No industry will go untouched by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but some sectors will inevitably be affected more than others. Changes in how businesses operate, communicate with clients and staff and internal culture will most likely remain long after a vaccine is finally found for the coronavirus. The landscape of how we work stands to be changed forever by this pandemic.
Law is one of the more traditional industries where newer models of working have not always found a comfortable fit. Many larger law firms are slow to react to the latest workplace innovations and yet will have had to pivot overnight in the efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus. In an interview with Julie MacDonald (below), our CEO, Toby Harper was asked to share his views on the short and long-term impact COVID 19 is having on the legal landscape.
“When I set up Harper James in 2014, I had been the sole in-house legal counsel at a Midlands VC company. So I’d come from a background of supporting start-up and scale-up businesses in their quest to grow and secure funding, and it was with this founder mindset that I established the Harper James operating model.
Because we opened our doors as a remote-operating law firm, a disruptor in our field, the transition to home-working for us has fortunately been smooth. Our solicitors work from home as a matter of course, servicing clients with the best tools and technology we have at our disposal. That’s one key piece of advice I would give firms who are moving operations online or into their team’s homes during this period of lockdown: get your IT systems in order. Make sure the tech you’re using is scalable, robust and secure. If you’ve not yet made the move to cloud-based systems, start looking into how you can now. Remember to check how your GDPR compliance might be affected by storing data in the cloud.
One of the few upsides of the unique situation we find ourselves in is the unexpected and large-scale roll-out of flexible working for huge numbers of the UK workforce. Lawyers will be experiencing the benefits of remote-working – for the first time in many cases – and this is likely to bring about a step-change in how we work as a profession going forward. They may see increased flexibility as a trade-off that’s worth making if it means, say, losing some administrative support. Partners and owners may start to ask questions about the need for plush city-centre offices, for instance, and we’ll see a shift in priorities in many firms. I have also found that the Harper James remote model allows us to recruit the best staff to our team, no matter where they are based. That’s a real advantage when it comes to the extensive portfolio of legal services we can offer our clients.
Finding ways to foster support networks when your team is remote is really important. We’ve introduced initiatives like virtual coffees, lunches and after-work drinks to connect staff to one another and build community. It gives colleagues the chance to chat informally and keep in touch. There are lots of ways you can virtually replicate those real life exchanges.
Everyone’s worried about a reduction in work levels, of course, and a decline in new instructions. The knock-on effect on cashflow, revenue and profitability will be felt harder in smaller firms. It’s hard to say at this point what will happen to the economy longer-term, but if you can engage in any trend forecasting, that will help you anticipate what practice areas may well be in demand in three to six months’ time.
Whatever happens next with the economy, my prediction for how law will be changed by 2020’s seismic events is that firms will emerge more agile, responsive to client need and sympathetic to flexible working than the sector we left behind when our physical offices closed in March.”