What Are You Learning?

Kathy Fortin

April 20, 2020


What Are You Learning?


I recall an adage that spread through law firms over a decade ago. Managers and business consultants were promoting the catchy concept: “Work smarter — not harder.”  While the slogan has the ring of a cliché, what it meant made perfect sense — and still does.

The idea is that for law firms to improve productivity, and therefore profitability, the lawyers, paralegals, and support staff need not work more hours and longer days, rather they need to work more efficiently. Accomplishing this goal requires looking at how the law firm works, and then examining its systems, procedures, and policies to determine better ways to optimize the firm’s efficiencies and still produce effective results.

This adage came back to me as I think about the individuals and businesses experiencing “stay at home” orders and learning to adapt to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Today, many people are talking about the lessons that we are learning from working remotely.  I expect we will be hearing about this for a long time, as the present challenges go on.

Working from home for seven weeks now, I am observing some of the ways I have adapted. Without the comfort of my office, like many of us, I began new routines.

  1. While I had already been migrating to a more paperless work style, being at home has encouraged me to become even more so. This too has created a need to better organize electronic files.
  2. The value of two of us working from a shared file has increased greatly. We access the same documents and can be up to date on what is being worked on.
  3. While I am eager to return to in-person meetings with our law firm clients, I have recognized the value of web conferences as an acceptable alternative and one that may offer time savings and efficiency.
  4. I have also learned that I do not want to utilize virtual meetings as a replacement for person-to-person contact. I recently read an article about Zoom exhaustion which shows that we can also learn about the downside of our new attempts at working remotely.
  5. I am grateful for having had systematized practices before that allow me to continue to stay mostly organized while at home.

I have also been very interested in hearing reports from our law firm clients and how they are managing.  Cloud-based technology and document management systems have allowed their legal work to continue. For some lawyers with court work, clients’ matters are at a standstill. Estate planning lawyers face challenges of client signatures, witnessing, and notary verifications, and are developing protocols to meet the needs of their clients.

For some, working remotely has highlighted their productivity. They note experiencing fewer distractions and interruptions and completing projects with greater ease. While we can all recognize that interruptions and distractions during an office workday mount up and cost lost productive time, we still need interaction. What will happen when we return to that workplace? Perhaps, we will respect each other’s space in a different manner, while keeping in mind that there needs to be a balance. Together, in the same office (not on the same screen), there is a dynamic process that leads to collaboration, and that is a big loss these days.

Perhaps one of the biggest lessons to note is that we are learning to adapt. We are finding ourselves more flexible and maybe even realizing that we can change, even if we have been forced to. This ability to change and to learn new things is something to take with us when we all return to our familiar, deeply missed offices.