The Power of Remote Working During the Pandemic Crisis
As work-from-home policies are almost universally adopted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote working is no longer an option; it is a necessity.
For some so-called platform law firms, remote working is nothing new. The benefits, from encouraging the use of technology to help close the gender pay gap, have never been more apparent.
Below, we expand on the importance of remote working for lawyers and the benefits which go hand-in-hand.
Platform law firms provide self-employed lawyers with the ability to work remotely and flexibly. They are an agile network of sole practitioners, or small practice owners, sharing back-office functions like invoicing, marketing and compliance. With substantially lower brick-and-mortar costs and by making use of technology, they offer clients a high-quality solution at a fraction of the cost of a traditional law firm.
Accountant and business advisory group Hazlewoods reported in November 2018 that the number of lawyers working in platform firms increased by 29% from 2017. And it is easy to see why. Working in a traditional law firm can mean punishing hours, with LegalCheek reporting an average leave time of 10:01 pm in one city firm. Throw in a competitive billing culture and a disempowering lack of autonomy, and it is clear why some lawyers have found another way.
The benefits of remote working are well-touted. But in times like these, avoiding the daily commute, minimising distractions and having time to focus is even more important. The mental health benefits of increased flexibility, autonomy and an improved work/life balance become essential as we all navigate the challenging times ahead.
The Technologies at Play
The partnership model, attachment to hourly billing and inherent risk aversion mean traditional law firms have been slow to embrace the new technologies that enable successful remote working, says recent research commissioned by the Law Society. As a result, ‘many lawyers spent much of their day handling emails and phone calls from their office, often with other people who were in the same building but who they didn’t ever see face to face… these lawyers could have been performing the exact same work if they were working remotely’ notes Ben Levi, founder and COO of legal technology company InCloudCounsel, of his time working in BigLaw.
With the various technologies now available, the case for remote working has never been stronger. Email, video conferencing and various messaging tools mean lawyers can choose their preferred method of instantaneous communication. Workflow managers help maintain productivity levels. Cloud computing provides remote access on a broad scale. Sophisticated workplace collaboration tools mean it is easy to work together on live document changes and virtual private networks keep everything secure.
These tools have always been mission-critical to platform law firms where remote working is the norm. But, in these uncertain times, all lawyers are putting them to the test. If 38% of lawyers never work from home, will law firms have the systems to enable their entire workforce to do so? Time will tell. In the meantime, for remote lawyers, platform law firms and their clients, disruption to working practices is kept to a minimum.
Freedom for Lawyers
Working remotely offers lawyers the ability to pursue other passions. Geographic independence, a flexible workload and a schedule that works for them, means talented professionals can maintain a legal career while having time for other interests. Remote lawyers have ‘the freedom to choose where, and in some cases, how much they want to work, and eliminating the need for them to forgo other life passions’ says Bridget Deiters, managing director at InCloudCounsel. As a result, InCloudCounsel’s network of remote lawyers is a diverse group of individuals who have achieved the freedom to do what they love – they are parents, musicians, artists, photographers, sailors, surfers, home flippers and animal lovers.
And to Top It Off … Closing the Gender Pay Gap
Across the legal sector, women are still paid 10.6% less than men according to the Law Society Group 2019 Gender Pay Gap Report but, at partnership level, the 2018 gender pay gap was 24% says the Financial Times. Figures get considerably worse when you look at the ten largest law firms in the UK where, in 2018, women were paid on average 43% less than their male counterparts, as reported by The Times.
Platform law firms, offering remote working as standard, are helping to close the gender pay gap. Fixed pay structures result in women being paid exactly as much as men for the same work. Increased flexibility, a far cry from the rigid partner track at traditional law firms, means men and women alike can build a practice that is right for them, their families and their circumstances. So, while gender parity in the legal industry appears to be a long way off, platform law firms offering a fixed compensation model are doing their bit to close the gap.
The sudden need to work from home, potentially for an extended period of time, as necessitated by COVID-19, has quickly underscored the benefits of platform firms’ remote working arrangements. Home-bound lawyers, in some cases scrambling to adopt the latest technology but enjoying newfound levels of control and flexibility, may well turn to the growing number of platform law firms to make working virtually their everyday reality, build the practices they want and live the lives they want to lead.
Written by Katie May
Katie is a director at InCloudCounsel, a legal technology company that automates and enhances high-volume legal processes for large enterprises. InCloudCounsel’s global, end-to-end solution combines expert legal talent with AI-backed technology and helps some of the world’s leading companies streamline processes, improve work output and reduce legal costs.