The pandemic induced waves of changes throughout the legal industry that were long overdue. Perhaps the most impactful change was embracing a hybrid/remote work model that had been institutionalized by other industries long ago. Additionally, a focal point has finally been placed on work life balance. Lawyers and staff now demand the ability to have greater control over how and when they work—particularly because the pandemic proved that remote work had little to no negative impact on productivity. In fact, a recent report by Thomson Reuters found that 86% of lawyers want to work from home at least one day a week and 60% of associates said they would leave their firms for a better work life balance. The challenge facing law firms today is balancing the new hybrid work model while still meeting client demand. To do this, they must ensure their lawyers can get work done effectively and seamlessly, with ease—the key word being “ease.”
The impact of the pandemic on client service and talent retention
It is no secret that law firms were caught flat footed when the pandemic hit. Many scrambled to enable remote work environments, leverage the right technology, and, most importantly, keep their lawyers and staff engaged at a level high enough to meet market and client demands. In fact, performance and delivery became such an issue for one company, Morgan Stanley, that its CLO Eric Grossman issued a stern warning to his panel law firms stating:
We choose to hire you all because of the quality of your lawyers, and the products they deliver. I strongly believe that firms that return to the office will have a significant performance advantage over those that do not, and we will see that advantage reflected in their client service and ability to deliver successful outcomes for Morgan Stanley.
While Grossman received a lot of contempt for his statements on returning to the office, with industry bloggers and experts calling his views “out of touch” and “insensitive,” the critics failed to read between the lines of what he was actually saying, which was that his company was experiencing a significant decline in the delivery of legal services since remote work had been instituted. Remote work essentially became the scapegoat for the noticeable shift in the quality of legal work, when the real culprit was likely the significant lack of optimized digital collaboration capabilities within law firms.
Law firms are struggling immensely with talent retention. In 2021 firms lost almost one quarter of their associates and there is no sign of this slowing down. Simply put, associates are burned out. Even with the hybrid work model long hours continue, the volume and pace of the work is intense, and the fundamental activities they perform have become frustrating and deductive, so they find themselves seeking higher value work elsewhere. Through the course of our work, we hear story after story of lawyers wasting their time, bouncing around a labyrinth of systems and tools. While technology promises productivity enhancement, in reality, the myriad of point solutions actually makes delivering work more complex and frustrating.
The benefits of leveraging collaboration technology
While certainly not a new concept to the legal industry, collaboration technology has yet to be fully explored and built by most law firms. Instead, what we often find during assessments is technology stacks full of point solutions that are neither integrated with core systems nor fully functional to enable the experience intended by the technology: to equip attorneys with the information they need, when they need it, to create stellar work product with the least amount of hassle. Additionally, adoption rates are low because there is a lack of awareness that these tools even exist, and typically the tools are not curated or configured to the specific needs of the legal team(s) they are meant to enable. Law firms need to shift their focus from solving the needs of their lawyers and practice groups with point solutions to implementing collaboration technology, thereby enabling a more seamless workflow and team experience.
Collaboration technology provides immediate benefits to the day-to-day processes of lawyers and how they work. Consider a platform such as Microsoft Teams (which most law firms already have in their tech stacks). With just a basic deployment, lawyers can co-author documents in real time, build knowledge repositories for easy access to precedent, and communicate insights within that same space. They thereby eliminate the need to conduct manual searches across multiple systems for information, emailing version after version of a document back and forth, combing through their Outlook inbox, or sending/receiving endless “ISO” messages seeking precedent.
Optimized collaboration technology can address the specific needs of practice groups with the addition of workflow, document automation, task management, and AI functionality. HighQ, a well-known legal collaboration platform, provides this type of functionality natively. Firms have leveraged HighQ for M&A deals, automating due diligence activities, managing real estate portfolios and transactions, and even automating procurement departments and the contract life cycle management process. Developing these innovative solutions, which also allow firm clients to actively participate in matters, shifts technology from a self-serving tool to enabling a business-to-business collaborative relationship.
While many firms have some type of collaboration platforms in place, they are either not widely adopted or are being used as a video and chat platform. The root cause of the lack of adoption is the need to bridge the gap between the legal team’s needs and the technology configuration to support the work. An empathetic translator and implementor is needed to listen, configure, and guide the process of delivering the work in new ways through the platform.
Aside from the functional capabilities, collaboration technology naturally fosters a healthy work life balance, allowing lawyers to work anytime and anywhere. It elevates client service levels by reducing the friction amongst the teams delivering the work and allows for the scalability of practice groups and the services they offer. Plainly put, collaboration technology balances new ways of working, exceeds client demand, and enables lawyers to get work done with ease.
The time is now
Collaboration, at its core, is meant to break down silos, providing deep impact firmwide. As Heidi Gardner, Ph.D., the author of Smart Collaboration, stated:
When firms get collaboration right – that is, do complex work for clients that spans practices within the firm – they earn higher margins, inspire greater client loyalty, gain access to more lucrative clients and attract more cutting-edge work.
What firm doesn’t want higher margins and more lucrative clients? We know associates crave more cutting-edge work. Additionally, according to Gardner, revenues were 5.7 times higher for firms that served clients across three practice groups rather than just one, further proving that collaboration technology is worth the investment.
Time is of the essence for law firms to implement and optimize collaboration technology. Clients are no longer satisfied with keeping to the status quo in the delivery of legal services. They want innovative and sophisticated law firms, rooted in the quality of work being delivered with unparalleled acumen and speed. Associates and other legal professionals crave tools that make their work easier and allow them to provide higher level contributions. Firms must conduct active listening campaigns with their practice groups, facilitated by knowledgeable experts who can then translate what they hear into collaborative technology solutions. The law firm of the future is built on collaboration capabilities which afford lawyers and staff the agility needed to provide successful outcomes for their clients, but also the flexibility to live the life they desire outside of the practice of law.
If you would like to discuss how HBR’s team of former practitioners and technologists can help assess and advance your firm’s collaboration capabilities, please feel free to contact Bobbi Basile or Kate Jasaitis.