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Does the legal sector now need to embrace virtual workspaces and remote collaboration?

In 2020 remote collaboration using virtual workspaces has become the norm for many businesses across the world. Things look set to largely stay that way for the time being, but it's interesting to think about how this could affect the legal sector going forward in a post-COVID world of work.

How going virtual impacts client interaction

Businesses in different sectors and industries have unique considerations to make when going virtual. The legal sector is no exception. 

Of course, more or less every firm or chambers nowadays has their own website. But when you're making your practice wholly virtual, all the pressure gets put on your online presence. This is significant for firms because there's a lot of prestige associated with a fancy practice building full of high-powered legal professionals.

The American Bar Association's online publication interviewed several founders and leading partners from different law firms operating virtually. Some operate entirely virtually without a brick-and-mortar office, while others maintain physical offices and have some teams working in virtual spaces to increase flexibility.

One of those whose firm was fully virtually-based was Cathryn Chinn, CEO of VLP Law Group LLP (VLP) in San Francisco. When asked about what sort of workspace her firm used, she replied:

"We have no brick-and-mortar office. Each attorney is responsible for his or her own work environment. Some work from home, some rent their own office space. Administrative staff works from home. Individual attorneys meet with their own clients as needed, often at the client's office or for a meal or coffee. We have regular biweekly firm teleconference calls via videoconference. Practice groups, staff and various committees have monthly or biweekly conference calls as well. Teleconferencing is generally the way our firm keeps in touch."

This is a great quote because it shows that operating virtually doesn't necessarily mean you have to cut back on client interaction.

One of the key concerns of any virtual work environment is whether an important human aspect of the service is being lost. While the prestige of a corner office is nice, this gives associates the flexibility to meet client needs, and let's face it, as far as "œbeing human" goes, little beats a meeting over a cup of coffee, or a two-course lunch. 

The advantages and disadvantages of virtual workspaces

Another great thing about that quote is that it highlights several key aspects of remote work that we've discussed before, such as the use of teleconferencing to keep everyone on the same page and maintain the connection between team members.

We've talked at great length previously about the huge benefits to employee engagement, productivity and wellbeing that remote work can bring when implemented well. It can have huge impacts on company culture, really helping to prioritise your work-life balance and putting your people first.

Supporting remote teams with virtual workspaces can potentially cut office costs. But despite possibly being a long-term cost-saving measure, virtual workspaces can be complicated and expensive to set up.

Virtual workspaces improve employee accessibility by using cloud storage, meaning employees are not confined to using any one device to do their work. It can also benefit security, in that data isn't stored on the device, but rather at a secure endpoint.

However, virtual workspaces can still share many of the same security risks such as malware and phishing attacks. Setting up security measures to protect against this sort of thing is possible, but it can be one of the more complex aspects of setting these workspaces up. Our advice here - consult a specialist!

Do virtual workspaces have any application in law chambers?

Firms are one thing, but law chambers are another. As with associates, there is certainly value for clients in being able to physically interact with their assigned barrister.  

However, the possibility of law chambers clerks working from separate locations to their barristers has been discussed openly as far back as 2010. An effective virtual workspace could allow clerks to distribute work to barristers regardless of location, which would be fantastic for job accessibility.

More recently, UK chambers along with many other businesses have had to make the jump to remote work. Landmark Chambers declared near the end of March that they are "˜fully operational during Coronavirus' and have remained so since. While it's unclear what combination of tools and services they are using, this shows that a remote virtual model has valid applications in chambers and not just firms.

While leaders might have once scoffed at the idea of virtual remote workspaces, it seems less of a pipedream nowadays. With the July closure of Ely Place Chambers announced in April, followed by their loss of some major talent, some have suggested that they might have a virtual future.

Useful tools for remote collaboration in virtual workspaces

While there are a lot of B2B services for setting up virtual desktop infrastructures (VDIs) for businesses in general, there's actually something a bit more specific for law firms. LawWare is a software service that allows firms to be managed virtually.

If this sounds familiar to any of our regular readers, that's because we opened up our list of top remote work tools for the legal sector with it. LawWare is fully compliant with SRA and Law Society standards. Their services include accounting and billing, document and matter management, cloud's security features include "strong-box" storage for your client's most sensitive documents. Some more general VDI services include Microsoft Entra ID (formerly known as Microsoft Azure Active Directory), Amazon WorkSpaces, and Parallels RAS.

But there are plenty of supplementary tools that can really make telecommuting easier. For starters, it's important to have decent video conferencing software like Microsoft Teams, which comes with OneDrive integration to give you even more cloud storage options. As well as being another way to interact with clients, video conferencing is important for cohesion in remote teams.

As a manager in your firm, you'll also need an avenue through which to give feedback. A digital employee check-in platform can be a very cost-effective and time-saving way to ensure a flow of effective 360° feedback to drive employee engagement and performance. If you would like to know more about how technology can better enable remote work to save firms money, check out some of our other articles on the Weekly10 blog or get in touch with the team below.