Thomson Reuters recently hosted a Legal Geek takeover, a half day of virtual sessions on legal innovation, technology and trends. Among the highlights was the COVID-19 – Catalyst for Change session hosted by Elizabeth Duffy, senior director of Global Client Services for Thomson Reuters.

The session explored how the pandemic has provided opportunities for corporate law departments and law firms to change and thrive. Legal Current had an opportunity to catch up with Duffy after the Legal Geek Takeover, and she shared insights from her session. Below is a recap of the conversation.

Legal Current: What are the most significant ways the pandemic has affected the practice of law?
Duffy: The most significant impact of the pandemic on the practice of law has been the widespread remote working imposed in many countries. Almost overnight, law firms and legal departments had to figure out how to continue business as usual while quickly setting up systems and colleagues to connect seamlessly. Once the initial set up was in place, the challenge for many was how to work to the usual high standards without the usual support available in the office. This meant, for example, at a very basic level there was no one but you to figure out how to launch a video conference.

On the client side, we heard the same thing. They had to manage their teams, keep people connected remotely and work under the additional pressure of advising their business on how to deal with rapid and sometimes radical change. The extra workload did not always come with additional budget.

LC: In particular, how did remote working impact lawyers in practice?
Duffy: For lawyers in practice, the impact of remote working was mixed. A Stellar Performance survey from Thomson Reuters found that 34% felt that their working practices were improved due to remote working. They found it to be more efficient and productive, and also acknowledged a shift culturally within their firm to be more accepting of remote working. However, 15% felt that working practices had deteriorated; they found the opposite to be true – remote working made them less efficient and less productive.

Those who thrived and those who struggled working remotely often cited the same reasons for their experiences, however, technology was a key factor in making it a more positive experience. Three areas still remain a challenge even for those who embraced remote working: developing their junior talent, developing business and collaboration.

During the Legal Geek Takeover session, we polled our audience about their experiences and 52% felt working practices improved, against 25% who felt it deteriorated – similar to  what the Steller Performance survey data found among lawyers in practice, where 85% of lawyers felt that working practices improved or remained the same. It’s a good reminder that a lot comes down to the individual personality profile as to what it takes to stay focused and motivated at work.

LC: As we look to post-pandemic life, what changes do lawyers want to retain in terms of their working practice?
Duffy: As we look ahead to post-pandemic life, more than three-quarters of lawyers in practice want to retain some elements of the flexibility they have enjoyed during this period of remote working, according to Stellar Performance survey data. This includes flexible hours, fewer or even part-time hours, reducing business travel by a third on average, and working remote two days a week on average. For many, working from home meant time saved on the commute could now be dedicated to home life, family time or self-care, and this is too good a benefit to give up.

Among our Legal Geek audience, working from home was the most popular aspect of flexible working they’d like to retain (56%), followed by flexible hours (35%). Only 8% thought less business travel was the most important change to keep and just 1% said they would opt to retain part-time hours.

Clearly there is no right answer – everyone has their own individual needs and preferences, and this is so important to consider when building the workplace of the future.

But firms that aren’t prepared to change are likely to lose talent – potentially one in five of their partners. People feel strongly about getting more control and balance in their lives. The greatest barrier to this becoming a reality is culture. Law firms have come a long way this year in accepting flexibility and remote working and getting to grips with technology; this is not to be lost in favor of a rush back to the office.

LC: What’s the greatest opportunity the legal community can take advantage of to change and thrive?
Duffy: There is a great opportunity in this moment for the legal community to embrace the new ways of working, meet lawyers’ demands for continued flexibility and recognize that one career path does not fit all.

By creating inclusive working practices that focus on wellbeing and impact, we can enable everyone to thrive in a legal community where we have happier lawyers, more diverse teams and skills delivering exactly what clients need.

Watch Legal Current for more Legal Geek Takeover session highlights, and see more session insights on Thomson Reuters Institute.