P2P

Spring2021

Peer to Peer: ILTA's Quarterly Magazine

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29 I L T A N E T . O R G A valid question to ask is if the firm's prestige and value is inextricably linked to its offices or is there a way to build / maintain prestige by other means? It's certainly the case that clients no longer expect or want to sign deals in your boardroom. Nor do they have to, because the protocols for establishing legally acceptable e-signatures are now well-established. I'd also argue that prestige is maintained by continuing to do the work at a consistently high level of quality. That said, we still have to acknowledge the downsides of scrapping the office altogether. People can become lonely and isolated without it, and team cohesion gets lost. Colleagues may feel left out in the cold, and morale can suffer. In all likelihood, as well, firms are probably committed for several more years to leases on office space that will be hard to break. It suggests to me that firms should now think about evolving to operate a hybrid, technology- enabled model. The goal should be to achieve flexibility, maintain productivity and at the same time, maintain social cohesion. This model is one where people will work from home (or anywhere for that matter) much of the time, but some office space, at least, is kept. However these offices should be reconfigured in ways that allow firms to nurture human connection and the firm's social fabric in order to sustain a committed and dynamic workforce. This might take the form of introducing games rooms and lunch rooms and other social spaces. The point of people coming into the office in the future will be for them to spend time both working and bonding with their colleagues. They can sit on their own at home. Going virtual Where does technology fit in? To my mind, step one was extending the wires, as discussed above. Step two will be eliminating the wires altogether to create virtual workplaces supported by a whole different level of Cloud-based technology. This involves eliminating the hub and putting new virtual technology stacks in its place. Essentially moving form, a remote workplace model to a distributed workplace model where the office is simply another work environment, just like the home, the airport lounge, or a hotel room. I'm particularly talking about the type of technologies that remove paper, such as those that support virtual document lifecycles and those that automate practice management. As well, a lot of this tech is built to better connect people – both with colleagues and clients. So it can play a role in nurturing the wellbeing of team cohesion and collaborative work. At the same time, slick, effective technology will contribute to maintaining everyone's productivity and to bolstering the firm's prestige in a more 21st century way than highly polished wood. This will be compelling for many clients, and for many young talented lawyers entering the workforce. It also means that in practice, when the time comes to renegotiate the office lease, the firm will be in a stronger position to say: "We don't need all this space" – because it's true. Covid-19 has been a disaster and a tragedy for many people. But it's also been, as Bloom et al. observed, a 'forced experiment' in the viability of working away from traditional offices. This was something that had long been possible, but was seldom embraced. We now have the Cloud-based technology that fully enables the virtual office and a distributed workforce and eliminates the dependence on the physical hub. At the same time via this experiment we have gained proof that it can work. Law firms should therefore now think long and hard about how they can evolve to take advantage of this moment. Always remembering that those who don't evolve will likely sacrifice a great deal of competitive advantage to those who do. ILTA Peter Zver was appointed Director, Tikit Americas in July, 2013 and has been serving the legal market for over two decades. His background is in Information Systems and Finance and was the founder of Zver & Associates and PensEra Knowledge Technologies, both of which specialized in addressing the business of law via the delivery of technology products and services. His work has mainly focused on the business of law and fintech, more specifically timekeeping and the impact next generation technologies have on improving profitability and client relationships for law firms. Peter is an active contributor to ILTA and other legal industry media organizations.

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