The fate of the traditional office environment remains to be seen, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to be a major challenge in the United States. Though some law firms have opened their workplaces on a limited basis and courts have resumed varying levels of activity, many are still uncertain as to what the office dynamic will be once the preventative health and safety measures associated with COVID-19 are finally lifted.
Here are 4 factors that will likely to come into play in considering how the traditional concept of “the office” will change your firm when the risk of the pandemic fades.
- Brick-and-mortar office space
Commercial office space is something most companies historically have deemed a necessity—as an attorney, you expect to have a principal place of business from which to work and direct correspondence. Colliers International reported that as of Summer 2019, the average gross rent per square foot of office space leased by law firms had risen by 6.5% as compared to data from 2017. Examples given in the 2019 Law Firm Service report regarding gross rent per square foot in North America ranged from $25.10/sq. ft. in Birmingham, Alabama to $88.50/sq. ft. in New York City.
With the whole country thrown into the world of remote work, seemingly overnight, perceptions of the traditional office changed. Law practices now may find that their attorneys and staff can, and have been, as productive if not more so, working from home. Though the need for a centralized, physical office location may never become totally obsolete, firms may be able to reduce the square footage necessary to maintain a successful practice, thereby reducing a significant law firm expense.
- Hiring Practices
In line with the expectation of a physical office space, most firms also hired associates and staff either in their local area, or those who were willing to relocate.
Working remotely has opened many firms up to the idea of expanding their search for the best and the brightest. Forward-thinking firms may take on partners residing in different states or employ new associates or clerks from across the country. Having tackled the obstacle of managing teams that can’t be physically present in one place, allows for much greater flexibility in building upon your current team.
Some say the legal industry often lags other industries in the adoption of technological advances.
However, the industry’s “new normal” necessitates that proper technology be in place in order to continue to move forward in managing your firm’s caseload remotely. With teams apart working from home and clients who may not feel comfortable with in-person appointments with their attorneys, technology is a must.
Whether you’ve instituted a collaboration platform to allow your team to work together or case management software to provide real-time access to case files to your associates, law firms must continually look ahead to provide the greatest level of productivity to their workforces, and the best service for their clients. This may require an additional investment, however, other cost-savings associated with working remotely, either in whole or in part, can be reallocated to technology infrastructure if necessary. Considerations such as these that may have taken a back seat in the past, have been brought to the forefront as the legal industry adapts to the changes wrought by
Company culture went from just a “buzzword” to a virtue that employees have valued substantially over the past decade. With the majority of your staff still working from home, maintaining company culture is imperative. This should also be foremost in your mind as you navigate running your practice moving forward, potentially with a hybrid in-person and remote team.
Flexibility may well become the new expectation, after stay-at-home orders forced most companies to run their operations from outside of the office. If your firm has successfully navigated this unprecedented time, your team will likely expect that the trust that has been built over the past five months will continue to play a role moving forward. Stringent 9-to-5 work schedules may not be practical as staff that work from home need time for family and other obligations and can still maintain their workload and act as productive colleagues before or after hours. By staying ahead of the “new” perception of the “work day,” you’ll be more equipped to set reasonable expectations as people slowly return to the office.
All in all, the global pandemic has taught us a great deal about the way a law practice is run, or better, can be run and still achieve the best results for clients while fostering a driven and satisfied team. As you navigate whatever the future may hold, keeping the aforementioned considerations in mind and actively working to create the most functional situation for your employees will result in long-term success for your law firm.