AJS Taking Stock 4

Time to look ahead….

Sometimes the very act of taking stock involves looking ahead. 

As the venerable Mark Twain once said – 

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started”.

And he is absolutely right. 

Whilst we have spent November looking back over the last year and taking stock of what we have been through, it has helped us to realise that through difficulty and hard times wehave foundnew ways to cope with the world around us in order to remain forward thinking, embracing change, adopting technology and fostering resilience

2021, for a lot of us, has enabled the achievement of unexpected (and often times unprecedented) success. Success which can only be attributable to change. A lot of us (admittedly) got the “kick in the butts” we needed to improve ourselves, to think ahead, to plan ahead, to change, to move with the times, to motivate ourselves and to overcome. 

2021 undoubtedly has paved the way for us to become what we are now. And this may well look very different from the business, the company, the organisation, practice or the law firm, we once were. And we understand that looking back and taking stock on what you were vs what you have become can be hard. Change is never easy. But it is necessary. 

As author Roy. T Bennett said – 

“It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.”

And that is what 2021 has been for all of us – a time of transformation. Transformation into something new and something exciting. And looking forward to 2022, keeping Mark Twain’s quote firmly in mind, we need to put one foot in front of the other (with our confidence in tow), and just get things moving, get things going and cause the momentum needed to ultimately result in positive returns.

What do we mean by this?

Well, our last three articles have been all about looking backwards. Learning from mistakes, taking steps in new directions, appreciating how well we have done (despite setbacks), embracing change and succeeding. It has been all about processing what 2021 has meant for all of us whilst acknowledging that despite hardships, in one way or another, we have overcome. 

We have encouraged this process, because we believe (and hope) that it has not only been extremely beneficial for what we hope our futures will look like, but that it has been healing too. We have gone through this process together with you, ending with the realisation that it is good to celebrate yourself. Celebrate what you have done, what you have accomplished, where you find yourself now and where you see yourself going.

And it is as this point that we want to emphasise the point – where you see yourself going.  

Because, logically speaking, once you have taken stock and “appreciated the garden for what it is, smelling the roses (thorns and all)”, the next stop in this apparent chain of “realisations” is where to next? 

What does the future hold for you, for the legal profession as a whole and what should you be thinking about as we head into 2022? 

The future of the legal industry

We think we can all acknowledge that this year has seen a crucial shift in the legal industry. 

Legal professionals have incorporated legal tech into their practice at an unprecedented rate (lucky for us). And with longer-term implications of the global pandemic still presenting new challenges – like returning to work or Hybrid Environments (with seemingly the best of both worlds) and the problematic requirement of getting vaccinated before you are able to work at companies from “McDonalds to Goldman Sachs” – there has been a sort of shift in the “legal space” arising from a change in dynamics reflecting what the general workforce now expect from their employers and what clients now demand from their service providers (including most especially their lawyers). 

The landscape has changed. 

And as we look towards 2022, we have looked to information available around us in order to keep the following important “hot topics” and trends in mind as we plan for the “what’s next” – 

The continuing importance of Legal Operations

With 2022 looming ahead of us, we can expect to see the continuation of many pandemic-era trends. Such as the growth of legal operations, the transition of in-house legal departments from simple legal advisers to strategic business partners, together with the accelerated use of legal technology and the importance of managing outside counsel (especially legal spend).

  • But what is legal operations?

Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) defines “legal operations” as – 

“a set of business processes, activities, and the professionals who enable legal departments to serve their clients more effectively by applying business and technical practices to the delivery of legal services. “Legal ops” provides the strategic planning, financial management, project management and technology expertise that enables legal professionals to focus on providing legal advice”.

But what does this mean, practically speaking? Simply put this means the better overall management of the operations of in-house legal departments in order to improve workflows, automate processes and standardise interactions with outside counsel in an effort to reduce external legal spend. In short – to improve in-house legal departments

The ability to improve attorney efficiency, reduce costs, ease implementation, reduce human error and improve workflows are now all primary considerations when deciding which legal operation practices to implement. 

In fact according to #Trending in 2022 for In-House Legal Departments – 

“In-house legal departments have evolved from a narrowly focused, reactive legal adviser and risk manager to a robust strategic adviser, proactively participating in overall business operations and decision-making. In-house departments are increasingly involved in advising executive and board leadership on issues such as revenue-generating initiatives, labor and employment matters, corporate social responsibility, and regulatory compliance.

