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Your Legal Practice After Lockdown – Preparing For the New Norm

Posted by: Lynn Sedgwick

June 3rd 2020 is set to be the date when most non-essential workplaces start opening up after almost three-months of lockdown imposed by the UK government in March this year.

The lockdown has affected all businesses and individuals differently. Some of the candidates we work with tell us that they have enjoyed working from home and have never been more productive. Others have felt out of place and can’t wait to get back to the office. Whatever your personal opinions on lockdown have been, the one truth we can’t ignore is that legal workplaces are going to be different spaces as employees return to work.

Aside from the social distancing measures, the 10-week break from the ‘old’ way of working has paved the way for a new concept of working altogether.

Your legal practice is going to be a different place as you return – in this article; we explore how to prepare for the ‘new norm’.

 

Practical Changes

The first thing Senior Partners on your HR team must do before inviting employees back is to ensure your workplace is compliant with new workplace safety guidelines. The guidance for offices can be found here, and includes how to set-up socially distanced offices, who should return to work and who should remain at home and logical cleaning guidance too.

In a recent Forbes article on working after lockdown, one theory included the idea that workplaces will get ‘better’. In that, there will be more of a focus on collaboration, learning and socialisation, as we bring the parts of home working that were successful back into our workspaces with us to create a ‘workplace of the future’.

Of course, every legal practice will look different as teams return, based on the size of your office and your team. If you have a small office where it is possible to socially distance, you might be welcoming everyone back as soon as possible. For larger offices where people are happy to continue working from home, up to half of the team may continue working in this way.

After consulting the government guidance, you must decide what is possible in terms of space and cost, what works best for your team and find a solution which works for everyone.

For firms where a significant proportion of the workplace are going to continue working from home, how can you achieve this long-term? Let us take a look at legal digital needs.

 

A Digital Landscape

While many practices did all they could to allow employees to continue working on cases seamlessly from home, the truth is that many firms were not equipped with the right tools to let employees do this successfully.

Writing for Legal Futures recently, barrister Ross Birbeck highlighted how practices need to update their systems to allow for successful remote working on a more permanent scale.

Interestingly, he points out that much of the change needs to come in the form of simple tech. He states, “It is notable that the technologies being picked up most are not the heavyweight, hi-tech solutions to industry-specific problems, but simple tools for everyday tasks: video conferencing for remote meetings, and PDF software for analysing documents on a laptop. We are going to see those tools become deeply integrated into the practice of law.”

Many firms have employees who are still shielding (either themselves or living with family members who are). Until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available, there will be legal employees in law firms everywhere who will be remote working for several months at least.

Do your employees have everything they need? In the rush to open your practice again, remember that remote employees will continue to need the right level of support, as well as employees who are returning.

Essential points to monitor include -

  • Ensure documents and emails remain available to remote and returning employees.
  • Ensure video conferencing remains available to all employees (including software and webcams/microphones if the hardware is being moved between homes and offices).
  • Ensure remote employees can access online versions of your legal documents and have Esign capabilities.
  • Avoid storing sensitive information at employee’s homes – aim to bring all confidential data back into the workplace as soon as possible.

Physical alterations are not going to be the only changes your legal team will have to get used to. A significant part of how things will change is the psychology of coming back to work in a practice with a different, possibly separated team.

Finally, let’s explore how legal managers and Senior Partners can ensure their employees are emotionally supported to prepare for the ‘new norm’.

 

Managing and Supporting an Altered Team

A blog I was reading on Law.com recently noted: “top lawyers are sure of one thing: working practices will never return to the way they were before COVID-19”. This is true of the way the virus has changed our physical landscape, but also how it will have affected your team psychologically.

The two most significant ways you will have to deal with change are in the way your team has been separated, and the way your practice may have to adapt to the market going forwards.

Practically, to keep afloat in the legal arena, you might have to re-train, or cross-skill your employees to form new teams in areas where there are opportunities. In which areas are you expecting there to be increased and reduced demand? Do you have the ability to train staff to meet changing demand?

It will be beneficial to have a focus on upskilling and re-training your employees as soon as you can.

Mentally, returning to work when your workplace, your role and your team look very different can be unsettling for many employees. It is now that you must be aware of how the change has affected your team and offer robust support.

Things to consider when supporting your team over the coming weeks and months include -

  • Be a transparent and accessible leader at all times – your team need to know they can rely on you and that you are honest about the goals of the company.
  • Acknowledge the changed working landscape and consistently ask employees if they are coping well with new systems and processes. Do not expect that all employees will easily adapt to significant changes – it will be more challenging for some.
  • Help your employees find new purpose and meaning in their role – this is especially important if their role or the sub-team they are used to will now be different.

Despite the recent upheaval, your practice can come out stronger with careful planning and consideration for each team member and the business as a whole.

 

Finally

Clayton Legal has produced a short report on how law firms can prepare for the post-pandemic industry which covers the issues touched upon in this blog in more detail, plus market research on where to focus your efforts as we move forwards.

You can download the report here.

If your recruitment needs have changed recently and you need a conversation about locating legal talent to help your practice survive through the coming months, we can help.

Get in touch with us on 01772 259 121 or contact us here to discuss your legal recruitment needs.

 

Thanks,

Lynn

 

About Clayton Legal 

Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability. We have made over 5,000 placements from partners to legal executives, solicitors to paralegals and legal IT personnel to practice managers.  

If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help.  Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.  

If you would like to know more about recruiting trends in the legal sector this year, download our latest guide here. 

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