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How large law firms are embracing change

The large law firms embracing change and keeping the competition at bay

During a time of rapid change, accelerated by the pandemic, organisations have been forced to adapt, and in many cases, rewrite their operational strategies in a short space of time, including law firms.

In a sector known for being particularly resistant to change, trends that were already emerging before the pandemic, such as technology adoption, consolidation, and client empowerment, were suddenly transforming the industry at a rapid speed.

While smaller firms are nimble and agile enough to respond quickly to the changes, for larger law firms, especially those with global operations, change is often hard and slow, yet many have risen to the challenges of adapting to the future world of work.

Leading large law firm Baker McKenzie has been active in reshaping the new future of work.

Operating across multiple time zones and adapting to a variety of work schedules has always been the norm, however, the pandemic completely transformed where, when, and how its people do their work.

To support staff through the overnight transition to remote working and isolation from family, friends, and colleagues, the firm offered some alternative working arrangements including incentives to voluntarily reduce working weeks, and short-term, part-paid sabbaticals of up to three months.

As Ed Poulton, managing partner of Baker McKenzie’s London office points out, one positive aspect of working from home was the firm’s rapid embrace of virtual interactions.

“Adopting new technology, namely Zoom, early on in the crisis really helped, and we’re now in the process of rolling out Microsoft Teams,” he says. “One thing that lockdown taught us is that some meetings can be done just as easily virtually than in person.”

Adapting to new ways of working can take its toll on people’s health and wellbeing, so some locations began providing onsite counselling programs and access to mental health first aiders.

Poulton adds: “Overall, we were able to implement the technology needed to transition to a virtual office quickly and smoothly, and although we all have different circumstances, for example, with childcare, living alone, or caring for others, we put measures in place to ensure that everyone felt supported, that they could be flexible with their working day if needed and that they were being listened to.”

As well as the changes imposed by the pandemic, the emergence of new technologies in recent years has brought had a major impact on the profession, accelerating the pace of digital transformation, and encouraging greater use of technology that facilitates virtual communication and remote client service. To retain a competitive edge, large law firms need to establish a talent pipeline of tech-savvy legal professionals.

Global law firm Linklaters is exploring ways of exposing its trainees to new technologies, and last year worked with a group of academics to create a new legal technology curriculum for its youngest lawyers.

The curriculum, developed in partnership with Swansea University, first prioritised the firm’s trainee population, starting with those who joined the firm in August 2019; around 200 people globally.

The firm plans to turn the programme into a staple of its training contract.

The firm’s in-house tech start-up Nakhoda, launched to use technology to solve legal problems, has also started taking on trainees for six-month secondments that form a part of the firm’s standard training contract rotation.

Candidates are selected based on their skills, experience and qualification, and interest, and during their six-month ‘seat’ they learn how to code and develop new software for the hub, and can also get involved with marketing and be trained on how to pitch a tech product for sale.

Client needs have also changed over the past 17 months, with continued demand for highly skilled technical advice on the most up-to-date developments, but with a renewed requirement to understand not just how and where their business has historically operated, but also what will happen next.

“Clients are looking for insight and guidance about their future and how they will operate in the years to come,” says Ed Poulton.

“The phases of Our Resilience, Recovery and Renewal framework, which we launched soon after the beginning of the pandemic, are designed to address this focus on their whole journey.”

Global legal business DWF’s approach to futureproofing is to invest in educating the business about how new technologies can be leveraged to automate certain legal tasks safely and ensure they are up to speed with the changing pace of law and technology.

This has been achieved through training sessions to demonstrate technology products and use cases and discussing the importance of legal technology.

“This is a priority for us due to the clear demand from our clients for innovative and technology-driven legal services, combined with engaged lawyers keen to learn new ways to solve legal problems,” says, Jamie Whalebone, DWF’s director of legal consultancy & transformation.

“We also encourage employees to submit ideas for innovation and improvement to DWF’s Ventures and Innovation team, who assess them and run design sprints to turn those ideas into a reality using the latest legal technology.”

Competition in the legal sector has never been fiercer, and clients today are much more aware of how they work with law firms and will choose a firm based not just on how well they adopt technology, but also on their ways of working.

The legal sector has traditionally been slow to adopt new working practices and new technologies, however, by thinking more innovatively and embracing cultural change because they recognise the value it brings to the firm, its people, and their clients, they can retain a competitive advantage over their smaller, more agile competitors.

About the author

Alison Coleman is a freelance writer, editor, journalist, and senior Forbes contributor. She specialises in creating high-quality content and her work can mostly be found on Forbes, in the UK national press and their online publications, and in the leading business, leadership and HR publications.

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