As we emerge—hopefully soon—from the coronavirus crisis, organizations are celebrating what they have accomplished and reflecting on what they have learned in a year marked by dramatic challenges. Responding to the ever-shifting circumstances of a global pandemic demanded adapting continuously, keeping a watchful eye on current and future needs, and recalibrating technological tools and capabilities.
It seems like everything was different in 2020—including Legal Lab, HBR Consulting’s sixth annual gathering of leaders from some of the nation’s top law departments and law firms. In place of the two-day, in-person event that HBR has hosted in the past, we reinvented Legal Lab as a series of five virtual sessions that unfolded across multiple weeks.
It has only been a few months since the thought of working anywhere was a fantasy reserved mostly for freelancers. We have all seen those ads showing lucky people working on the beach with their laptop, no stress, and a perfect work/life balance. No one could have imagined we would be faced with a global pandemic and, ultimately, the necessity to find a way to work remotely or not work at all.
Nearly four months have passed since COVID-19 changed the way we work. Legal organizations that initially focused on operationalizing their remote workforce and managing costs associated with temporary office closures are now facing the reality that, rather than a temporary situation, the pandemic-related changes may be deeper and have longer lasting impacts than initially contemplated. From HBR’s perspective as longstanding advisors to both law firms and law departments, this is a defining moment for the legal industry. To successfully differentiate themselves, organizations must seize and sustain the moment to pull the future forward, unlocking value and accelerating the legal industry’s evolution.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought unforeseen changes on many fronts, and law firms will never be the same. During the pandemic, firms have been learning important lessons about how to accommodate—and even thrive with—virtual work, how to reevaluate their legal service delivery and real estate footprint, and how to reallocate tasks to maximize their efficiency.
Traditionally, the legal industry has been reluctant to implement change; after all, lawyers adhere to a case law system built on hundreds of years of case precedent. To say that the industry has been plagued by change gridlock is an understatement.
“Wherever there is change, and wherever there is uncertainty, there is opportunity!”– Mark Cuban
As we face the prospect of an economic downturn, firms are looking at ways to best position themselves. A centralized, clear vendor governance strategy that aligns with the firm’s strategic direction can aid in responding to economic turbulence. Vendor governance can help a firm readily identify operational costs for reduction, minimizing the impact on profits, and sustain those cost savings during an economic downturn.
The 2019 HBR Consulting Law Department Survey found that corporate law departments are shifting their focus to adopting innovative legal service delivery practices, such as the increased use of other service providers, including alternative legal service providers (ALSPs). For those who use those, spending increased by 11% in 2019.
HBR was recently privileged to co-sponsor ARK’s second annual Law Firm Innovation Summit. The event welcomed 120 attendees, spanning a range of job titles including formal innovation titles, KM, IT, client value and development, COOs, marketing, pricing and legal project management, talent, educators, data analytics, sales and, of course, attorneys. This broad range of expertise provided a rich array of perspectives, making for fascinating presentations and conversations.
Reflecting on those interactions, I wanted to share a few of my and my colleagues’ takeaways: