Static Legal Teams: A Slow Extinction
By Shany Raitsin.
Even in the aftermath of the pandemic, companies and law firms will be inclined to turn to legal outsourcing to scale their legal teams up and down. The new normal has solidified; and static in-person legal teams will face slow extinction. Even as law firms across the world begin to reopen, various reports show that legal teams continue to enjoy the benefits of remote work – more and more firms are beginning to resemble the flexible internal structures of ALSPs—who have been outsourcing remote legal talent for decades.
It’s still unclear where we are in relation to our journey in this pandemic. Depending on where you are in the world, it may seem as though society is slowly but surely trudging out of the woods. You may be seeing a decline in COVID-19 cases in your area, lightened restrictions and the subsequent re-opening of businesses.
Among these re-opening businesses, aside from beloved restaurants, movie theaters, and coffee shops, are law firms. But even in the tentative ‘aftermath’ of the peak pandemic outbreak, legal departments are hesitant to return to their old ways.
Leading international law firm Ashurst LLP is among the many firms that are re-thinking how they prioritize in-person teams. Ashurst’s Perth office managing partner Gaelan Cooney commented that his team has already proven that “working remotely works,” and adding that “While we are pleased to see staff return to the office, we are also using this opportunity to build on the flexibility we have embraced in recent months.” Cooney’s statement echoes the current rhetoric that is surfacing within the legal industry; remote working works, so is there much justification left for static physical teams?
A Change of Heart
Many have speculated that the current onslaught of change the industry is facing has been slow brewing, and in the words of Ballard Spahr’s chief client value & innovation officer Melissa Prince, the pandemic has simply “exacerbated that change”. Back in July, when Chicago was unrolling its phase 4 preparations, managing partner of Baker McKenzie, David Malliband, expressed his reservations about returning to full-scaled in person teams. Malliband said he wouldn’t even be able to take a gander at guessing when his 580 employees would be returning to the office, that they were “early to close down, but I don’t think we’ll be early to open up.”.
Somewhere along the timeline of the pandemic, the discourse surrounding going back to ‘life-as-we-knew-it’ changed. The shift is palpable; there is no longer a pressing urge to return to pre-corona times because many law companies are realizing the inherent benefits to remote working. Somewhere along the way, lawyers had a change of heart, and began to favor the flexible, virtualized infrastructure of NewLaw.
The realization that client relations do not have to suffer with the implementation of virtual legal services is monumental. Baker McKenzie’s Tampa office seems to share the same sentiments as its Chicago counterparts, its executive director Jamie Lawless stated, “Videoconferencing capabilities have been critical.
We are rapidly gaining virtual experiences and closing deals, working on mergers and acquisitions with clients and engaging discussions.”. Lawless claims that despite the physical distance to her employees, she’s never felt this connected to them.
The Pro’s & Con’s of E-Lawyering
In a study conducted by Major Lindsey & Africa (MLA), 95% of survey respondents stated that they believed the pandemic has changed remote working practices at their firms for good, but it’s no secret though that despite the benefits of e-lawyering, many attorneys are experiencing ‘Zoom Fatigue’, the result of countless hours spent monotonously in front of a screen, on calls that drone on for longer than they arguably should.
Sometimes these calls aren’t even completely necessary, as one partner at a U.S. firm in London reports, “I was on back-to-back Zoom calls for eight hours yesterday, and I’ve just finished a four-hour video call about something that absolutely could have been talked about over email,”.
So let’s really look at the negatives associated with the virtualization of the legal profession; what is the true result of this? Over-communication and fatigue? Can an excess of communication between clients, or between team members, really be called a flaw within virtual legal services? The answer is enmeshed in a lot of grey, because the fact of the matter is virtualization may not be the answer for every law firm, but the pandemic has pushed legal departments to become tech enabled, so now even if/when they slowly return to their physical offices, they will still carry with them the lessons they learned regarding the efficiency achieved through legaltech/remote working.
