When one thinks about flexibility, images of fitness studios are immediately brought to mind – stretch classes, Yoga and Pilates studios with their respective instructors burning incense and playing atmospheric meditative music. The downward facing dog and swan dive assisting with the ultimate goal of improving your overall sense of wellbeing, improving your flexibility, making you nimble, fit and helping you find inner peace. All good things. Obviously.
But this is not a fitness blog and we are not Deepak Chopra.
And whilst we encourage health and fitness (and even the playing of meditative music), when we talk about flexibility we are talking about the flexibility of your legal practice and the use of your legal tech to support your flexibility. Not Yoga.
A flexible legal practice
The phrase ‘work-life balance’ has been spoken about for years. Taking it a step further, Millennials (obviously) talk about a work-life blend.
Flexible working, is slowly becoming more common place in the legal sector. Especially today. This increase is a response to numerous issues affecting law firms, whether it’s improving work-life balance/blend for employees, the challenge of having global teams in different time zones, retaining valuable employees who relocate, in response to escalating rental costs, or more recently, Covid and its related global Lockdown (a topic that has been discussed ad nauseam) that has either purposefully or not, resulted in legal professionals becoming more and more flexible. Something that has seemingly been on the cards for awhile.
With global lockdowns compelling employers to implement work from home situations, companies have become far more outputs driven (gone are the days of “clock watchers”). After all, happy staff are productive staff. And the numbers prove it. Companies like Twitter have announced that they would allow their staff to work from home “forever”. According to the Washington Post –
“Twitter’s plans for work from home indefinitely have prompted a wave of copycats. But its transformation has been two years in the making — and the rest of America can learn some lessons”.
This move by Twitter has been followed by the likes of Facebook, Salesforce, Square and Spotify. And their legal representatives will follow suite. If this is the new norm of doing things, legal professionals cannot be left behind. They advise these companies and therefore need to speak the same language. Or at least, act accordingly.
Therefore, the actual practice of law has to change. At a lightning speed.
But becoming a flexible lawyer does not only mean being able to work from anywhere, or having flexible working times (which are part of it). No. It involves more than that. It means being able to work across a range of environments and industries, within a law firm and perhaps even as in-house counsel for key clients. It means having access to a range of opportunities through various networks and being able to work both on-site and remotely, or a combination of both – whatever your preference.
But whatever route you decide to take, one thing is for sure and that is flexibility – with the work you do, how you do it, where you do it, when you do it and in whatever industry you choose to do it in. Right now lawyers should be focused on being able to adapt, to change with their environments, with changing economies and political issues. Being able to practice no matter the climate and uncertainties faced.
Flexibility nowadays really is about moving with the current and still being able to practice law. No matter what.
But how do you even start being “flexible”?
Well, not only does it start with your general outlook and attitude towards how you practice law but it also includes incorporating the proper technology into your practice.
Predictably, the propagation of law-related technology continues to create both challenges and opportunities for law firms. Using technology to enable easy access to documents, case management, document automation, legal accounting and practice management, has the corresponding impact that the practice of law has started a wave of change that shows no signs of dwindling. The time is nigh to incorporate legal tech into your practice, for the betterment of your practice.
But it has to be the right technology.
With the increasing “threat” that artificial intelligence (AI) will make lawyers obsolete, you have the perfect storm – leading naysayers to predict the demise of lawyering as a profession. On the contrary, Law Technology Today in their article Artificial Intelligence Won’t Replace Lawyers—It Will Free Them says the following about legal AI –
“AI and legal technology will not automate the legal profession out of existence. Technology will facilitate growth and productivity by increasing accuracy and driving efficiencies”.
Legal practitioners and law firms, are not on the way to extinction. Not even close. The legal profession just needs an image makeover – embracing flexibility and going with the flow. Legal professionals need to become agile and flexible lawyers.
And we have to agree – it is the future. And it is not only a trend brought on by 2020 but a way of practicing law that is necessitated by how companies do business. With fingers in many pies, most large corporates are flexible in the work they do, the businesses they invest in and the products they supply. Their legal advisors will have to take on the same approach. And this can be tough for such a rigid profession built on rules and regulations and deep-rooted “ways” of doing things.
