The skills that matter when it comes to remote working in the legal sectorReading Time: 3 minutes
Businesses of all kinds have been shaken up over the course of 2020, and those in the legal sector are no exception. As things stand the future is far from clear but whatever happens going forward, it’s looking like remote work is here to stay for most.
Working remotely, or telecommuting if you like, comes with its own set of challenges to get to grips with. Each of these challenges requires a mix of hard and soft skills to conquer. So it’s time to talk about the various skills you’ll need for effective remote working in the legal sector.
The challenges of working remotely
Remote work is incredibly popular with those who’ve experienced it. Firms such as Linklaters have launched agile working initiatives, and the State of Remote Work 2020 Report found that over 90% of surveyed remote workers want to continue doing their jobs remotely in at least some capacity for the remainder of their careers. But despite telecommuting catching on like an open flame in a match factory, there are a few issues it can pose for employees without remote experience.
For starters, it can be quite socially isolating. Ideally, remote working in the legal sector, you’ll have a consistent schedule of video stand-ups giving you the chance to verbally interact with your colleagues on a regular basis. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’ll spend the rest of that time with just Spotify for company. Aside from loneliness causing poor remote work wellbeing, isolation can make you feel less connected to your firm and less in tune with company objectives, potentially impacting performance.
Beyond that, remote work puts greater emphasis on some of the skills we’ll be discussing in this article, such as interpersonal communication, time management, and organisational skills. Remember, while you’re avoiding that early commute, you’ve still got to be in a position to manage all your professional responsibilities without a hitch.
Remote legal workers must master virtual tools
Many of the hard skills that lawyers rely on will transfer more or less unchanged into their remote working lives. After all, associates will still need to conduct research, create and compile legal documents, and even interact with clients. Of course, the latter will require remote working legal staff to be familiar with services like Microsoft Teams or Zoom, but those aren’t the only virtual tools that lawyers will need to get used to.
The rise of virtual law firms is something of a headache for their brick-and-mortar siblings. But with the greater emphasis on remote working in the legal sector, traditional firms may well have to take a leaf out of their competitors’ books.
Virtual firm management software is designed to enable law firms to conduct their business remotely. They provide users with facilities for case management, document creation, e-signing, calendar management and much more, usually including secure file storage for sensitive legal documentation.
The importance of soft skills for remote work productivity
But there’s only so much we can say about the various hard skills that lawyers need to have a handle on. With so much of the legal industry working from home, soft skills are going to more important than you might think. Whereas hard skills refer to things that require technical understanding, like setting up paperwork for a property transfer, or being able to effectively use a specific computer application, soft skills are more about how you manage yourself and interact with others. Employees that are remote working in the legal sector need the following:
- Good time management and organisational abilities: Time management has always been an important soft skill, but it’s even more essential for remote workers. At your firm, you have the rhythm of the working day going on around you, and the absence of that routine can easily put newly remote employees on the back-foot. It’s vital that you maintain professional standards and continue to meet your deadlines. Not only that, effective time management is essential for preserving your work/life balance, which is easily blurred by working from home.
- Interpersonal communication skills: It might sound contrary to stress the importance of good communication when you’re working remotely in the legal sector. After all, it’s not like you’ll be seeing anyone. But of course, that’s exactly why you absolutely need good communication skills to work with your colleagues effectively. This means getting in the habit of providing regular progress updates, and communicating your needs while listening to those of your co-workers. It also means using communication tools like Teams and Slack effectively, and not abusing them to hassle your equally busy teammates.
- Emotional intelligence: Emotional intelligence, sometimes abbreviated to “EQ” for Emotional Quotient, is important in any job that involves interacting with other people because it helps you understand their state of mind. A good example is the one we just highlighted: knowing when to stop badgering colleagues for a Teams call before they get annoyed. But perhaps the most important application of EQ for remote workers is self-regulation. The legal sector is stressful at the best of times, and the camaraderie that office-based colleagues enjoy is a great coping mechanism which remote workers unfortunately lack. Emotional intelligence means being able to manage stress, understanding your own psychological needs, and knowing when to seek help with your mental wellbeing.