Legal overhaul- 6 changes the Pandemic brought to legal practice in Australia
“Everyone is asking: Do we need to be at the office every day? Should we be travelling as much as we did before?”
It’s undeniable that the way we work has changed in the past year. There are thousands of news articles and posts all over LinkedIn showing how the corporate world has evolved. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit global disruption proportions in March 2020, many workplaces went into survival mode as we collectively tried to work out what work tasks were possible from the safety of our home.
Some industries (including the legal industry) have thrived and modernised in these new conditions proving themselves able to adapt to changes the pandemic has brought.
Here in Australia, apart from occasional disruptive clusters of Covid cases, life has mostly resumed and law firms have not only adapted to the ‘new normal’ in many instances the practice of law has modernised in more ways that we could have ever imagined just 12 months ago.
Everyone is asking things like: Do we need to be at the office every day? Should we be travelling as much as we did before? Can we accept a digital signature and remote witnessing instead?
Let’s take a look at what to keep in mind and how Covid has impacted law firm life.
1 | A healthy and safe workforce
There is now more focus on health and safety of workers than ever before. Health and wellbeing advice is not just an HR requirement, it’s a work health safety matter and has the ability to impact the bottom line. No organisation wants to be responsible for their staff or clients getting sick, and no company wants to be held accountable for potentially exposing people to life-threatening circumstances.
With burnout being one of the biggest health factors for those working in the legal industry, it’s a good time to re-evaluate what the healthy expectations are for staff going forward. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and prioritising good mental health (especially in periods of isolation) should be prioritised. For workers with pre-existing health conditions, limiting exposure to high-traffic public areas and continuing to work remotely until they are vaccinated should be considered. There are also changing government requirements which must be monitored and adhered to such as physical distancing, sanitising of hands and masks.
2 | Working remotely
In the legal industry, Covid has taught us we can be efficient when we don’t work in an office. The work can get done, the meetings can still take place and we can deliver tasks to deadlines. Like many office-based workers in pre-Covid times, lawyers may have had the option to work from home on occasion but many did not due to the stigma of not keeping up appearances at the office. Thankfully, gone are the days when working from home is seen as having a day off.
A number of prominent surveys show Australians want to be able to work from home more. Some of the appeal for individuals includes reducing weekly commute times, the ability to spend more time being with their families and a decrease in distractions that come with an office environment.
Working parents (including myself) have found that the flexibility that the pandemic has normalised has had a positive impact on family life with couples better able to share the responsibilities of pick ups and drop offs.
We now see many businesses offering a new standard to workers, giving them the option of a few days a week at home and a few in the office.
Many large law firms are supporting the 3-2 method (allowing workers to spend 2 days working from home) and Kensington Parry are beginning to see further flow on’s where staff have recruited have been based in one state but report to a Partner in another. Whilst this isn’t the norm nor the standard it is encouraging to see flexibility in action and it is a trend to watch
3 | Signing documents digitally and remote witnessing
With the mass move to digital working, the legal industry moved quickly to implement temporary new measures to assist lawyers in day -to -day practice. Whilst we wait to see if these temporary measures are made permanent it was encouraging to see the legal industry adapt to practice in a pandemic so quickly.
4 | Business travel and meetings in the future
The past year has seen a dramatic decrease in business travel, with many workers having to swap the airport lounge and their company cars for Zoom meetings.
There will be a need for in-person client meetings, seminars and company forums in the future, but it is clear that not all of the physical interactions of the past will need to be kept going forward.
It will be interesting to see how practices are grown, relationships with new clients are developed as we evolve into online life. No doubt the most successful practitioners will be those who evolve fastest, those who can win business virtually, those who can leverage their digital presence best.
5 | Office arrangements
With an initial focus on workplace safety and government-mandated restrictions giving way to living long term in the age of the pandemic it is a given that the office footprint of the future will change.
Lawyers used to their own offices may find themselves suddenly hot desking as there will be less people in the office and less need for a dedicated space (if you spend some of your time working remotely). This transition already started by a number of big firms will likely continue across the profession and will be a welcome move for some and be a very big challenge for others to get used too. Whilst designers and architects rush to include private spaces and break out rooms in our reimagined officers, our quest for paperless practice will continue and life in 10 years at a major commercial firm may be very different to life pre pandemic. It could be that the pandemic will have been instrumental in accelerating the change and modernising the life of a lawyer and the layout of the law firm.
6 | Changing perspective and flexibility
Overall, if Covid has taught us anything it that we need to be flexible and adaptable as we move into the post-Covid work life.
As we have seen in the past few months in Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, snap lockdowns may be the new normal when there is an early sign of a cluster of Covid cases. These lockdowns are likely to continue until mass vaccinations are completed. Being able to ‘work from anywhere’ and being ready and willing to adapt to the new normal is key if you are going to thrive as a legal practitioner in an ever changing world.
If you are thinking about your career options at home or abroad, get in touch. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on +61 413 823 687