Emerging from the Pandemic: Future of Law Firms & Law Firm Leadership

November 11, 2020

"In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future."

— Eric Hoffer

The turbulence of 2020 has changed the rules for law firms — and their leaders. Simply stated, a crisis moves leaders to discard what is obsolete and select what better serves the changing circumstances.

In early 2020, the coronavirus crisis forced learning and change at an unprecedented pace throughout the UK legal sector. Covid-19 became the leadership test of our time. Some leaders stood out as others struggled. The performance of both groups is reshaping UK law firms’ public profiles. Clients and staff alike are deeply impressed — one way or the other — with the way their firms have faltered or flourished. Thus, the lessons lawyers are taking from the crisis are shaping their business development, and the value of their firms, for years to come.

It is not too late to step up. Indeed, the key question now is how to keep channelling the energy mustered during the lockdown for the challenges yet to arrive. To that end, here is one segment of our three-blog series on the impact of recent global changes on leadership, operations and technology. With this article, we focus on leadership.

Three Aspects of the Law Firm’s Transformation

How, exactly, are leaders in law firms deciding what better serves the changing circumstances created in the pandemic-related workplace shift? To date, they have adapted well to three aspects of the future-focused legal business:

  1. "Tech savvy". Leaders are making sure their teams have the technological acumen to thrive in the flexible workplace, coupled with best-in-class legal technology.
  2. Seamless operations. All these facets need to move in concert: transactions, communication, administration, practice management, legal compliance, record-keeping and time logging.
  3. Agile staff. Successful firms reward creative, context-aware action as well as past performance, and they do not hesitate to hire people who might bring better ideas to the firm. At the same time, many young legal professionals are inspired to join commercial law firms powered by technology and agile working models.

Once, the leaders of major law firms, steeped in the tradition of billable hours, regarded flexible work models with scepticism. Now, managing partners are excited about using remote platforms to develop new concepts. Virtual meetings, project collaborations, even depositions and hearings are effectively done through webcam technology. Leaders of today’s firms know that functioning remotely is not only possible — it is improving operations, saving time and funds, and opening new options for improving client services.

The Rise of the People-Oriented Law Firm

How, are leaders in law firms deciding hiring for the future? What are the traits of the people shaping the legal workplace? These professionals are decidedly people oriented. In a world of flexible operations, creating cohesion and engagement in a team starts with an emphasis on empathy from the firm's leadership.

Amongst what we would call the soft skills, a clear pattern is emerging:

From directing operations to coaching confident, adept teams.

From traditional cognitive focus (IQ) to emotional intelligence and adversity-focused intelligence (EQ and AQ).

Towards leveraging positivity, praise and productivity to motivate employee innovation and excellence.

It's all about learning how to connect remote teams. Our lives apart from work have now entered the firm, and leaders are finding a sensitivity to individual's home situations is appropriate. Knowing something about the experiences of every person in the firm now matters.

This brings us to the next question. How does a firm maintain its unique culture? Water cooler chats are no longer in play; nor is there an option to quickly pop over to a co-worker's desk to check on how a case is going.

This means new approaches to team building are unfolding. Bringing people together in audio-visual meetings is critical. So is an understanding of how home lives and work lives intersect. Caregiving roles are now shared more than ever before — potentially evening out the gender playing field. Assistance for personal success is overlapping with support for productive working. At its best, the law firm is making a transformation from an impersonal setting to a culture of mutual support.

Keyword for Future Legal Leadership: Agility

Having steered through a crisis, leaders have discarded inflexibility and prioritised agility. Leaders need to be sure their teams can move and adapt as smartly as its firm leadership and management does. And that, in turn, relies on communication, communication, communication.

Successful law firm managing partners and CEOs have now weathered countless leadership challenges presented by the pandemic and its fallout, so they are talking about how they have done it, and how they're looking ahead. In June 2020, directors and managing partners of UK and international law firms participated in a roundtable discussion. Hosted by Byfield, the roundtable focused on how founders, partners and project leaders are maintaining or moulding their firms’ culture in a time of remote and hybrid project management.

These leaders agreed that clear, personally tailored communication is key. If there is one indispensable tool for emerging from the lockdown with the firm’s reputation intact, it is the firm leadership’s capacity for earnest communication with employees. 

Prepared for These Times

What business models are on the rise in the legal services sector? What has crisis compelled leaders to discard and to adopt? Whether our case studies surprise you, or whether they confirm what your own experience has shown, they illustrate the power of UK law firms to adapt to their circumstances, appreciate their people, and succeed through innovation and teamwork.

SOS Legal researched the issue. We saw our most successful clients respond to abrupt change and adapt. We put our findings into an eBook with strategies for managing partners and project managers to consider as they guide firms into the future legal market.

The Future of Law Firm Operations offers a checklist to measure the UK law firm’s challenges in these three aspects: (1) technological,

(2) operational, and (3) leadership related. We invite you to download the eBook.

About SOS Legal: Delivering software and services to the legal market since 1987 has prepared SOS Legal for these times. We are equipping full-service law firms for the digital era, enabling them to mesh legal software with their communications and marketing materials, solicitor’s accounts and case files. SOS Legal assists the leaders who are shaping the future of law today.


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