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Three workplace trends that will impact your people in 2021

Businesses of all kinds were put on the backfoot during the various lockdowns that characterised 2020, and law firms were no exception. Here are the three most important workplace trends that will affect your people in 2021.

Performance-based pay

The legal sector ranked as the sixth most profitable industry in the UK in 2020, with total profits of approximately £13 billion. In different circumstances, it might arguably have been closer to the top. But it's important to bear in mind that, for the past few years, the possibility of a No Deal Brexit threw the UK legal sector's ability to operate internationally into doubt.

Stiff competition from the US is forcing legal firms to re-evaluate payment models. Both Allen & Overy and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer are moving away from the traditional lockstep system, in favour of a performance-based pay-scale. If more firms follow suit, it could drive competition for top talent through the roof.

Things seem set to change on the client-side, as well. While the billable hours model has worked well for law firms in the past, there seems to be a push for the legal sector to move away from it. Publications like the Financial Times have discussed the idea of fixed-fee models for a while, and services such as Priori Legal are making it a reality by connecting people to legal services for fixed bids. The idea that unpredictable legal costs prevent non-wealthy clients from accessing effective legal services is not a new one, but it appears to be gaining steam.

Flexible work fuels war for best rather than local talent

ONS figures put the proportion of UK professionals working remotely at nearly 47% during the pandemic's peak. Our own research conducted alongside Today's Conveyancer found that more than 80% of UK legal sector employees worked remotely last year.

The UK legal sector did a great job of adapting to the demands of lockdown for the most part with remote work even garnered a legislative victory for virtual will signings since August 2020.

But as the competition over legal talent escalates, law firm leaders should consider how to differentiate themselves. You might follow Plymouth-based Portcullis Legals in offering a four-day working week, or job or case sharing to support working parents. Other options could also be phased retirement to encourage coaching and mentoring.

The best choice would be to provide a range of options for flexibility, as it can open you up to wider pools of potential talent.

Technology helps retain your top performers by cutting busywork

Technology will drive most new trends in the legal sector. There are already tools and services that exist which can enable you to run a law firm entirely virtually. This could very well shake up our notions of what a typical law firm is supposed to look like, as a lack of office costs positions virtual firms to undercut the competition.

But technology can do a lot more than let us web-chat and file-share.

Machine learning and AI will influence every part of business. We use machine learning to help business leaders understand, influence, and improve engagement and performance of their people to help them retain their top talent.

But the applications of AI in the legal sector go further. Machine learning algorithms can perform what was once time-consuming admin-heavy work like filing NDAs in a fraction of the time and with just as much accuracy as a skilled lawyer.

This technology could result in job cuts for certain positions, but it also opens plenty of opportunity for your skilled lawyers to do what they love most: winning cases for their clients not filing paperwork.

Could your law firm be doing even better with the right tools for managing performance and engagement?