The Law Firm Workplace

Kathy Fortin

June 28, 2021

 The Law Firm Workplace

 

 Do you feel as if you have been a lab rat in an experiment for the past fifteen months? Now that this forced experiment appears to be nearing an end, what is the result? What have you learned about operations in your firm going forward?

I have listened to many news reports about the changing office workplace and perused daily articles about the new normal. Just when it seems there is nothing new to be said on the topic, the flow of information and stories from all of you continue. While I still have many questions, I now want to make sense of the past year and a half and offer my own firsthand knowledge in a way that may be useful to you as you move ahead.

As a consultant who hears from many law firms on a regular basis, their experiences, dare I say experiments, are yielding a wide range of results. Early in the pandemic, some small firms continued to operate with a minimal number of people working in the office. In other firms, all employees worked remotely. Either way, everyone was faced with similar challenges to create and orchestrate protocols relating to mask wearing, social distancing and staggered work schedules, and communication. Those working remotely faced the challenges posed by technology, the adjustment to working at home and its distractions, and the shortcomings of working without their colleagues in person.

Every firm I have had contact with over the past fifteen months has impressed me with their efforts to make it all work and their commitment to keep everyone employed. Except for a couple firms that experienced a significant slowdown of business or reduction of work due to the closure of courts and agencies, all the others have thrived. All firms look forward to 2021 as a year of high productivity and revenue production. While that is good news, there has been a personal toll on lawyer and staff stress and burnout. As most of them are determined to push on, it is important that lawyers and their support staff address their own well-being.

There are many other general topics that relate to the law firm workplace, but here I offer below my condensed version based on what I have learned directly from you. 

  1. Some lawyers express concern as to how they will adjust their workplace as people begin to work together in person. While going back may seem natural in some ways, there are indications that some firms have staff members who are not eager to return to the office. In a new report, as of this writing, I read that only 30% of the nation’s workforce that had worked remotely have returned to the workplace.

 

  1. Lawyers report that even with the challenges that came from working remotely they continued to be very productive. Some want to continue working from home on a limited basis. Some are considering extending flexibility to associates and paralegals who also showed increased productivity while working remotely.

 

  1. With the increase in new work, law firms need to hire more lawyers and paralegals. They are facing an even greater challenge than before the pandemic in finding the right employees. It does appear that positions at all levels are harder to fill. Not only does demand appear to be greater than supply, but competition for experienced personnel has increased.

 

  1. Given that law firms need to add more lawyers and paralegals begs the question  of what do firms need to offer in a very selective market. From what I have seen and heard, law firms will need to consider creating attractive compensation and benefit packages, offering hybrid work schedules that allow for working remotely, and promising a firm with a positive culture.

 

If there is a new normal for law firm owners, it is that you have learned in your own way to navigate unprecedented challenges, making you well prepared to adjust to ongoing changes in this post-pandemic period.