The pandemic has pushed firms to increase their efforts to protect IP and sensitive information, to explore cloud-based technologies to store important data. It is also undoubtedly altering the very DNA of these law firms, who are now embracing project-focused approaches. Now more than ever, clients are doing what they can to ensure the various micro-goals they set for a firm are met; looking to maximize efficiency as well as transparency.
This is precisely where the appeal of an ALSP comes in, because the structure of an ALSP allows for the fluid redistribution and restructuring of a team without disrupting the progress of a project. In fact, it increases the speed at which a project progresses; with a service like legal outsourcing, a firm can bring in legal talent per their changing needs, and request to be matched with the profiles of lawyers who carry specific qualifications/experience. Never before has the need for ALSPs been more apparent.
Companies like LawFlex, Lawyers On Demand and Axiom stand out as the titans of the legal outsourcing industry, all bringing to the table pools of diverse legal professionals. As many have already predicted, the increase in utilizing services like legal outsourcing is also leading to additional growth within the gig economy, ballooning the already popular trend of free-lance lawyering.
The Proof is in the Pudding
Again, it’s not that law firms or in-house counsels need to consider being wholly virtual, but now that the legal industry has been forced into a corner (so to speak) by COVID-19, it’s comforting to know that lawyers can work remotely. It’s also comforting to know that more and more legal departments are exploring the avenues of alternative legal services, and that the rigid structures of traditional corporate legal teams are breaking down, revealing a mountain of opportunity for flexibility and cost efficiency.
According to KorumLegal, legal departments, on average, save 33% per day with ALSPs as opposed to an in house hire. If the costs are compared to that of utilizing a mid-sized law firm, it is reported that instead by using an ALSP, a legal department would save 50% per day. Legal operations serve to ensure that when a legal team invests in a freelance hire, or a new legaltech software, this change is absorbed smoothly.
Legal ops also seek to find new ways to increase efficiency for both the legal department and the client, acting as the integral backbone of a legal team. It is reported that 74% of GCs who invested in legal operations saw increased efficiency within their departments, proving that the benefits of using an ALSP to a legal department’s advantage can no longer be ignored or underestimated. The proof is simply in the metaphorical legal pudding.
Now that law firms are beginning to slowly reopen their physical doors, they may very well find that the demand for flexible virtual working from their employees won’t lessen; why revert back to a way of life that simply wasn’t as modern or efficient? The modern day working lawyer will not take for granted the flexibility that comes with remote working, especially when they are juggling a 50 hour work week (the average for a Canadian lawyer) as well as a family.
So if I had to take a guess and visualize what the post-corona world might look like for lawyers, I’d predict that it’s one where working remotely, at least part time, has become the new normal. Following that prediction, I think it would be logical to assume that with the dominant virtualization of the legal profession, free-lancing will follow as a solidified new normal. It’s hard to ignore the fact that, according to KorumLegal, 71% of GC’s already use ALSPs for specialist expertise, once again reaffirming that legal departments are adopting a paradigm that is project-centered.
In a world that is increasingly globalized and tech savvy, it’s about time the legal industry accepts that virtual workspaces are here to stay. Legal resourcing teams are an invaluable asset, that when utilized can diversify a department’s staff, and not only in terms of a talent’s experience but by social terms as well.
It has never been more important to ensure inclusion initiatives are enacted among legal teams. One of the biggest issues in the legal industry to date is how under-represented some minorities are, such as Black people, who make up just 3-4% of the legal profession. According to Esuga Abaya, a business attorney at GrowthCounsel, this underrepresentation is a natural barrier for many black lawyers looking to advance their careers because it means they are essentially “fighting against the disadvantages of their network.”.
This is one of the many reasons why legal resourcing companies are crucial to utilize, for their ability to provide a legal department with a pool of profiles that can help diversify their team, and fight against issues like the underrepresentation of POCs within the legal profession.
Static, stagnant, rigid legal teams are bound to suffer--the wave of change has already come and gone. Anyone who resists it is simply resisting the inevitable, because if this pandemic has told us anything, it’s that remote working isn’t just the safe route, but the smart route too.
About the Author
Shany Raitsin is Marketing Director at LawFlex, a leading New Law and ALSP company (https://www.lawflex.com/)