Software provider, PracticeEvolve surveyed mid-size law firms and learned that almost a quarter of firms reported increased productivity during pandemic work from home (WFH). 47% of firms reported no difference in productivity and only 16.3% reported decreased productivity. The incredible outcome of the pandemic on mid-size law firms is that on balance there was an increase in productivity.

What caused the increase in productivity for those firms reporting an increase? Perhaps it was a fast-tracked or forced adoption of digital and streamlined processes.

What a global pandemic has taught us

PracticeEvolve investigated the state of AU legal market following COVID-19 as well as predictions for FY21.

The legal landscape has experienced profound changes over the last few months, from the transition to remote work to the increasing utilisation of technology. Legal Practice Management Systems (PMS) provider PracticeEvolve ran an expansive survey of mid-size law firms to better understand these shifts and pinpoint the new direction of the legal industry.

These are the top 6 trends uncovered, as well as recommendations on the way forward.                          

  1. Most people working remotely rated the experience from good to excellent: However, issues emerged including how to better manage work and document flow, how legal services should be structured and delivered and how best to re-evaluate the client experience.

Recommendation: Firms committed to building on the gains achieved in remote and flexible working conditions post-COVID-19 need to invest in sophisticated and intuitive technology and collaboration tools, up the ante in training and development and imbued a new mind-set that working remotely or flexibly will positively impact profitability and morale. 

  1. Responses on productivity were mixed: Nearly 47% reporting no difference, over 24% reported increased productivity while just 16.3% reported decreased productivity.

Recommendation: The legal profession is being propelled into a digital age where technology, collaboration tools and people will reshape the legal landscape. Firms recognised the need the continue to invest in technologies and importantly, cultivate a compelling culture to give their people a sense of commitment to their work and their team members to thrive.

  1. Changes in demand for various areas of law: Mid-size firms were impacted in the types of work they were seeing in the market. Those surveyed reported an increase of 20% in litigation, labour and employment law as well as wills and estate planning.

Recommendation: As drought, bushfires, floods, and now COVID-19 make clear, legal firms must be agile and ready to scale up and down to meet varying degrees of business activity and shift in demand for different types of services. Firms need to make a greater investment in technology and, where appropriate, on-board fewer, more highly skilled people for higher-value work.

  1. Overall firms were not prepared for a catastrophic event: Whilst the concept of risk is generally well understood in the corporate sector, businesses generally were not sufficiently prepared for such a significant event as COVID-19 and this trend is also reflected in the legal profession. While nearly 60% of firms surveyed had a business continuity plan in place, just under 40% did not.

Recommendation: Firms must implement a risk management plan and consider the various potential risks or events before they occur, stress test the plan and review it regularly. Regardless of the likelihood of an event, 2020 has clearly demonstrated the need to be prepared for even the most unlikely scenarios.

  1. Mental health and wellbeing are an ongoing concern: Over 63% of firms reported an impact on the emotional and mental wellbeing of employees. Concerns ranged from stress around job security and uncertainty around manager expectations to difficulty effectively communicating with fellow colleagues.

Recommendation: It has been well documented that the legal profession is overrepresented when it comes to mental health and wellbeing in Australia.  Firms, Societies and the broader profession must invest in making it easier for legal professionals to access qualified psychologists and other mental health services.

  1. Further disruption is ahead: Over 52% of firms believe disruption and end-to-end business change is the number one prediction for the legal profession going forward.

Recommendation: Legal firms must explore and embrace new and better collaborative technologies that are fully integrated into their PMS platform, invest in the best people to utilise these technologies in enhancing the client experience, free up resources for higher-value work and foster a ‘can do’ culture.

For an in-depth analysis of the changes that are taking place within the legal profession download PracticeEvolve’s State of the Nation Outlook for Mid-Sized Australian Law Firms – 2020/2021