Results from the 2021 ACC CLO survey confirm this evolution. CLOs reported that although they spend, on average, 28% of their time providing legal advice, they also spend a sizeable amount of time on board matters and governance issues, contributing to strategy developments, and advising other executives on non-legal issues.

Seven out of 10 CLOs also reported that they are almost always asked by executive leadership for input on business decisions.

With this transition in progress, in-house legal departments can expect to focus more of their resources on those issues—according to the survey—that are most important to the business overall (cybersecurity, regulation/compliance, and data privacy) or that are likely to cause the biggest challenges for their organizations (industry-specific regulations, data protection privacy rules, political changes, and mergers and acquisitions)”. 

And it is clear that this will involve the increased implementation of legal tech to support these legal ops initiatives as well as the outsourcing of legal work to Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSP), shifting more legal work in-house. Thereby helping in-house legal departments to reduce legal spend and improve overall efficiency. 

So, looking to ALSP’s and incorporating supportive legal tech will be key. 

Law Firm Diversity

In the article titled Law firms take action to increase diversity in the legal profession – 

“Diversity and inclusion is being talked about more than ever. For the legal profession, a commitment to ensuring candidates from all backgrounds feel welcome and supported, as well as implementing inclusive policies and outreach is paramount to its recruitment strategies, and is often splashed across law firm websites and brochures. Sometimes it might feel like this is just lip service – buzz words used for marketing purposes.

The truth is that there is a lot of work happening in this area, and any aspiring lawyer should know what is happening internally within law firms of varying sizes, as well as externally in the profession. Aspiring lawyers want to see what initiatives are in place to improve the workplaces of future lawyers, as well as understand how firms measure success.

The key to a diverse and representative workforce is ensuring that candidates from underrepresented backgrounds apply to law firms in the first place. Therefore, fostering an inviting and inclusive atmosphere that attracts all groups, or targeting specific underrepresented groups, is an important aspect of many law firms’ recruitment.

Retaining employees from ethnic minority backgrounds should be of the utmost importance to the legal profession. Aside from implementing infrastructure to actively support this agenda, like the Mansfield Rule mentioned below, many law firms have also realised the importance of fostering discussions about diverse issues”.

And the above is supported by Reuters in their article Law firms promise jobs before law school in new diversity push

“As companies demand more diversity from outside counsel and law firms realize having a mix of backgrounds and perspectives is an advantage, competition for top minority law graduates has ratcheted up, Blattner said.

“We like to think we’re locking in somebody,” he said. “That’s good for us. It’s good for our clients. And hopefully it’s good for the student-soon-to-be lawyer.”

But is that enough?

According to Law Firm Diversity—How it’s Going, and a Way Forward – 

”Nine out of 10 top leaders (either CEO or managing partner) are White and 81% of top leaders are male. Of attorneys who lead firm-wide practice groups or departments, 27% are White women, 6% are minority men, 4% are minority women, and the remainder are White men. Leadership is a lagging indicator—it takes an attorney years of building up their personal brand before they are considered for leadership positions. Hopefully, the legal industry will start seeing more diversity in top positions as those attorneys being recruited now receive the support and mentorship they need to meaningfully advance their careers”.

No. Not nearly enough. 

While there is seemingly a commitment by most global law firms to up their inclusion based on diversity – gender, race, religion and sexual orientation – and whilst there are many firms who are putting their money where their mouths are (so to speak), there is still a need for more representation in the workplace.   

The need for gender equality and the representation of the LGBTQ+ and minority groups at high levels within legal practices is of the utmost importance. And these requirements are not going anywhere. 

So, take a long hard look at your senior staff and ensure that you have a diversified (across all spectrums) and inclusive representation of society on your panels and within your practices.It’s not only what is expected but it is also what is simply just.  

Well-Being

Mental health in the legal sector is not a new topic of conversation anymore. It is something that is now being spoken about openly and with fervor versus the “hushed tones, behind closed doors”, that mental health issues used to be. 

