It was around mid-2020, at the end of the first wave of the pandemic in Europe, that the idea of hybrid working first broke into the mainstream.
Once the remote working genie was out of the bottle, bosses and workers alike began to see the benefits, whether it was a reduced need for office space or reclaiming the hours previously lost to the dreaded commute.
Now, hybrid working, with office hours split between on-site and remote locations, has cemented itself as the work-life model of the present and future. But what of the legal profession, is it also following this new model?
Will hybrid hours work for the legal profession?
In many respects, the legal profession is an exception. Most of the discussions about hybrid working make a few base assumptions that simply don’t apply across the legal sector.
For example, many legal professionals have never worked in 100% office-based jobs, variously splitting time between the court, client offices, or any other location as needed.
But the legal sector has traditionally relied very heavily on face-to-face contact – which had to change dramatically once the pandemic set in. Now that the dust is settling, the profession is beginning to grapple with how the future of hybrid work will take shape.
One thing is clear – it marks the beginning of a fundamental shift in the profession as a whole, one that can only be compared with the first big push to digital when we moved from reliance on postal communication to email.
Racing to catch up
Part of the reason the shift is so significant is that the legal sector was already falling behind other industries regarding digital transformation.
According to a Gartner report into the state of legal spending and budgeting going into 2021, nearly half of organizations said that technology and level of adoption were their biggest weakness.
However, other research shows that law firms are now investing heavily to make up for the gap, and much of that investment is directed into technological tools designed to enable hybrid and remote working.
For example, 63% of firms are investing in e-signatures, 46% are investing in e-meeting and e-voting management, while more than a third are implementing document and contract workflow management and process automation.
Change can be difficult, and resistance is inevitable. In many organizations, this can be simply difficult to manage, but in the legal profession, where many firms are structured around partnerships, change resistance can be catastrophic for progress. Therefore, it’s important to be crystal clear on the benefits of any change.
In the case of hybrid working, there are many advantages for partners and leaders, as well as associates and employees.
Tangible Benefits of a Hybrid Approach
From the business perspective, there are cost and productivity efficiencies to hybrid working. Research from Accenture shows that employees prefer a hybrid approach and are more productive when allowed the flexibility to choose between the office and remote working.
Furthermore, a remote working model in the legal profession actively facilitates the way we work anyway. It allows legal professionals to move more seamlessly between client and firm premises, court, home, or anywhere they’re needed.
Without long periods of unavailability, people can more easily balance the demands of their workload – for instance being able to go straight from home to courts and back again while avoiding rush hour traffic, instead of being expected to attend the office either side of court appointments.
Additionally, legal work which typically entails long periods of document review and markup, often lends itself better to more private work environments, as opposed to open plan offices that may present more distractions or disturbances to concentration.
Competitive advantage a key driver
In corporate law, firms that are able to keep technological pace with the way their clients are working are also more likely to remain competitive.
The flexible nature of hybrid working is more inclusive to people who traditionally struggled to keep pace with the always-on office culture of the legal profession. Working parents and those with caring responsibilities at home may then be likely to consider careers in the law, or indeed less likely to move out of the profession – providing larger talent pools.
Geographical boundaries also become less of an issue when remote and hybrid working is possible, further widening the potential for finding talent.
Flexibility Fuelling the Growth of ALSPs
The demand for more flexibility and an increasing reliance on technology will continue to fuel the rise of alternative legal service providers, too. 79% of law firms and 71% of corporations already use ALSPs to reduce costs and improve efficiencies, as well as leverage the best-in-class technologies they can provide.
Even before the pandemic, ALSPs were proving that employees in the law profession were eager for a shift to more flexible and hybrid working models by attracting key talent that would otherwise have left the sector.
As the ALSP sector grows and evolves in its ability to support the broader profession, it will find new ways to deliver tools that further support hybrid working and more flexible solutions, using cutting-edge solutions leveraging AI, predictive analytics, and blockchain, among other technologies.
Finally, the shift to hybrid working is better aligned with the renewed focus on sustainability and mitigating climate damage. Leaders in all sectors are coming under pressure to demonstrate how they’re reducing their carbon footprint. Less business travel, along with reduced energy and utility usage for office premises, is an easy win in this regard and an inevitable outcome of the shift to hybrid working.
The current trend towards hybrid working may be a more difficult transition for the legal sector than in some others. However, it’s hard to find any downsides in the long term because with more flexibility, everyone can determine the best approach that works for them.
With a renewed focus on technology, flexibility, collaboration, and sustainability, the legal sector will be ready for whatever challenges the coming years will bring.