This guest post is written by Rex Glensy, Partner at Plonsker Law.
Over the last several years, the nature of my legal practice had transitioned such that the necessity to work from an office began to decrease on its own. I am a partner in a law firm that handles litigation matters in the entertainment industry, and the mantra of my firm is to staff matters thinly and efficiently such as to reduce the expense to the client.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the legal world had already substantially moved to an “online” or “remote-working” mode in multiple areas such as legal research, court filings, document transfers, and, in some instances, depositions of witnesses, and telephonic court hearings. Moreover, most clients had already become somewhat accustomed to Skype meetings.
With the advent of COVID-19, what previously was a convenience has become a necessity. Given that my practice had already began an organic transformation from the office to the home, the final shift was not traumatic, in that it basically involved adapting the remaining office staff (paralegals, and legal assistants mostly) to a remote working environment. After a few logistical kinks with the usual technological hiccups, that transition was completed in a matter of one to two weeks.
A remote working environment develops unique challenges but also has distinct advantages that, throughout the course of my practice, have become apparent.
First among the advantages is time management. With the absence of a commute and all the attendant stress that that involves, my workday begins earlier and is (mostly) tension free. This actually makes work go quicker resulting in a better product and fewer billable hours for the client. This is a win-win situation for all. A second advantage is fewer distractions in the form of colleagues just wanting to run something by you, or simply wanting to socialise for a quick tea break or something else. As much as those things are welcome during the office workday, they reduce productivity and inevitably result in having to stay longer at the office thus getting home later. At home, no such distractions occur (I should mention that I do not have children and my partner, who also works from home, has an excellent work ethic in that he disappears into the spare office for his remote working and does not re-emerge until the end of the workday. I accept that this is not the same situation that many lawyers might encounter in their homelife).
The challenges are usually in the form of getting used to communicating with your team in a different manner, which can get frustrating at times. For example, when going over a document with my assistant, in the office environment, I would simply leave my office, take a couple of steps across the hall document in hand, and then visually point out what I wanted changing. Now, I send the document over by email which, unfortunately, sometimes results in reformatting so the document I see is not exactly the same as the one my assistant sees—frustration ensues. Equally challenging is the notion that work is going on without direct supervision which, considering that many lawyers are control freaks, might engender a modicum of preoccupation. There is no real remedy for this except for trust in your colleagues, which is a good attribute.
One could surmise, that remote working is transforming lawyers not only into better workers but also better people. A world where lawyers are better people could go a long way to dispel the instincts of the Shakespearean Dick the Butcher in Henry VI, Part 2, and this would be most welcome.