Among the many knock-on effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic has been a shift in attitudes toward remote working practices. Once seen as a luxury, Working From Home (or WFH) has established itself firmly into the mainstream, and it’s unlikely to go anywhere once the virus has been dispersed.
For the legal profession, remote working has had profound consequences. It drastically changed the way in which legal professionals consult with their clients. And in some sense, this change was for the better; it meant that clients could arrange meetings at shorter notice, and that more meetings could be fit into a single busy day.
What is Legal Service Delivery?
Legal service delivery, simply defined, is the way in which a legal service is delivered to the client. This service might be an outcome, like a victory in a trial, or the merger of two businesses. It might be a product, like a contract. Or it might be simply advice on what the various risks are of a given context or course of action. While there’s some dispute over the form legal services might take, there’s no arguing about their purpose.
The advent of remote consultation allows these legal services to be delivered in a way that’s more convenient for the client. The overall quality of the service provided can thereby be substantially bolstered. Of course, some clients might prefer to come in for a face-to-face consultation. But the very fact that they’re being offered a choice constitutes progress of a kind.
Why is it so hard for law firms to innovate?
The legal profession is generally resistant to change, for a few reasons. Firstly, since the profession demands a high degree of specialisation, and as a consequence, legal professionals don’t often engage in the cross-discipline thinking necessary for innovation. In other words, everyone’s stuck in their various ways. There are also structural obstacles to big changes – legal firms are often very complex, with stakeholders distributed rather than centralised, and therefore more difficult to appeal to.
Billable hours are often seen as the ultimate measure of the value of a given legal professional, for good or bad. Hours spent on initiatives that might fundamentally improve the business, therefore, are difficult to justify.
Why is Working From Home Different?
Now that the practice of working from home has proven to be effective and workable, there’s every chance that clients will continue to demand it. This breaks open the way to further progress, as different means of delivering legal services over the internet are explored. Law firms may invest more heavily in infrastructure which allows this; some might even offer exclusively online consultations.
It’s unlikely that the full consequences of the change have yet been felt, and almost inevitable that we’ll see further change in the months and years to come. Now that customers have gotten a taste for remote consultation, it’s unlikely that they’ll want to go back.