The Post-Pandemic Law Practice: What Legal Employers Need to Know

With vaccine rates on the rise in the United States, it’s now possible to envision and prepare for a post-pandemic world. While the practice of law on the other side of the pandemic won’t be quite the same, it’s important to lay the groundwork for success in the “new normal.” Of course, one of the primary challenges law firm leaders will likely face is identifying how to address and take advantage of the changes that will affect the practice of law on the other side of the pandemic.

That’s where a new report issued by the ABA Coordinating Group on Practice Forward comes in. This Report was published a few weeks ago and is designed to increase understanding about both the impact of the pandemic on the practice of law and predictions about the future of the legal profession.

The Report, Practicing Law in the Pandemic and Moving Forward: Results and Best Practices from a Nationwide Survey of the Legal Profession, was based on input from 4,200 ABA members “from all geographic areas, practice settings, sizes of firms, corporations, and organizations, levels of experience, age, family status, races and ethnicities, types of gender identity, and types of disabilities.” The results cover a broad overview of topics ranging from the impact of the pandemic on the legal profession to post-pandemic expectations and recommendations for both legal employers and individual lawyers.

There’s lots of useful data in this Report which is why I’m writing a 3-post series about some of the results of this survey. In last week’s post I focused on the survey findings relating to the impact of the pandemic on the practice of law. Today I’m covering the advice offered for legal employers and then next week I’ll provide recommendations made in the Report that will help individual lawyers find success in the “new normal.”

Because the business of law will undoubtedly change and be shaped by the effects of the pandemic in the months and years to come, an entire section of this Report was devoted to best practices for legal employers in the post-pandemic world. The authors provided recommendations for law firm leaders, with an eye toward moving “the legal profession forward so that lawyers are engaged with their work, have the support they need to succeed, and work in settings where leaders advance policies and practices that attract and reward a diverse array of professionals.”

Here are the 10 key areas of focus that employers need to address going forward, and I’ll discuss a few of these recommendations in more detail below:

  • Insist on Leadership That Is Engaged, Transparent, and Accountable
  • Have Frequent, Transparent, and Empathetic Communications
  • Make Decisions Which Will Have a Real Impact on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Create Clear Written Policies About Work Expectations
  • Take the Long View About Retaining Lawyers Through Part-Time and Flex-Time Policies
  • Use Metrics to Measure the Success of Policies, Practices, and Efforts to Implement Change in the Workplace
  • Reassess Compensation Systems
  • Provide Greater Parental Resources and Support
  • Strengthen Wellness and Mental Health Programs
  • Provide Excellent Technical and Administrative Support for Remote Work

Insist on Leadership That Is Engaged, Transparent, and Accountable

To start with, let’s focus on the first recommendation made in the Report: Insist on leadership that Is engaged, transparent, and accountable. The authors explain that the pandemic has created an opportunity for law firms to restructure the policies and procedures of their firm to increase transparency and accountability in order to accommodate the emerging and changing realities of law practice.

For example, one area that the authors advised will need to be considered is the changing footprint of law firms due to the increased prevalence of remote work. Specifically, the authors recommended that law firm leaders should carefully consider and clearly communicate how their firms will address the following issues: “If we downsize our office space, and move away from assigned offices, how will this impact the culture of the firm? What steps will be needed to maintain our culture?”

Maintaining culture is an important factor to consider now that working remotely has become commonplace – and will undoubtedly occur far more often post-pandemic world. That’s why the ability to communicate and collaborate with work colleagues regardless of where they happen to be working will be imperative, and law firms will need to have the technology in place to support it. As the authors explain, this shift will have the end effect of modifying law firm culture as we know it in a positive way that encourages teamwork:

“(T)he pandemic has underscored the importance of collaboration, communication, and teamwork. Going forward, organizations need to better understand how to foster resilient, effective and gritty teams that can work well together, rather than a culture where lawyers are siloed, rarely interact at a personal level, and are prone to hoarding work or clients for themselves.”

Use Metrics to Measure the Success of Policies, Practices, and Efforts to Implement Change in the Workplace

Another important consideration for legal employers moving forward will be the ability to track and measure the effects of the post-pandemic changes put in place, whether they consist of investing in technology to improve team collaboration. improving the transparency of firm communications, or rolling out other recommendations from the Report. Measuring the effect of any changes made is incredibly important since, as the authors explain in the Report, “(y)ou can’t change what you can’t measure.”

One important category of information to track now and in the future is law firm revenue. This is because it’s important to fully understand how the modifications being made will impact the firm’s bottom line. Therefore collecting and analyzing revenue data through in-depth reports is an important part of ensuring future profitability. The authors recommend asking the following questions in order to ensure that your firm is collecting and analyzing actionable data:

How is credit for a new matter or client allocated? Who is moving up to the next level of compensation? To leadership roles? By carefully tracking these data, an organization can develop a clearer picture of how lawyers are actually progressing, so as to ensure that the results comport with the organization’s goals and expectations.

Provide Excellent Technical and Administrative Support for Remote Work

Another key recommendation made in the Report is for law firm leaders to prioritize technology spend and support in order to support remote working employees. The pandemic ushered in a remote working revolution. Out of necessity, law firms had no choice but to allow dispersed workforces to work from home using remote working tools, including cloud-based legal software, to get the job done. Firms that did not already have those technologies in place when the pandemic hit struggled to remain operational during quarantine.

However over time, most law firms were able to put technology stacks into place that included cloud-based tools that supported remote working since doing so was the only way to ensure continued operation. For many firms, these technologies are now part of their business continuity plan and help to protect from the effects of another unplanned disruption. In other words, the firms now have built-in business resiliency, something that the authors of the Report emphasize is a necessity moving forward:

“If the profession is to move forward to more remote working, employers need to provide both state-of-the-art technology and readily available staff to help out when glitches arise. It could, for example, be a good investment for firms to provide stipends that help lawyers, as well as staff and paralegals, to obtain the resources that they need to sustain a home office…”

As you look forward and plan for your law firm’s future, take the recommendations from this Report to heart. By doing so, you’ll be able to build strong foundation for your law firm that will enable it to prosper in the new normal and in the future, whatever it may bring.

For even more tips to help prepare your firm for the future, make sure to download this free guide: 5 Ways to Manage and Safeguard Your Business.