Hybrid law – A new reality
Coronavirus, characterized and acknowledged as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) has touched almost every country. Its severe repercussions reverberated across the world, causing substantial socio-economic and psychological impact
s such as loss of revenue, disruption of business, global trade deficits, and especially the human quotient aspect of prolonged exposure to stress and health.
Borders were closed, general lockdowns were implemented affecting numerous areas, new restrictions were executed reducing workforce across all economic sectors: Social distancing, self-isolation and travel limitations.
Despite its limitations, one of the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic was that of a radical change on work practices across every industry, and the legal sector was no exception.
The way law firms, the judiciary and the legal sector at large operate morphed to the challenge with has of the most dramatic alterations, upsetting the fragile traditional legal methods and challenged with new working procedures.
Law firms were forced to rely on available technological solutions, to continue to operate through remote working means. This way of working has its particularities and challenges for lawyers/law firms, who are one of the last sectors to hold on to traditional working ways, preferring to refer to the “hard documentation” for research, discovery, including face to face questioning and client briefing. Lawyers had to adapt to the hybrid model.
However, what are the implications of the “hybrid model” for law firms? Is it the future of work?
- What is a hybrid work model?
The coronavirus pandemic has shown us that we don’t have to be physically in an office to conduct properly our work.
Hybrid working is an elastic working model which allows lawyers to blend working from different locations.
Hybrid work arrangements allows flexibility to alternate between working in the office or remotely giving lawyers the independence to choose how they can work best on any given day.
Working from anywhere (WFA) began to take off before the coronavirus. With cloud computing, dependable Wi-Fi, time tracking apps, and secure portable devices, it was just as easy to work at home as it was in the office.
Lawyers can now effortlessly access IT support virtually, and using Zoom or Microsoft Teams for meetings. One should mention that there is a growing trend for facilitating tools, such as contract management systems (CMS), law office management tools, which help in tracking and invoicing, and finally online research platforms which have been around for over 25 years.
Thus, despite the negative aspects of the pandemic and its lockdowns, the fact that it has propelled law firms and lawyers to a new way of working can be seen as a positive impact.
- What are the benefits of hybrid working in law?
- Work-Life Balance
A healthy balance is the state of steadiness where a person equally prioritizes the demands of one’s career and the demands of one’s personal life.
With a hybrid model, lawyers can better balance their personal lives with their job responsibilities by being the leaders of their day-to-day life, which can lead to improved motivation and alertness when they’re working. Balancing one’s life has been a particularly difficult aspect for practionners in this field, and doing so ultimately has increased productivity.
- Increased productivity
Historically, some managers viewed hybrid working with a degree of suspicion, believing that if employees could pick and choose the hours they worked, they would simply choose to do less work. This was particularly true in the legal field, where hourly rates govern the way lawyers work. Therefore, time is money, and not being “physically” at the office is a loss of revenue. This turns out to be unfounded. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. In a research paper by Microsoft on the impact of the pandemic on the performance of companies across Europe, 82 per cent of leaders said their companies were at least as productive as they were before the pandemic. 
- Greater pool of talents
Law Firms are able to hire from a much larger pool of talent. Law Firms that adopt hybrid working will have a much larger range of locations from which they are able to hire than those that do not.
- Office Expenses Reduction
According to Microsoft research, 66% of leaders worldwide stated that their company is considering redesigning the office space for hybrid work. Fewer people in the office mean that you might reduce unused space and gain some financial benefits along with it. This could be by renting parts of the office to other entities or moving to a smaller building altogether. Some companies might also choose just to rent a coworking space instead. 
- What are the challenges of practicing law remotely?
Remote work comes with as many rewards as it comes with challenges.
Even with its countless advantages, hybrid work environments are not without their possible downsides.
The potential negative aspects of hybrid work models are greater dependency on technology, which could put you at a risk of not being available, due to communication breakdowns. Not to mention the cultural clashes, which are exacerbated when dealing with colleagues or clients across a screen.
Remote working has also put the spotlight on the vulnerabilities and security risks of the technology that companies have scrambled to deploy.
According to a 2020 report from the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center, 29% of law firms have experienced a security breach while moving to virtual workplaces. It may be worth hiring a robust IT company to see to your security needs and ensure each worker has what they need to keep your firm’s information safe at the office and at home. If you’re more into DIY fixes, solutions like VPNs, password vaults, and similar tools have become less expensive and are relatively simple to implement. 
Lawyers had to conquer
its hurdles by adapting their skills to the new digital world.
- Recommended tools for hybrid law firms
In order to become a cloud-based law firm and to turn a traditional law firm culture on its head, the availability of the below equipment is mandatory:
- Cloud-based email
- Cloud-based case management software
- Protected client portal
- Video conferencing software
- E-filing service
- How are lawyers dealing with the hybrid approach?
In a post-pandemic world, lawyers are trying to figure out how they’re going to operate.
In the 2020 Law Firm General Counsel Roundtables Survey, 81 percent of senior risk managers believe that a significant increase in remote working will become a permanent feature of how their firms operate. This is likely due, in part, to lawyers’ increased desire to work from home. Acritas, a partner of Thomas Reuters, reports that the number of lawyers who wish to work from home at least one day per week has doubled from 37 percent pre-pandemic to 76 percent today. Partners are jumping on the remote train as well. A majority of partners observed working practices to improve from remote working, and a majority desire to work remotely themselves at least one day per week.
On the other hand, there are plenty who strongly disagree stating that law firms that return to the office will have a significant performance advantage over those that do not.
Where does this leave law firms in the future after seeing the majority of lawyers choosing the hybrid work model and that many firms have directed their attention to wellbeing and work-life balance?
- Conclusion and Recommendations for managing a hybrid law firm
Most law firms have acknowledged that there will never be an optimal return to work date and that the culture that comes with working in the legal sector doesn’t always lend itself well to working from home.
Despite the fact that operations with legal tech are being streamlined, lawyers are having a better work-life balance and productivity is improving, remote work comes with as many challenges as it comes with rewards.
First, there’s the issue of data sensitivity, then cyber security procedures need to be considered and client-lawyer confidentiality still needs to be honored.
Therefore, each hybrid law firm should:
- Implement remote working policies to ensure the continuity of their business, their client relationships and their productivity.
- Maintain a suitable security protocol at each worker location to avoid data breaches and attacks
- Overcome the communication barriers by creating communication channels, asking for reviews, giving clear directives and creating personal engagements
- Set boundaries and keep its lawyers focus on their jobs by holding regular meetings, operating an open-door policy and give and receive feedback.
- Connect the dots with the right technological equipment.
- Incorporate new technology to increase efficiency and provide a better client service.
The future of law is therefore here, the role of the lawyer and law firm has changed, and each and everyone of us in the sector need to adapt to such use of technology, or be eventually labeled as obsolete, not to mention that law firms will unable to compete in terms of efficiency, fees and speed if they do not adapt.
Confidentiality in the work of the attorney is a definitely always paramount, however, this privilege of communications is not limited to the legal sector.
It took a pandemic, which is almost over or so we hope, but hybrid is here to stay….
Yet, we need to understand – that Hybrid was a pre- Corona mode .. and the legal fraternity is playing catch up….