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What does the future of work look like in the legal sector after the events of 2020

The huge shake-up that's been 2020 has left a huge impact on law firms, as well as countless other businesses in the UK. As seen in our "˜UK Legal Sector: State of the Workplace Report', the move to mass levels of remote working and the Government's furlough scheme has seen some significant changes to the industry. 

Fortunately, the legal sector experienced an uptick in business during the four weeks prior to this study's publication. Yet, despite this, the future of the UK's legal sector is still uncertain. 

So for part three in our series, it's time to discuss possibilities for the future of work in the legal sector based on our research, conducted in partnership with Today's Conveyancer and The Practical Vision Network.

We surveyed over 2500 UK legal professionals from a variety of law firms, including partners, associates, trainees, paralegals and support staff. Our participants were also from a variety of specialisations. 

Flexibility is the future of work in the legal sector

As with businesses in many other sectors, law firms in the UK depended heavily on telecommuting, with over 80% of roles being performed remotely at the peak of the lockdown according to our findings. Buffer's State of Remote Work 2020 report found that over 90% of surveyed remote workers reporting a desire to work remotely at least some of the time for the remainder of their careers. Our findings seem to support this, as more than 60% of our survey respondents wanted to spend at least half their time working remotely in the future.

Aside from being popular with employees, remote work can be incredibly beneficial for law firms. Not only can it help you scale back on office costs, but our research shows that nearly half of employees are more productive at home than in the office, and over a third reported the same level of productivity in either setting.

While, for obvious reasons, the emphasis has been on remote work in recent months, firms would do well to consider the full range of options at their disposal when it comes to flexible working policies. Prior to lockdown, some firms were already experimenting with flexible hours. For example, Portcullis Legals in Plymouth has given its employees the option to compress their hours into a four-day work week.

Could billable hours be on the way out?

The future of work in the legal sector looks like it will involve greater implementation of flexible working methods, and this opens up the possibility of exploring other models for running firms, including doing away with billable hours altogether. The time-consuming nature of legal work can cause those hourly rates to build up, and unexpectedly high bills can be a major point of contention for firm's clients. As such, an alternative model could attract a lot of attention.

The idea of moving away from billable hours isn't totally new, either. A Financial Times piece from last year highlighted the impact of tech start-ups developing fixed fee models, such as Priori Legal, which connects clients with external lawyers who submit their fixed rates in the form of bids. It's possible that as more traditional firms move to embrace flexible working and newer technological practices, some may try implementing fixed rate models themselves. If that happens, the future of work in the legal sector could look very different.

Firms are embracing technology post-lockdown

One way or another, technology is the future of work in the legal sector. Communication technology like Microsoft Teams, and collaboration tools such as Trello have enabled law firms to adopt remote work on a much greater scale. Thanks to tech start-ups, there are now even platforms and services that enable partners to manager their firms virtually, too.

On top of that, the development of machine learning algorithms has the potential to streamline legal research and paperwork. For example, LawGeex developed an AI that could complete five NDAs in 26 seconds, compared to the average of 92 minutes for the twenty different lawyers it was compared to. It also achieved greater accuracy, at 94% compared to the sample's average of 85%.

Some traditional processes are changing

It's natural for the way that businesses do certain things to change over time, evolving to meet the needs of a firm's clients and employees. Due to the demands of a locked down society, we were actually able to highlight an example of this in our research. During lockdown, far fewer will-writers were able to be put into remote work compared to other non-partner positions. This was because, legally speaking, will-writers were required to be physically present for the will signing.

That actually changed this August, as will-writers are now able to virtually oversee will signings. So in the event of more widespread lockdowns, it's possible they'll now be able to transition into remote work more effectively. And quite understandably, electronic signatures have become more prevalent as a result of efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.

As technology in the workplace helps firms to become less centralised, it's likely that more communication and legal documentation will happen in a virtual space. As a result, it's essential for law firms to invest in airtight digital security. In fact, many virtual firm management services come with secure file storage for sensitive legal documents.

If you haven't seen them already, we'd recommend checking out the other parts of our State of the Legal Sector series.

Part one looks at the role that remote work played in helping the UK's legal sector to function during lockdown.

Part two looks at the implementation and impact of furlough.

To keep an eye out for the next part in the series, or to learn more about Weekly10's employee engagement services, check out the Weekly10 blog today!

The full 21-page report is available free and contains a range of insights, detailed commentary and predictions for the future.