Mental health is a topic that has gained wide support and attention and lawyers globally are not only writing about it (The Legal Sector Has a Very Real Mental Health Problem, It’s Not Just You! Our Sporting Heroes Struggle with Mental Health Too, to name only two. But there are loads more), but they are also demanding that their law firms do not just pay lip service to the initiatives around “Employee well-being” but actually offer meaningful support. Talk is no longer enough. We all want action.  

It is clear that companies, businesses, organisations, practices and law firms should (at the very least) care about their lawyers’ well-being. And should start to provide meaningful resources to help improve their state of well-being. After all, the simple truth is this – happier and healthier staff lead to improved efficiency, better work product, and improved employee retention. And if you ask us, those are significant tradeoffs for simply caring. 

According to Attorneys’ Well-Being Deficits Need On-the-Job Help – 

“Despite the increased awareness surrounding well-being in the legal industry, data reveals that true, impactful change has been minimal—if any. For Q3, nearly half (48%) of respondents reported ‘no change’ to their well-being over the past quarter, and an additional 35% reported that their well-being has actually decreased… we asked attorneys about the types of well-being programs offered at their organization, and found that 79% had access to at least one—and the majority of attorneys who tried them found them to be helpful”.

The clear take away here?

The expectation from employees around their employers taking their well-being and specifically their mental health into account is no longer a “nice to have” but something that is expected. And rightfully so. The number of attorneys that reach burn-out on a daily basis is scarily high. And that is simply because how they are feeling and what they are feeling has never really been considered before. Legal practices have historically been considered a ‘Keep calm (aka keep quiet) and carry on (despite your well-being)” attitude. 

But no longer. 

Companies, businesses, organisations, practices and law firms need to rethink their approach to their well-being initiatives. They should include their employees in this process too – get input on what specific well-being resources they believe would offer them the best support and what they would like to try – 

“Survey results showed that attorneys whose employers offered at least one well-being program had slightly higher job satisfaction and slightly lower burnout than attorneys who didn’t have access to any well-being programs at work at all. They also showed higher job satisfaction and lower burnout among attorneys who used more than one program than those who used only one” – taken from the above mentioned article. 

Practices such as Coaching Advocates offer programmes for teams as well as individuals, offering initiatives (and training) that can be rolled out to entire firms. In addition, private coaching sessions offered by the likes of Braving Boundaries can do wonders for any legal professional’s mental health and well-being concerns. 

The point is – workplace well-being, mental health issues and work-life balance are issues that are not going anywhere. Instead of losing some of your best talent to a competitor simply because you were not offering well-being initiatives seems, at this point, to simply be lazy and discourteous. To be frank. 

So, don’t just talk about these issues – offer to do something about them. 

Return to Work or Work from Home?

In our article The Best of Both World Awaits we discussed the fact that being able to “work from anywhere” is no longer enough. A workplace (under our “New Normal” which is now more like our “every day normal”) needs to be more optimal and more substantial. 

Step in – the Hybrid Model.

According to the Harvard Business Review – 

“By all indications the future of work is hybrid: 52% of U.S. workers would prefer a mix of working from home and the office, saying it has a positive impact on their ability to be creative, solve problems and build relationships. Global research tells us 72% of corporate leaders plan to offer a hybrid model, and only 13% say they expect to decrease their real estate footprint in the next year, suggesting that organizations will continue to leverage their workplaces within a hybrid work future.

But getting hybrid right will be hard. Deciding who works from the office and how often is a complex issue, and it will be different for every organization. If not done well it could threaten culture, collaboration, and innovation. Conversely, a well-executed hybrid workplace can be a magnet that brings people together and helps us work better than ever before”.

We have moved away from the question of whether working remotely was possible to it becoming a necessity. According to ThoughtFarmer, the transition from working in an office to working from a dining room table has been a successful transformation where employees were liberated from the confines of their physical office environment. And found themselves thriving. And this occurred even in professions where it was never believed possible before – lawyers, financial planners, doctors and therapists, all surprisingly transitioned successfully.

But what do lawyers actually say about this whole thing? And how do they feel about working-from-home versus a return-to-work (RTO) culture?

According to the article RTO or Work-From-Home? Surveyed Lawyers Weigh In, it would seem that lawyers certainly have their opinions about the things they now want and are willing to accept versus what they accepted pre-COVID – 

“When asked about their work environment, only 11% of respondents say they prefer to be in the office full-time. One-quarter of respondents prefer to work remotely 1-2 days per week, nearly 40% would prefer to work remotely 3-4 days per week, and one-quarter of respondents prefer to work remotely full-time.

