New ways of working, adopted during the pandemic, should be harnessed to improve the client service, says ZOE FOWLIE
After decades of slow, in fact reluctant progress in the technology landscape, virtually overnight the legal industry was propelled into the 21st Century by the Covid-19 pandemic. Technology became the only way to continue delivering client services whilst adhering to Government guidelines on social distancing and lockdown protocols.
The speed with which this transformation took place was unprecedented and, save for a few teething problems, has been largely successful. This is particularly true of firms which had pre-existing remote working practices and technological solutions in place.
Now, more than a year later, reflecting on the new normal of remote working, there are a lot of positives to be taken from the shift away from the previous office-based only working model. As a return to the office becomes possible many businesses, including those in the legal industry, will adopt a hybrid model, secure in the knowledge that client service, and expectations, can be met to the same standards and, at the same time, offer staff a better and more rounded work experience compatible with promoting their health and wellbeing.
The most successful digital transformation projects succeed when they empower people and their teams to improve and/or adapt their processes, and that is equally the case in the legal industry. They very much recognise and are centred on the humans at their core.
The changes that resulted from the swift move to working from home have worked so well because they simply had to be thought about, built, and implemented by and for the individuals and teams using them, to allow for work to continue remotely.
Taking just the most rudimentary of examples, teams have been able to continue collaborating through video conferencing and document management platforms. Signing can take place without physical meetings with e-signing solutions. Ideas can be generated and acted upon with online project management tools. Culture can be maintained and cultivated through regular and informal digital interactions.
Technology has proved more than capable of meeting the demands of replicating office-like interactions and functions, often improving on them. The legal industry, so often seen as cautious and slow to change, has likewise proved that it is able to adapt to meet the demands of a rapidly changing world.
Where do we go from here?
Now is an opportune moment to take stock and review the changes that have taken place, and to accept the likelihood that changes made up to now will have stemmed from a reaction to rapidly changing and enforced circumstances.
Consequently, the adoption of new technologies has likely been patchwork and processes may now need refining for long term use. Such a review can inform the next phase of development, which should focus on what can be done proactively to improve not only internal efficiencies but, most importantly, the customer or client experience.
Within an organisation, further efficiencies in workflows which have been adapted to remote working can be achieved by integrating software solutions and streamlining processes. For example, automation of certain administrative and repetitive functions allows legal staff to be more self-sufficient and work to more flexible timetables at home.
Looking to the customer or client experience, internally focused digital transformation projects, will provide the foundation for better client-focused digital solutions. The benefits of being able to easily collaborate, integrate and innovate with software solutions and succeed successfully as a remote team are worthy aims but they count for much less if they do not extend to clients.
This requires discussion with clients around the key technologies and processes being utilised by both them and the law firm, to assess how they can combine to create the most beneficial changes to service delivery for each client. It will not be the case that one size fits all, and flexibility will be important.
Every business which succeeds places the needs of its customers and clients first, and that remains as true today as it did pre-pandemic. In the legal industry it is no longer enough to know the law and how to implement it and, of course for the very best firms that was never enough by itself. In today’s environment the discerning client wants more, and the ability to provide methods of delivery and efficiencies which meet their specific needs will become increasingly important to clients when deciding which lawyers to instruct in the future.
So, what does the long-term future look like?
Far from recalling employees to the office as soon as possible, firms should be looking to retain flexibility and further build on the technological advancements that have arisen in response to the challenges of enforced remote working. My firm will be adopting a hybrid model, with maximum flexibility, always with the intention of ensuring the best level of service for our clients, and ready to listen to their needs.
The pandemic has presented us all with many challenges, but it has also presented the opportunity to accelerate positive changes to the way we work. We believe that these changes, including the use of technology properly applied, can now work to make everyone’s life easier and benefit colleagues and clients alike. So, much to be thankful for and to look forward to.
Zoe Fowlie is a legal adviser at Vialex and was accredited as a legal technologist by the Law Society of Scotland in 2020