How UK Law Firms Can Future-Proof Their Operations

December 03, 2020

"Motivation is the catalysing ingredient for every successful innovation."
– Clayton Christensen


What can lawyers do to future-proof their firms? That is the question. Welcome back — to the third segment of our three-blog series on recent global changes in legal industry leadership, technology, and operations. In this article, we focus on how the legal industry is innovating operationally, as adaptability to new situations continues to be the forward-looking firm's most important trait.

Resilience entails new ways of thinking about teamwork. Technology, cyber and data security all play a role in supporting the strong firm.

With effective processes in place, legal technology supports all aspects of operations and business management — indeed, more robustly than in the traditional law practice.

A Transformational Pivot: The Legal Industry (Successfully) Goes Remote

The Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 served the legal industry as an inflexion point. It threw many elements of the legal market into chaos and motivated legal experts to carry out the most striking operational changes ever undertaken.

Successful transformation of UK legal services relied on several imperatives:


Engaging the Distributed Staff

The global legal industry adapted — first under pressure, yet with proven and steady success — to remote working and home office environments. Law firms successfully met remote working challenges, integrating solutions into their day-to-day operations.

Keeping an engaged, energetic staff meant understanding how remote working integrates a legal career and a home life. This confluence brings new challenges, especially when young children are present at home. To thrive in this situation, leaders have acquired a heightened sensitivity, so they can help their employees adapt.

A cycle of respect is more important than it was before remote working. Its elements? Inclusivity, good communication, and great collaboration. For everything to mesh, transparency is vital, so employee surveys and regular updates from firm leaders play essential parts. Agile firms have encouraged responsive groupings rather than the traditional firm’s discrete departments and decision hierarchies. As noted in the following section, firms now hire for responsiveness. To foster a culture of innovation, the future-focused firm has to nurture a flexible culture in which ideation and learning are valued, and people interact frequently and flexibly.

Future-facing law firms are keeping staff clients as well as staff informed about how they are responding to setbacks and learning opportunities. They communicate within and beyond the firm using attractive technology that inspires confidence.


Hiring for Agility and Operational Flexibility

The hiring process is now a quest for the capacity to respond to the unimaginable. Successful leaders are using this awareness to obtain and sustain an adaptive edge.

Methods that suited stable operational environments are being overtaken by more responsive protocols. Thus, law firms that have proved able to navigate through the pandemic seek junior lawyers with high adversity quotients (AQ). Because an operating plan is no longer static, future lawyers will:

    • Identify trends likely to lead to new norms and formulate educational responses or proposals for action.
    • Recognise risks that cannot be removed.
    • Compensate for risk by diversifying the firm’s resources and offerings and broadening the approach to knowledge management.

Instead of solely being subject matter experts, lawyers must pick up early signs of change, and respond. Candidates for positions at law firms, having already embraced the shift to remote work, seek out firms that value cognitive diversity as a key element of long-term strategic planning.


Renovating the Standard Operating Procedures

To stay viable, firms have to innovate. This involves continual assessment of standard operating procedures. Simple changes in operations strategy, including communication, can be high-impact opportunity creators. As examples:

    • Forms and flows of communication that had been manual are now automated.
    • Day-to-day operational and financial management occurs across secure online platforms.
    • Auditable digital documents replace paper trails.
    • Legal contracts for personnel and clients include procedures that work well online.
    • Insurance now reflects work-from-home realities, urgent health threats, and new transportation needs — although webcam technology and electronic scanning and signing channel most transactions, filings and court appearances.
    • Key software tools allow staff and clients alike to enjoy accessible yet secure portals that let them meet or schedule events.
    • New policies cover workday scheduling expectations and the protocols for setting up various types of meetings — although the firm of the future pays more attention to achieving its goal than to how many hours people work to achieve them.

To future-proof a blended professional and home life, new structures and new procedures must be devised. The same is true for the future-proof firm.

Creating a Secure Technological Infrastructure

When legal personnel set up home workspaces in 2020, they entered a new operational era. They proved that high-quality service is possible with a digitally connected group of colleagues using leading-edge collaboration tools. As a baseline, research finds suitable collaboration tools, doubling the satisfaction of colleagues in operating as a team. Rapid adaptation of an infrastructure connecting a firm’s networks and its employees’ remote devices is essential.

Now, legal software can optimise all core operational functions, from scheduling to goal-tracking to automating updates to clients. And today, from junior lawyers to general counsel, legal professionals are using cloud-based case management and practice management tools. Putting artificial intelligence to work for the firm, lawyers will soon be able to account for case variables instantly.

Of course, none of this happens without secure data transmission. Security professionals report significant increases in phishing, dissemination of malicious websites, and other security threats since Covid-19 arose. Uniform, tested software and scalable remote access security are indispensable.

Equipping UK Law for a New Operational Era

Predicting future scenarios is, by nature, an uncertain art. No one knows precisely how the next major disruption to legal services will unfold. But it's now entirely possible to anticipate how fast the law firm must pivot when norm-crushing change occurs.

SOS Legal takes a deeper dive into successful UK law firms’ responses in our eBook, The Future of Law Firm Operations, which you can download here. For legal solutions to securely manage the operations of the evolving firm, speak with us.

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