There are many reasons why workers have recently been leaving their jobs en masse, including wage increases, better work environments, and better work-life balance. But the work-from-home vs. RTO conundrum is having a huge impact as well. Only time will tell if the Great Resignation will accelerate as organizations continue to wrestle with RTO initiatives, or if workers will be more than happy to once again have physical separation between their work and home”.

On the face of it, it would seem that the work-from-home situation that we have all become accustomed to since the start of this whole pandemic, is here to stay. At least in part. And companies, businesses, organisations, practices and law firms will need to give careful consideration to the Hybrid-Model and better enable their legal professionals to work-from-home by ensuring they have the right technology to support it. 

So this should be top of mind as we head into 2022.

The Need for Decency in the workplace

As we have (no doubt) established from the paragraphs above, the well-being and mental health of legal professionals often takes a back seat to productivity and profit.

And whilst we have done our utmost to set out some of the trends and considerations that need to be taken into account as we all plan for 2022, issues around well-being, diversity and work-life balance are all important branches of the same discussion – treating your employees with decency.  

And this brings us to an interesting concept highlighted by the Harvard Business Review back in 2019:  

“Successful leaders today and in the decades to come must possess triple-threat leadership capability: IQ+EQ+DQ. In other words, they must possess a combination of two familiar attributes — intellect and emotional intelligence — and one that I believe must be recognized and elevated: decency.

Competency in business is essential, and intellect, which I refer to here as IQ, is probably the trait most commonly associated with successful business leadership. We aren’t talking just about an IQ test score, but about the broad idea of business competency and an understanding of what it takes to be successful today.

Most leaders are also familiar with the concept of EQ, which is the self-awareness of emotions, both others’ and your own. Possessing high EQ means a manager can understand how someone is feeling and can read a room and act on that information. However, EQ doesn’t mean a person’s actions take into account what is best for others. Emotional awareness and empathy don’t equate to compassion and integrity. People can have EQ yet use it to manipulate people for self-interest. EQ doesn’t always mean doing the right thing.

A decency quotient, or DQ, goes a step further than EQ. DQ implies a person has not only empathy for employees and colleagues but also the genuine desire to care for them. DQ means wanting something positive for everyone in the workplace and ensuring everyone feels respected and valued. DQ is evident in daily interactions with others. DQ implies a focus on doing right by others”.

And as we all start considering what our 2022 is going to look like, it is on this premise that we believe we should all stop and take note.   

We believe that it should be the mission of leadership across all industries to be guided by decency. To be driven by empathy ensuring that they create a positive and encouraging workspace where employees feel cared about (and for) and an environment where everyone is represented, respected and valued for their contributions.  

Let’s be honest, there are a lot of variables that can make 2022 great and ones that can leave us feeling underwhelmed and disappointed. But the point is, management should include decency in their thought process in order to create positive work experiences that benefit all employees. Especially after everything we have been through….

So, keep decency top of mind as you engage with your employees going forward. 

Our closing thoughts

We hope that, while you look towards the New Year, you will keep the following (taken from the “To the Crazy Ones” manifesto, by Rob Siltanen of Siltanen & Partners) in mind – 

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Now let’s be clear – we are not calling any of you misfits, nor are we encouraging you to be rebels, to not follow the rules or to disrespect the status quo (as legal professionals that would be absurd). 

  • But we do hope that as we start planning ahead, we will all do so in a way that will continue the “trend” of change and adaptability;
  • We hope that we will continue to be brave enough to think outside the box and to go with it;
  • We hope that we will be brave enough to see things differently and therefore think differently;
  • And we hope, that together – the legal profession and the legal tech world – we will be able to continue to improve both the practice and business of law in a way that improves the lives of lawyers and encourages the legal profession to continue on an upward trend of technological adaptation, innovation, of improvement, forward thinking, inclusion, well-being and decency, and 
  • Finally, we hope that we will all continue to see the genius in ourselves as we look to change the legal world – for the better. 

Call it, AJS’s 2022 Manifesto.

And (again) we’ll “Cheers” to that!

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