But we believe that old dogs can learn new tricks. The legal profession can change. And is already showing signs of doing just that.
Legal tech enabling flexible working environments
But legal professionals, even those who have grown up in a world abound with technology, may not feel comfortable with implementing technology in their practices. Being a knowledgeable end user does not automatically translate into the ability to effectively select and implement technology, nor being innovative in doing so. Choosing appropriate and cost-conscious technology can be a challenge, particularly for solo and small-firm lawyers who may not have an IT department.
Lawyers who panic, or who do not fully educate themselves about the best available options, may end up with technology that they do not fully implement, that does not effectively or efficiently interconnect, or that they do not understand. But lawyers do not have the luxury of staying “old school” and avoiding technology, particularly if they want to remain relevant in today’s market.
Legal tech provides essential tools to help legal professionals in their pursuit for flexibility – there are a variety of both stand-alone document automation tools and process automation tools in addition to practice management software suites that incorporate everything, including the kitchen sink.
An increasing number of practice management platforms offer features such as rules-based calendaring, client portals and more—providing the tools to provide quality service while minimising routine (and repetitive) labour intensive tasks. Software specific to individual practice areas is also available. In addition workflow automation tools like AJS FLOW make it easier than ever to automate repetitive processes and increase output by improving control and ensuring that nothing slips through the cracks. Perfect for any process that has a defined set of steps or stages, thereby eliminating “busy” work and allowing lawyers to focus on the work that they choose to provide. Allowing lawyers to be flexible. In addition to FLOW, AJS also offers an entire suite of stable and reliable legal enterprise products that are designed to make your legal practice more efficient (and less labour intensive) by ensuring predictability and accuracy in your most crucial aspects of your practice – by offering services such as enterprise accounting and document automation (to name but a few).
For lawyers and law firms who embrace legal tech, AI, and other advanced technologies, legal work will become more efficient and effective. More importantly, the clients of tomorrow will demand it. Increasing sophistication in client technology adoption will apply pressure on law firms and lawyers, who will be selected for their technology-enhanced services and ability to focus on complex higher-value work to solve their clients’ legal and business problems.
In fact, Altman Weil’s 2017 Law Firms in Transition Survey depicted a legal market experiencing increased price competition, a lack of efficiency in service delivery, an influx of new competitors, and the inescapable force of technology innovation. And that was three years ago. And BEFORE Covid. Therefore, to stay relevant, traditional law firms and legal departments must understand the potential of AI and legal technology. Lawyers must embrace the unique, emerging value of legal tech and build a legal culture that reinforces the human value—lawyers exercising independent professional judgment, focusing on meaningful, complex, and mission-critical work for their clients. Allowing lawyers to be as flexible as they want to be. Or need to be.
Technology is transforming the legal profession, but it will not make professional judgment and expertise of lawyers obsolete. It will enable those who adopt, employ, and leverage legal tech to provide better and more cost-effective legal services and representation for their clients. Legal organisations and lawyers who embrace legal tech today will reap the benefits for years to come —and they will also have a competitive advantage over those who do not embrace legal tech, thereby preventing a flexible approach to their legal practice .
A word of caution – ensure that the legal tech you employ does not box your legal practice into a rigid system. It is obvious that certain aspects of your practice will require rigidity – for example where your accounting is concerned. But, that same rigidity must not prevent you from becoming a flexible legal professional who is able to practice from any location, at any time, in any industry, all the while having access to legal files, research and accounting systems. Do your research, understand the systems or seek guidance from providers who are in the position to advise you properly.
Because the point of legal tech is to alleviate backlog, incomplete documents, and repetitive tasks and to promote efficiency and cost effectiveness allowing the legal practitioner to be as flexible as they like. Legal tech that provides –
Strength where it has to be strong and flexibility where it needs to be flexible.
It’s time to dismantle the accepted corporate norms that have no place in 2020 and embrace the flexibility that has been afforded to us by the uncertainty that was created by Covid. And that is, sort of, ironic. But it can be achieved, or at least started, by the correct attitude in embracing flexible solutions and the correct technology to enable it.
With flexible solutions – both in your practice and the technology that you need to employ, the future is very bright for the forward thinking, tech savvy, flexible lawyer.
And power be to you!
Written by Alicia Koch on behalf of AJS