law companies such as alternative legal service providers.”
With no end in sight for the pandemic, it’s unclear whether these changes will hold, but the experiences and lessons learned will certainly accelerate changes in the legal market in some way.
What changes has your firm made? Do you expect these changes to be permanent? Let us know in the comments below.
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