How can law firms navigate the challenges posed by the global pandemic? Legal tech experts Pierre-Antoine Rizk and Madaline Zannes, and OpenText’s Andy Teichholz joined us for a virtual Q&A on the current state of law firms and where the legal industry is headed in a world dealing with COVID-19. Pierre-Antoine is a lawyer, legal writer and founder of Legal Post. Madaline is a legal tech consultant, founder of ZannesLaw, and is currently a lawyer-in-licensing in Ontario. Andy is the Senior Industry Strategist for Compliance and Legal at OpenText™.
Q: What are some of the top challenges facing law firms today?
COVID-19 has done what many thought would take eons: forcing law firms to switch to remote work in what felt like an overnight transformation. So far it appears to have gone reasonably well. Prior to the pandemic, if a firm staff member were to ask to work from home long-term, it was very likely they would feel like they were risking their position just by asking the question. I’ve been there! Work didn’t revolve around life – life revolved around work. This has now changed drastically. Strategically, it would be wise to not just consider this experience as a temporary pandemic-related process diversion but, rather, to implement remote work within the structure of the business into the future. Corporate culture has been itching for change, and this is it.
Data security also continues to be a huge challenge. In terms of cybersecurity, law firms have traditionally lagged beyond other industries and have been slow to invest in the right technology and resources needed to manage these risks. Hackers and malicious insiders see the firms as soft targets that possess a wealth of sensitive and confidential client data. Data breach failures come with a huge price that is often too hard to recover from, including reputational harm, potential ethics violations and loss of client confidence and trust, to name a few.
Q: How can law firms remain competitive and expand their client base when faced with the resourcing challenges – financial or staffing – brought on by COVID-19?
Despite disruptions caused by COVID-19, client expectations have not changed – firms need to demonstrate that they can continue to meet client pressures without any dip in productivity despite operating in a remote, virtual environment. This means finding ways to do more with less and devoting time only to high-value work. Those firms that can effectively leverage their IP, repurpose work and effectively – and rapidly – bring the right expertise and resources to the table will provide better outcomes at a lower cost.
The main challenges facing lawyers today lie in their relationship with new technologies. These can not only hinder the expansion of a law firm but also serve the new form of competition that is LegalTech – that is, companies that offer legal services using new technologies. It is essential that law firms adapt their way of doing business to the restrictive measures brought on by COVID-19. This adaptation includes an increase in teleworking.
Along with remote work, obtaining new clients seems to have been one of the greater challenges during this pandemic. Many firms have looked to show leadership in working with the community, as the main focus right now is survival.
Q: How can technology help law firms address these challenges?
The pandemic is pushing lawyers to integrate new technologies into their way of working. Some tools allow lawyers to continue their activity despite the quarantine, such as electronic signature solutions or tools to generate virtual meeting rooms. It also seems appropriate to highlight the importance for law firms to establish a relevant communication strategy through their website and their social networks to be able to develop a clientele, whatever the circumstances.
Although simple as a concept, the forced shifting of gears towards working from home has very much been an eye-opening experience. Yet the sentiment toward remote work seems quite positive overall, thanks to video-conferencing tools such as Zoom, team chat platforms such as Slack and Mattermost, and all-in-one communication platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Google Suite. Depending on jurisdiction and various matters that may require in-person appearances – or, say, if a staff member needs to pick up a document or file from the office – it is now becoming somewhat of a nuisance to not have the ability to complete whatever task is at hand remotely.
Q: Is there any other insight or advice you’d like to share as law firms navigate these new challenges?
The digital transformation of law is not confined to the current period. It is a lasting and profound movement that is now a major challenge to law firms. It is therefore essential that they make the effort to seriously consider the use of digital technology. Nevertheless, the increasing use of sophisticated technologies means that lawyers must focus on one aspect of their profession that has become even more important with the digital age – namely, the image they project to their clients and the relationship they have with them.
The shift to a work-from-home model has introduced new security concerns and exposed endpoints, leaving many law firms extremely vulnerable to potential data breaches and ransomware attacks. Clients are auditing their data security practices and systems at a much greater rate. In addition to demanding greater innovation and process optimization, clients are laser-focused on data handling practices and security. To remain competitive and retain client trust, addressing data security will be one of the top priorities long after the pandemic recovery.
I don’t see things returning as they were prior with regards to working in the office. This is the trend that the legal industry is now facing, and it should be considered that staff will potentially want, or need – due to childcare, etc. – to work from home. Getting back to work in general won’t be as straightforward as flipping an “open” sign in the window and expecting staff to revert to pre-pandemic times. We don’t know exactly how long it will be before we could have that kind of normalcy.
In the meantime, self-care is one of our greatest priorities. It also should be understood that others need this care for themselves as well, as we are all forging through this together. A golden opportunity also exists to build better communication and trust with staff and colleagues. While we look toward the light at the end of this tunnel, we must continue to be mindful of the necessary precautions of this time: staying home and wearing a mask.
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