Change has been rapid in the legal community these past five months, largely because law firms haven’t had much of a choice. Attorneys have been forced to adapt their usual law practice management ways on the fly to reflect the restrictions put forth by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the recent rise in social injustice protests. And while most of us are eager to get back to some semblance of normalcy, our definition of normal likely won’t be the same when this time of crisis eventually ends. In this blog post, we’ll discuss three recent trends that could be more prevalent in the legal world moving forward.
1- More Firms Are Enjoying Working Remotely
The COVID-19 crisis has presented a lot of obstacles for the attorney community, with one of the biggest ones being their inability to work in office alongside staff. However, a lot of lawyers that may have been dreading having to work remotely during the early weeks of the pandemic, are getting quite comfortable doing so now.
“It’s been really great,” says Chicago Divorce Lawyer Russell D. Knight. “Everyone (on my staff) really rose to the occasion. I would actually embrace remote work in the future. My schedule has become a lot more flexible. I work earlier and later and take lots of breaks in between.”
According to Knight, having a reliable team already in place pre-pandemic has been the key to his firm’s success since March.
“I think I hired smart and diligent people who were able to work without a lot of supervision,” Knight said. “It’s better to trust your people to do the right thing than worry about double checking everything. What needs to be double-checked is usually so important that you won’t forget. My staff has set up a Slack (channel) to communicate in real time. It’s working out great.”
Serving clients remotely has been a fairly smooth process for Knight’s firm as well.
“I have been totally open about the fact that we are not in the office,” Knight said. “No one seems to care. Maybe one person a month has requested an in-person meeting.”
So should we expect more firms to start operating remotely once the pandemic ends? It certainly seems possible, especially for those practices with strong leadership and reliable staff already in place. One concern Knight did have about working 100 percent remotely moving forward was that it could make training new employees a more difficult task. It also remains to be seen if clients’ expectations for in-office visits will change back to what they previously were once pandemic restrictions are lifted.
Even if law firms don’t stay working remotely full-time, having the knowledge that their staff can handle it may allow them the option to work remotely a few days a week, or only have a select group of staff members work from their physical office. At the very least, getting experience with video conferencing softwares and communication tools like Slack should prove highly beneficial for attorneys and their staff, as we move into an increasingly virtual world.
2- Attorneys Are Giving More Thought To Public Statements
For law firms, there has perhaps never been a more important time to choose your words carefully. With so much going on the world right now, sharing a public thought with the wrong message or at the wrong time can be extremely damaging. As a result, attorneys have been advised to give careful consideration to how their public statements will be perceived, especially when speaking up on topics such as the Black Lives Matters movement.
In the debut episode of our Everything Except The Law podcast, legal PR professional Michelle Calcote King advised lawyers to look internally first before sharing their thoughts on matters of racial injustice, and ask if their practice has been doing all it can in terms of diversity. She also encouraged firms to take a sincere approach to the process, and not just send out a seemingly generic message.
“I’ve seen a lot of law firms very effectively say, ‘look this is important, we’re committed to it, but we have some work to do’,” King said. “People respect transparency and honesty.”
According to King, law firms should make the effort to get fully educated on the Black Lives Matters movement before publicly vocalizing any opinion.
“(Make sure) you really understand the way people are talking about these issues, and that you’re contributing to (the cause) and not taking away from it,” King said. “It’s really important not to come across tone deaf, and the only way to do that is really pay attention.”
Weighing in on complex issues like racial injustice or COVID-19 isn’t easy, but saying nothing at all for extended periods of time can be extremely damaging to a lawyer’s reputation. During times of crisis, it’s important to show your community that you’re not only on top of what’s happening in the world and your industry, but that you’re ready to lead the way in solving important issues. Moving forward, expect a lot more firms to not only make public statements on serious world topics, but invest in the proper PR guidance to make sure their thoughts are properly presented.
3- Lawyers Are Attending Court From Home
With the legal world slowly, but surely beginning to re-open, one new thing lawyers will need to prepare themselves for is attending virtual trials. For those who haven’t been a part of a remote court hearing yet, and are feeling a bit nervous about what to expect, you’ll likely be delighted to hear Russell D. Knight’s thoughts on the experience.
“It’s easier than in person,” Knight said. “There’s no stage fright and no one can see you looking at your notes.”
It wouldn’t be surprising to hear a lot of other attorneys agree with Knight’s take, as talking from the comfort of your home seems a lot less daunting than presenting in the middle of a crowded courtroom. While not all types of cases will transition well to the virtual space, it seems that many can be handled rather flawlessly over video. Knight, who practices in two different states, thinks video conferencing technology could ultimately end up being a significant game-changer for law firms.
“I think a lot more people will be practicing in multiple locations now that this technology can actually make it feasible,” Knight said.
With the ability to represent clients in courts virtually anywhere, and meet with clients remotely, attorneys could in theory expand their advertising efforts to outside their community and open themselves up to more new case opportunities. How the legal world will proceed with court hearings once the pandemic ends remains to be seen, but attorneys would be wise to get comfortable operating in virtual courtroom settings now.
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