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ANALYSIS: 4 Questions That Are Transforming the Legal Industry

Nov. 16, 2020, 10:52 AM

Never let a crisis go to waste, as the saying goes. How is the legal industry taking this to heart? By asking questions and finding answers that will advance the industry.

Getting the “right” answers starts with asking the “right” questions. Are the right questions being asked in the current legal landscape? Maybe. Sometimes. Not always. But questions are being asked now more than ever before. And innovative minds are seeking answers.

Is This Really Needed?

Covid-19 concerns have made us think hard about what we need and whether we are meeting those needs in the best way.

The bar exam is a perfect example. Do we need bar exams? If yes, do we need state bar exams, or will a multi-state exam suffice? And does testing need to be conducted in person? If it doesn’t, how do we facilitate remote testing?

In addition to historical concerns about bias in the underlying exam questions and answer keys, concerns are being raised about bias in the imaging technologies being used for remote proctoring. And the industry is exploring ways to eliminate (or at least reduce) bias and unfairness in the admission process.

Questions about necessity are being asked about everything from personnel to technology to real estate. And opportunities for advancement through the answers chosen abound.

Do I Need to Be There?

The most obvious “there” is the traditional workplace. Do I need to be a physical presence in the office? For many, the answer has been “No.”

Many legal industry workers have been working from home for over half a year. The longer workers remain off-site, the more remote work will be seen as a standard practice. Even so, this shift in perspective can lead to important advancements in the industry.

Committed adoption of remote and flexible work options is crucial to enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the legal industry. A requirement of full-time, on-site availability effectively excludes workers who have caregiving obligations or need access to regular care themselves. This is especially true when commute time, with the potential for multiple trips to and from the office each day, is factored in.

On-site-only employment disadvantages not only workers but employers as well, as they may be missing out on high-quality candidates. Remote options open the door to candidates who cannot afford to live in proximity to the employer or need the ability to relocate to support the career of a significant other, such as a partner who serves in the military or works for a governmental agency.

“There” does not only refer to an office building. Industry participants are asking whether trials, depositions, ADR conferences, client meetings, professional conferences, networking events, and mentoring sessions require participants to sit in the same room. In asking these questions, space is made for those who have limitations unrelated to the pandemic — those who can’t manage in-person activities due to disability, cost, proximity, access to transportation, conflicting obligations, and so on. Advancements in a organization’s DEI initiatives may be a positive result.

The industry frequently falls short when it comes to valuing the contributions of certain participants, and changes in priorities and perceptions — resulting from not needing to actually be there — may create material and lasting progress.

Do I Need to Learn That?

Technology in legal practice is nothing new. But the number and types of tools available are ever-increasing, and they are being used more now than they were pre-pandemic.

Facing the communication problems of the pandemic has made information sharing more structured, and the increased use of technologies highlights how the industry is resolving this interruption. Covid-19 has also resulted in numerous new laws, regulations, and risks, and legal research technology is crucial to staying abreast of new developments.

Corporate legal departments are increasing their use of billing and timekeeping tools. This could reflect a growing focus on monitoring and managing resources. With many corporate budgets being squeezed due to reduced revenues during the economic downturn, spend management is vital. With legal operations functions becoming more common and many individuals working remotely, departments may be utilizing timekeeping tools to better track and manage projects and personnel.

Notable increases in use are found with other technologies as well. Intellectual property management, contract management, and drafting tools are being used more by big law firms, as are e-Discovery technologies. These are great risk management, workflow, and efficiency tools. And, with regard to e-Discovery, increased use may indicate that firms are retaining more work that might previously have been sent to vendors.

The industry frequently falls short when it comes to measuring the value of tools being used. But, with the legal industry increasingly integrating business practices into its operations, effective evaluation of tools should be just over the horizon.

How Are You?

This simple question holds incredible potential in an industry rife with well-being challenges, from isolation to depression to alcoholism to suicide. The pandemic has brought one common challenge to the forefront, and this commonality opens a path to connection. By becoming more aware of the struggles of those around us, we are able to learn about our colleagues and connect with them on a more holistic level. We are given the chance to practice empathy and provide support. We are reminded that we are not alone.

Through connection and collaboration, we can turn the pandemic into an opportunity to lift each other up — not just now, but going forward. The technological tools are in place to allow us to share the burden more effectively among team members, so colleagues are able to meditate, exercise, rest, recover, or celebrate. But this requires everyone to put the effort in.

It requires asking not just “How are you?”, but also “How can I help?”

Let’s work toward increasing our emotional I.Q., honing our empathy skills, and improving our habits to reinforce our own well-being and support the well-being of those around us. Doing so will transform not only ourselves, but also the industry we work in.

So, really, how are you?

Access additional analyses from our Bloomberg Law 2021 series here, including pieces covering trends in Litigation, Transactions & Markets, the Future of the Legal Industry, and ESG.

Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content on our In Focus: Legal Operations, In Focus: Legal Technology, and In Focus: Lawyer Well-Being resources.

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