Among the highlights of Legal Geek’s virtual annual conference was What’s Trending Now?, a session from the Thomson Reuters duo of Andy Wishart, vice president of Legal Platform, and Rawia Ashraf, product lead for Legal Tech Innovation. They explored trends in legal technology, legal news and remote working using research and data from Reuters, Acritas and other Thomson Reuters sources.

Their interactive session polled the audience on trending topics, starting with remote working. They examined the challenges – such as balancing work while caring for children at home – and benefits, like flexibility in when and where work can be done.

They asked the audience: On average, how many days a week do most lawyers want to work from home?

The audience’s estimates aligned with findings of a recent Acritas survey of “stars,” or high-performing attorneys: two days per week.

“A full 77 percent of attorneys said they want to retain some of the ways of working that have emerged during lockdown,” Ashraf said. “Unsurprisingly, folks want fewer hours worked, less work-related travel, a better work-life balance and more flexibility around the way they perform their work.”

She added that 22 percent of high-performing attorneys said they’ll walk away from their firms without these changes.

The next audience poll asked: What number of U.S. working women are thinking about slowing down their careers or quitting work altogether because of COVID-19?

Ashraf shared the answer, one in four, based on findings of a and McKinsey & Company study that the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported on.

“It’s another example of how underlying stresses and tensions in all areas of life have been exacerbated during the COVID lockdown,” Ashraf said. “If one in four women do leave the workforce, the loss of gains that women have made especially at senior levels will be irreversibly damaged.”

As a follow-up, they asked the audience: What should firms and startups do to help employees mitigate and manage all the demands on them?

Wishart, who is based in the UK, shared his perspective, noting it’s been a relief that his children are back in school for now, but he expects work-life balance challenges to continue for some time.

Audience members’ responses emphasized this is a broader issue that employers can’t address alone.

Next, they explored how the practice of law is changing, particularly within the courts. Wishart asked: Looking at the UK’s Royal Courts of Justice CE-File system in the month immediately after lockdown, what was the percentage reduction in new claims?

He cited research that put the answer at 37 percent, nothing that while levels are recovering, they’re not at pre-March levels.

“Longer term, we all know that COVID is going to result in an acceleration of digitization including digitization of courts – not just in court hearings but in the inputs and outputs into the courts process,” Wishart said. “Ultimately that’s going to lead to new structures, data and perhaps new unstructured data associated with that process, and that represents an opportunity for legal tech companies and startups to be thinking of ways to innovate around that structured data or finding new ways of classifying or tagging that unstructured data.”

“Another interesting thing we’re seeing in the U.S. is the divergence between the different federal and state court systems and how they’re grappling with this; there’s a lot of variety,” Ashraf added. “Certain U.S. constitutional requirements that some proceedings happen in an open court, and courts are struggling to figure out how to fulfill that constitutional obligation while hearings or jury trials are happening over Zoom. That will be interesting to watch.”

The final poll explored trends in knowledge management, with Wishart noting knowledge managers had to switch from strategic projects to near-term needs around sharing and disseminating knowledge across a distributed workforce.

Wishart interviewed knowledge managers about their 2020 priorities prior to COVID hitting, and he asked: What did knowledge managers in UK firms identify as their top priority in March?

Wishart revealed that 71 percent of respondents indicated that client-facing knowledge management was their 2020 priority.

“Traditionally, knowledge management has been inward looking,” Wishart explained. “It’s been about creating content, tools and processes to assist lawyers in creating work product or responding to client need. Client-facing knowledge management is about productizing that knowledge, helping the firm get closer to their clients and making their service offerings more client-centric.”

In terms of other lockdown challenges, Ashraf noted firms in the U.S. are finding it more difficult to supervise junior attorneys, and there’s been increased demand for more senior counsel.

“As business as usual has changed so drastically and deal activity has slowed down, the need to advise clients has become paramount,” Ashraf noted. “The more senior attorneys who can identify risks and help their clients manage them have become ever more critical to their law firms.”

Wishart added the way work is passed down is changing, without physical co-location, and this may signal a need for more collaboration tools among legal professionals.

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