The coronavirus is changing the way law firms adopt, accept and deploy a range of technology, including collaboration tools and AI.
Before we begin looking specifically at law firms, it’s worth exploring how businesses have adapted to remote working and hybrid/blended working. This can tell us a lot about the psychology of technology adoption, but there’s still work to be done on unpicking this.
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Back in 2018, Unispace conducted research with Facebook around who would occupy the tech firm’s new San Francisco HQ in 2030. We found that Gen Y and Z were successfully handling all four work modes (focus, collaboration, learning and socialising) – simultaneously on multiple screens and devices. We saw this as the first true digitisation of the office, and the direction in which we were all heading.
Cut to March 2020 and a large percentage of office workers were plunged into working this way. It took just a few weeks for every generation to achieve what might otherwise have taken 10 years: this may have been the fastest change-management program in history. The technology was previously available, and well tested and implemented by others, so why weren’t the majority of law firms already using it – at least to an extent that suited both individuals and the firm? Perhaps:
Lawyers attach real importance to face-to-face meetings, so it’s interesting that, pre-Covid, they stuck with audio only for their conference calls – via Polycom or speaker phones. After all, Skype launched in 2003, so law firms could easily have been adding video and getting closer to that face-to-face feel. Plus, they were already suited and booted, sitting in a smart office with an attractive backdrop.
Perhaps the conference call was seen as too much of an unappealing alternative to personal contact. Real-life meetings extended hospitality, and were a physical demonstration of what success looks like. Perhaps it was a way to hold audiences captive, or of reinforcing relationships. So now, with video-conferencing an everyday occurrence, a few questions arise for law offices:
• Will the relaxing of formalities (speaking from the kitchen at home, for example) challenge the need for such formal meeting/client spaces in future? Can more traditional law offices become more relaxed when it comes to client culture, spaces and interior design, too?
“Get used to 3D holographic images, avatars, and virtual and augmented reality taking up shop in your office… The benefits are obvious – virtual meetings reduce the need for office space and air travel.”– Stefanini, 2020
Download the report 'Reluctant Returner: A Legal Perspective' to gain insight into key learnings from the post-Covid legal workplace in our study of 3,000 office workers and 2,750 employers across Europe.