Attorneys have been working from home in some capacity for the last several months, but changes to the way they practice aren't exclusively limited to surroundings. For some lawyers, remote working has meant substantially rethinking their approach to mental health, productivity tracking and ongoing travel arrangements, among other things.
Lawyers weren’t immune to the industry-agnostic shift toward remote working that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic and most of 2020. But while some have easily taken to a life of videoconferences and collaboration platforms, conducting business from home may having a much broader effect on the way that attorneys approach their work-life balance, mental health and even their work once returning to the office becomes an option.
Here are six ways that remote working has changed the attorney experience.
1. New Cybersecurity Habits
Lawyers may be faring better here than one might think. Liz Harding, a shareholder at Polsinelli, noted that since many attorneys were regularly traveling or even working from home before the pandemic, they were accustomed to dealing with secure log-ins and pre-vetted document-sharing platforms.
Still, most people don’t keep a secure shredding bin in their homes, which means that extra thought has to be given to how remote lawyers dispose of sensitive paper documents. “Have a process in mind for securely getting rid of or shredding documents that are no longer useful,” Harding said.
2. Less Travel
Like professionals in other businesses, road warrior attorneys likely found themselves grounded during the last several months—and maybe indefinitely. ”I was on the road a lot [pre-pandemic] ... I’m not going to go back to doing that,” Harding said.
She believes other attorneys who have been able to spend more time with their families over the last several months will also prefer to rely on video calls and other tech that facilitates remote collaboration. “I think on the travel front, people are going to look much more at: Is the travel necessary?” she said.
3. Lines Between Work and Home Blur
While lawyers may have never subscribed entirely to the concept of a 9-to-5 workday, chances are that remote working is dissolving the boundaries between personal and work time even further. “More people are sending me things at 2 a.m.,” said Laura Jehl, global head of the privacy and cybersecurity practice at McDermott Will & Emery.
It’s not that attorneys are necessarily working more, but instead having to build in extended breaks throughout the day to accommodate children home from school. Still, the problem with being accessible 24/7 is that lawyers may have to work harder to make space for their own mental health. “You have to really focus on being disciplined in saying, ‘I am not working at this time,’” Jehl said.
4. Figuring Out What Pandemic Productivity Looks Like
One of the strings tying the billable hour to law firms is that a time-based metric can be an easy way to track attorney productivity. But Jehl pointed out that some firms may have to reevaluate that approach—at least for the duration of the pandemic.
For instance, remote attorneys with familial responsibilities could struggle to rack up as many hours as colleagues who aren’t facing similar challenges. “At the end of the year, do you evaluate everybody against the same metric that you always have? ... I’m not sure there’s an opportunity to adjust for it,” Jehl said.5. New Client Touch Points
With both lawyers and their clients working from home, the potential for email inboxes to quickly become overcrowded runs high. Elizabeth Stern, partner and head of global mobility and migration with Mayer Brown, emphasized the value of maintaining consistent—but targeted— communication with clients.
“It’s very important to create new communication vehicles, whether it’s a digital tool, a dashboard report. ... That helps the clients know, to make it easy for them to be up to date on what we are handling for them and that it’s in progress and at what stage,” she said.
6. Out of the Office and Back Again
Remote working may yield the floor to an even more difficult challenge once the pandemic has faded and some attorneys begin returning to the office. Stern stressed that while COVID-19 forced the majority of a firm’s employees into the same remote work boat, a hybrid environment that splits the difference between staff situated in physical workplace and those who remain virtual opens up potential communication gaps.
“Make sure the rules are known about how you are supposed to function together as a team and that you actually create team together experiences that are valuable,” she said. One example? A daily “scrum” where all team members gather on a virtual call to trade notes.
Reprinted with permission from the December 22, 2020 edition of Legaltech News © 2020 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.