The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has made working from home mandatory for many legal professionals, including in-house attorneys and their law-firm counterparts. Generally speaking, the legal profession is classified as an essential service. But many law firms made deliberate decisions to allow their staff to work from home (WFH). Some startup firms, which were born as virtual teams, fully intend to stay that way.
Historically, though, the legal profession has been somewhat slower to embrace remote work for several reasons:
- In-person client meetings
- No secure access to practice management applications and sensitive case files
- Court appearances and discovery meetings
- No remote access to client files
But previous trends do not always predict future ones. And advances in technology and shifts in workstyle mindsets are creating more remote working opportunities for junior lawyers, paralegals – and even more seasoned attorneys.
Of course, the coronavirus may have created the impetus for remote working in many firms. Yet, many legal professionals plan to WFH well after the pandemic is over. At least, on a part-time basis.
Now, let’s explore some best practices for legal professionals. Maybe you are just getting used to the idea of remote working, or perhaps you have been at it for a while but need to change some habits.
1. Properly Equip Remote Workers to Boost Their Productivity
A common misconception preventing teams from working from home is that they will waste time, miss work milestones, and generally shirk their responsibilities. But, in fact, many legal professionals thrive in a home-office setting – away from a chaotic, open-concept office.
Contract managers, paralegals, and other administrative staff often say that they can focus better in the serenity of their home office. Although open-concept offices were designed to foster collaboration, they have been the source of frustration for some introverted employees. So, why not enable them – and their extroverted colleagues – to do their best. Simply provide access to software to ensure they can do their jobs.
When millions were finally forced to WFH, many organizations scrambled to properly equip their teams. But when the proper tools are coupled with a clear, comprehensive, and fair WFH policy, your firm can meet – or even exceed – your clients’ and executives’ expectations. Simply put, technology enables remote work, while policies regulate behaviours.
2. Establish Remote Work Guidelines and Expectations
The clear, comprehensive policies mentioned above need to consist of clear guidelines. They need to establish what the top priorities are and how performance will be measured.
Many businesses struggle to create and adhere to communications plans during times of crisis. After all, circumstances are so fluid. Senior legal executives and departmental managers need to schedule regular check-ins with their teams, and track progress against pre-defined milestones. They need to make full use of video meetings on platforms to help employees feel connected and supported from a distance.
3. Leverage Remote Work for Employee Recruiting, Engagement, and Retention
Empowering WFH policies keep employees safe and healthy during health crises like COVID-19 and storms, like hurricanes or blizzards. They enable your legal team members to spend more time with their families and far less time commuting.
Work-life balance is often cited as the primary driver for employees seeking – and staying in – roles that offer full- or part-time WFH privileges. Still, whenever pandemics, treacherous weather events, or other business interruptions occur, businesses that cannot pivot to remote workstyles find themselves at a serious disadvantage.
4. Foster Good Mental and Physical Health Habits from Afar
Many law firms and businesses offer fitness and wellness programs for employees before, during, and after hours. And just because employees are now working remotely, it doesn’t mean that these programs should stop altogether.
Recently, many organizations have encouraged their employees to go for a walk, jog, or exercise during the day. One great motivator is a fitness competition between departments. Some organizations have team coffee breaks over Microsoft Teams, even encouraging colleagues not to “talk shop” the whole time.
So, is your law firm or corporate legal department seeking ways to work more effectively? Are you focused on minimizing business interruptions while working remotely? Are you looking to better manage contract creation, negotiations, and post-agreement contract performance altogether?