Flexible working, working from home, remote working – no matter what you call it, the idea of the workplace being truly fluid is now commonplace in every industry, including the legal industry.
While the pandemic forced us into it and into ways that worked at least at the time. Now that firms are returning to, at least a sense of, normality, they are finding that more of the workforce is looking to work from home, and new recruits now expect some flexibility as such. In our Legal Business Trends report, we found that 96% of firms engage in hybrid working, and just under half of those asked felt leadership in their law firm identified flexible working as a priority.
There is a myriad of challenges that come out from this. The first few being the more obvious ones that we saw in the pandemic – in that processes were initially created to be functional in an office environment. This might be the use of paper files, teams only communicating in person or sometimes through intra-office video calls and the like, but nothing that empowered the individual to be able to pick up their files and go from anywhere. As such this causes a progress block on cases, driving down efficiency and ergo profit.
Then there are practical elements to consider. Do you still receive correspondence from third parties and clients by post for example? Are these actioned at the fee earner/departmental level or will they receive scanned copies from someone in the post room? Do you still send paper correspondence to clients? How do clients execute documents? Do they have to sign a paper document and send it back? Once you dig into it, there is quite the rabbit hole to dig into.
Firms are now finding that staff are looking for more flexible opportunities and that clients are more often-than-not happy for their solicitors to work from anywhere, so long as their matter continues to be completed with professionalism, with another recent legal trends report showing that 25% more clients prefer virtual meetings to in-person meetings. As such, these challenges are not going away – and firms need to adapt now.
Embracing digital processes
While not a panacea, technology was certainly a welcome antidote to the swell of initial issues with getting workers to work from home when offices were shut. Now we are seeing that while the initial technological shift was one considered out of necessity and haste, there is now the need to make calculated strides further to be able to answer some of the challenges addressed above.
Take document management for instance. Document management systems have become a favourite of many medium-and-large law firms who have looked for a way to release themselves from paper files and a paper-digital hybrid document management process – instead moving totally to a digital-first solution where all correspondence, evidence, forms, and so forth can be housed on a secure document management system, and easily searchable and collaborated on by those who have the right to (through effective restrictions and governance from top-level all available through the platform, of course!) including clients and third parties where needed.
NetDocuments is a legal-centric, cloud-based document management system that has this as a standard and has created a solution that is focused on the legal sector. By that, we mean that their features and development have been in areas where law firms need it to be. Compliance, security, governance take centre stage alongside the ease of organisation and collaboration that all document management systems look to give.
Beyond document management
There are several other software types designed to make law firms more flexible, while improving processes for both them and their clients.
Practice and case management systems nowadays have a number of important integrations with third-party tools designed to keep matters progressing at pace and all in one place, all within your matter progression. The more your cases can be managed from one source, the greater the flexibility your staff can have on working from anywhere – particularly when it also comes to client collaboration and the use of a digital case manager with client-side functionality.
This is also the case with forms. Law firms can face thousands of forms a day, and there are now cloud-capable legal form tools that work with your case management system that always has the most up-to-date form to hand and can locate or request accurate information from your matter directly within your case management system to almost automate the process of form-filling – saving around 15 minutes a form on average.
Time recording is another key tool, not just to allow your staff to capture and record the time they spend on billable hours, and not even only to provide transparent and accountable bills to your clients (both things are of course vital) but also to maximise the number of billable hours your staff can record from anywhere – all viewable to management through effective and transparent reporting more accurately.
A system that can do this on the cloud and be able to effectively and effortlessly record time spent on the widest range of programs, devices and tasks, and upload these directly into your case management system’s billing hub is the most prudent choice for a flexible office looking for maximum efficiency.