Can Technology Truly Enable Lawyers to Work Remotely?

 Dan Taylor, director of systems and security at Fletchers solicitors, offers his thoughts to Lawyer Monthly.

The demand for home working has been on the increase for some time and in the legal sector, a profession known for its long hours at a desk, working late into the night, and dealing with clients’ most private of matters, there has been the desire to make it work.

However, whether it be culturally, practically, or just from a technological adoption perspective, there has always been a reticence in the Law to engage remote working practices more widely.

Within the space of two weeks, all those obstacles had to be overcome to make working from home possible. The coronavirus pandemic pressed the fast forward button for everyone.

It has brought huge changes in all walks of life, but one of the things it has really thrust into the spotlight for businesses is their ability to enable their people to work from home efficiently and productively.

In 2019, out of 32.6 million employed people, around 1.7 million people reported working mainly from home (Office of National Statistics). Once people are eventually allowed to return to the physical workplace, that figure is likely to rise significantly as many companies will have adapted their systems to facilitate remote working.

The coronavirus pandemic pressed the fast forward button for everyone.

This pandemic will have created a huge shift in the mindset of many companies regarding remote working, because they have seen that it can work.

At Fletchers we had around 15 team members working remotely at the beginning of March, with a number more doing a day or two a week. We knew that there was a desire for more people to be working from home and we had a project looking at implementing it for more of the team.

At the beginning of March we started planning for the ‘what ifs’ and started testing our systems. Within days, we had to fast forward our plans and get hundreds of our team members working from home as quickly as possible.

This has been forced on everyone and the learning ‘curve’ has been more of a vertical line.

What Does All This Mean for Clients?

The coronavirus has acted as a reset button for the profession to consider its offering to staff but also to clients.

Virtual law firms already exist and have traditionally worked best for corporate law where in the B2B sector companies are already used to transacting business online. For private client legal work, it can be difficult because you are dealing with individuals. However, at Fletchers, even as a private client firm we rarely meet face to face with the majority of our clients. The work is done by post, over the phone and digitally so effectively, we have been offering a virtual service for some time.

However, other players in the legal sector are catching up and some parts of the process can’t be done virtually. The court system will take a while to catch up, even though court rooms are opening their doors to new technology, there are reams and reams of paper records and medical records that need to be processed in a physical place.

These barriers are out of our control but don’t prevent us from being able to offer a virtual service to our clients.

THe Impact of Staff in the Short and Long Term

In order to attract the best talent, and to offer a more agile way of working to help with people’s work/life balance, firms have been working hard to be flexible. A more agile way of working makes the business more attractive and competitive and people can be hired from further away, meaning a bigger talent pool.

Businesses have so much square footage of working space that perhaps they wouldn’t need if there was a robust, flexible working policy in place.

A more agile way of working makes the business more attractive and competitive and people can be hired from further away, meaning a bigger talent pool.

Technology infrastructure is improving all the time – 5G home broadband will mean faster connections and better-quality video conferencing – but it’s not just about technology, it’s about supervision, remote monitoring, checking productivity statistics and providing support.

People have had to learn very quickly how to deal with the technology off site and how to adapt and manage their teams remotely as well as ensuring their clients continue to receive the best possible service.

There needs to be a proper road to virtual working mapped out but this is certainly going to act as the catalyst for many businesses. This has been forced on everyone and the learning ‘curve’ has been more of a vertical line, but people are managing it well and it will certainly change remote working policies for many people.

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