Firms Should Embrace Opportunities Brought On By Virus

By Michele Gorman
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Law360 (August 28, 2020, 8:03 PM EDT) -- To move forward successfully, law firm leaders need to understand and accept the new business model shaped by the ongoing pandemic, according to speakers at a virtual technology conference Friday.

Responding to an informal poll on the final day of the International Legal Technology Association's annual conference, almost all of the virtual audience members said they thought the disruption caused by the pandemic has permanently changed the way firms do business.

Instead of harping on a return to "normal," the panelists encouraged legal leaders to embrace the changes.

"Please stop saying, 'If we could just get back to work' … That is a misconception," said panelist Meredith Williams-Range, chief knowledge and client value officer at Shearman & Sterling LLP. "We are at work, and we have to accept that. Once we accept that, then we can reenvision what working looks and feels like."

Leaders in the legal profession should hone two characteristics, Williams-Range said: flexibility with employees working remotely and empathy toward lawyers juggling professional and personal responsibilities at home.

She added that her firm had to jump ahead with different types of technology to enhance the flexible work schedule the staff needed during the pandemic, such as adopting the videoconferencing platform Zoom within 36 hours.

"These are not easy tasks to accomplish, but we did them, and we did them in the most cost-effective way that we could possibly do them," she said.

Her co-panelist, Ari Kaplan of Ari Kaplan Advisors, encouraged lawyers to find opportunities to reshape and reset the profession.

"The virtual table can accommodate more people, and the challenges are larger, so there need to be more voices," he said.

Moderator Eric Wangler, president for North America at software company BigHand Ltd., noted that firms could set themselves apart by, say, becoming more empathetic and more focused on the work-life balance.

Shearman & Sterling, for example, can now accommodate a different workforce, allowing them to recruit for talent, not geographic location. 

"It's about understanding the motivational model of the generations we now have, what they're looking for and what we can accommodate with that," Williams-Range said.

--Editing by Bruce Goldman.

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