How are law firms adapting to the new hybrid working opportunities?
Steve Newton

New research confirms that law firms are increasingly seeking to take advantage of the opportunities presented by hybrid working through the policies they are implementing for their staff and the use of technology to support this.

How are law firms adapting to the new hybrid working opportunities
How are law firms adapting to the new hybrid working opportunities

This is the third in a short series of blogs looking at some of the main findings to emerge from the recent benchmarking study Hybrid Working & Law Firms’ Long-Term Cloud Journey undertaken by Legal IT Insider in association with Philips.

Following on from the global pandemic, we have seen the rapid growth of the hybrid work model where employees have the flexibility to work a portion of their week from home, with the remainder of the time spent in their office. One of the main areas of focus for the study, therefore, was to understand the degree to which law firms are shifting to a hybrid working environment.

Approaches to hybrid adoption

Respondents were asked how they were planning to operate on an on-going basis post-pandemic.

The vast majority appear to recognise the growing acceptance and popularity of hybrid working, with 88% having some form of policy in place to support various hybrid work models.

The most popular of these models is working more than half the week in the office (52%), with working less than half the week in the office (23%) and giving staff the option to choose their hours of working from home (23%) also commonly used.

And the rate at which some form of flexible working has become almost the norm is reflected in the fact that only 2% of respondents said that they were making it mandatory for their staff to be back in the office full-time.

Supporting hybrid working

Technology is, of course, a key enabler in supporting the roll-out and adoption of hybrid working, allowing employees to work seamlessly between the workplace and home. So, a follow-up question looked at the technology-related changes that law firms are making as they adapt to hybrid working.

The most significant development has been the surge in adoption of eSignature usage (72%). An electronic signature is essentially a process that uses computers to authenticate the signatory and certify the integrity of the document. They can be used in nearly all the same instances as traditional signatures. However, they are more efficient, mobile-friendly and secure, and thus ideally suited for a hybrid work environment where colleagues and business partners may be working remotely.

The study also highlights the growing popularity of Microsoft 365, with 56% of respondents having moved to this SaaS product to help facilitate remote working. This increased adoption also reinforces the requirement for other business software to be able to integrate effectively with Microsoft’s flagship product.

The other significant development, cited by 60% of the respondents, has been to move to a paperless/paper-light environment, emphasising the important role that speech-to-text software, workflow and electronic filing systems can play in the adoption of hybrid working.

Benefits for all

From an employee perspective, the greater flexibility offered by hybrid working is now a key consideration for many workers when choosing a job, providing as it does an improved work-life balance, which can in turn significantly increase levels of job satisfaction.

Indeed, research from Thomson Reuters indicates that 63% of those working in the legal profession now want to work flexible hours, compared to just 22% pre-pandemic.

From the employer’s perspective there are also a number of significant advantages. For instance, many firms are already experiencing improved business agility and access to a far larger talent pool.

Furthermore, when looking at the findings arising out of the research, the figures imply that law firms have the potential to downsize their office space by some 35-40% if they successfully adopt the hybrid working models indicated in the survey. Forecasting such a move in 2020, Neil Cameron (Lead Analyst at Legal IT Insider), estimated that: “Reducing property-related costs by half would mean a 15% increase in margin, and a two thirds reduction would mean an increase of 19%.” All of which will be grist to the mill for those law firms looking to reduce costs.

Going forward

Many industry observers believe that the adoption of hybrid working is going to become so commonplace that it will simply become the standard way of working.

However, to make hybrid work a success, employers need to meet the needs of employees and provide the level of flexibility and technology support that they expect. If they don’t, then there is every chance that employees will vote with their feet and move to an employer that can meet their expectations.

More detailed results of the benchmarking study can be found at Cloud Report 2023

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