“You can’t go home again,” novelist Thomas Wolfe famously wrote, and a recent poll of legal administrators suggests that is undeniably true for law firms in the era of COVID-19.

Of the legal administrators who responded to the poll, 91% believe the changes in working practices brought about by the pandemic, including more remote working, are permanent.

Three-quarters of them believe that the current situation will accelerate law firms’ plans to change their back-office services structure.

And 74% either agree or strongly agree that COVID-19 has made their staff more willing to change their working practices.

This non-scientific poll was conducted by the Association of Legal Administrators during a recent webinar it sponsored, “How to Plan and Manage when Change is the Only Constant.” Some 65 attendees responded to the poll, all of them administrators or working with the legal support function at law firms.

“It feels like these changes are a long time coming and it is unfortunate it took a pandemic to get us here, but this is a real opportunity to improve the legal service delivery model,” April Campbell, interim executive director of the ALA and moderator of the ALA panel, said of the poll results.

“Law firms will be able to focus on successful outcomes as the result of efficient processes rather than relying on a legal support system that was cumbersome and outdated. Some firms were already taking the leap before the pandemic, but now the rest of the industry is realizing the creation of new processes that work for their firms’ needs are a worthwhile endeavor.”

Other findings of the poll included:

  • Visibility of workflow and task delegation is the main challenge faced since support staff has been working from home.
  • 56% of those polled are planning on treating each office location differently when it comes to return to work plans between now and October.
  • A great effort by firms’ IT staff made WFH possible and this is set to remain even as returning to the office is encouraged, say 42% of respondents.

The ALA webinar included panelists from legal technology and consulting companies. In addition to Campbell as moderator, panelists were:

The panelists agreed that, assuming the poll findings prove correct and law firms will continue to work remotely for the foreseeable future, they will need to have a clear view of their legal support performance activity and analytics, and leverage this insight to make informed decisions to ensure efficiency. An example, they said, would be the proactive monitoring of the distribution of support tasks to ensure staff is highly productive, but not overloaded.

But the poll results also show that, while many law firms have been reluctant to change, the events of the last four months reveal openness on the part of law firm staff to change how they work, adopt new technologies, and refresh collaboration techniques.

“Law firms are changing and many are rethinking the fabric of their organizations,” said panelist Murray Joslin of Integreon. “The most successful adopters will be ones who are excited about changing, seeking new technology, discussing issues with clients, and embracing challenges. The magic of innovation lies in the ability to collaborate and be efficient.”

“Law firms have a unique opportunity to make difficult decisions now that they had wanted to make a long time ago,” said panelist Eric Wangler of BigHand. “Since it’s unlikely that people will be 100% back in offices, the long-term operational model will never look the same. This opens new possibilities for workflow, collaboration and back-office structures, facilitated by new technologies and strengthened infrastructures.”

At some point soon, Integreon is planning to produce an ALA white paper including more detail and analysis on this poll data, as well as insights from the webinar panelists about change management at law firms.  To request to receive this white paper when it is published, email info@integreon.com.

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.