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Why Covid-19 is the tipping point for remote working in the legal sector

(Image credit: Image Credit: llaszlo / Shutterstock)

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for change, forcing many businesses to adapt to remote working policies. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2019, only 30 percent of UK employees ever worked from home. This has meant employees not used to this way of working have had to adapt quickly. For the legal sector, this is particularly true – as an industry traditionally known to be office based, Covid-19 has been a tipping point for modernizing the way it works.

With the right toolkit – a mix of technology and culture – legal firms can fully embrace and realize the benefits of remote working. For example, it can provide a better work/life balance – something some lawyers have struggled to maintain over the years. In fact, a recent report revealed that over 60 percent of legal staff want to work from home post-lockdown. It’s clear that having the technology in place for staff to effectively work from home is also important for attracting and retaining the next generation of talent.

However, firms that are unable to lay the foundations to support remote working risk falling behind the competition. And a failure to move to more flexible ways of working could risk damaging employee productivity and retention.

Busting the on-premises myth

So how can the legal sector ensure it can facilitate this new way of working, now, and long into the future? With employees demanding anytime access to information, adopting the latest cloud and software as a service (SaaS) solutions should be a pre-requisite for law firms who want to be more agile and secure.

However, many law firms are still tied to on-premises systems. Security and compliance concerns have led the industry to believe they are more secure because the data could only be accessed at one location. Although it may feel safer to store data on-premises, it is a false sense of security in the age of cybercrime. Recent research from analysts at Gartner predicts that public cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS) workloads will encounter at least 60 percent fewer security incidents than those in traditional data centers.

Not only are cloud platforms more secure and flexible, they also require a lot less management, meaning that IT and the business can focus more on client service, at a time when it is more important than ever.

Mitigating the security risks of shadow IT

Since the Panama Papers affair, which saw 11.5 million documents leaked detailing confidential financial and attorney-client information, the legal sector has become increasingly aware of the financial and reputational damage that data breaches can cause. This has meant that when it has come to ensuring they are compliant with data protection legislation, such as GDPR, legal firms have generally been very prepared.

However, external, and internal threats won’t disappear. And working from home has brought added vulnerabilities. For instance, data could be unprotected as employees may be using personal or even other family members’ devices to work on. Therefore, data protection and encryption should be at the core of remote working in the legal sector, with firms having complete control over data privacy and regulatory compliance with no impact to productivity or performance.

However, for regulated industries such as legal, many collaboration tools aren’t fit for purpose, as they don’t provide the necessary levels of security for sensitive documents and don’t integrate with specialist service line applications. To fully support a remote setting, firms must ensure employees are equipped with the right tools for the job. Otherwise no matter what security measures are in place ‘shadow IT’ could remain a threat if existing systems prevent employees from being easily able to store and share documents, forcing them to use personal email and cloud storage services.

Employees need document and email management tools that enhance rather than hinder the way they work. It requires more than just an aesthetically pleasing interface. To ensure adoption, tools must truly integrate into the day-to-day life of employees and work natively from within applications they are familiar using. In addition, whether using a web interface or mobile application, employees should be able to work on documents from home the same way they would in the office.

Attracting a wider pool of talent

Equipping staff with the right technology for the job is also key to retaining and attracting the next generation of lawyers. Research shows that more than three-quarters of workers say technology is a factor in their career choices. Today’s generation want the flexibility to work remotely – if employees don’t have the right tools or have to endure a poor user experience, they will be unproductive and at risk of leaving the business.

Having the technology in place to support a remote setting can also open up a wider pool of talent too, as location becomes less of a consideration when hiring. As Covid-19 has irrevocably changed working practices, firms can now concentrate on finding people with the relevant skills rather than worrying about how far they live away from the office.

A shift in mindset

Technology clearly has a role to play in ensuring law firms’ employees can successfully work from home and keep up with the changing risk landscape. However, what it also comes down to is a change in mindset. Once law firms have the technology and infrastructure in place to support remote working, they must ensure they have the culture to fully embrace it. The legal industry is built upon years of tradition so adapting to this change may take some time. However, as the Covid-19 pandemic has shown, business need to be quick to adapt, and so it is up to the legal sector to take up the baton and put trust in this new way of working.

Guy Phillips, Vice President of International Business, NetDocuments