Lawyer Evolution: What COVID-19 May Bring

By David Saunders, Head of Client Development at Konexo

The resilience shown by all types of businesses across numerous sectors and jurisdictions has been quite astonishing – from mass migration to home working, to the seamless transition of meetings conducted via video conferencing. The motto ‘keep on keeping on’ will be at the heart of many employees and organisations for years to come.

Yet, what will happen when ‘normality’ resumes? Will we just return to life before COVID-19, or are we headed for a new age of legal service delivery?

I have been a lawyer for 20 years. I’ve seen the legal profession go through its fair share of change. Most recently, the landscape has been more accommodating to advancements of technology to support a shift in traditional mindsets on how legal teams should operate. It is fair to say that COVID-19 has fast-tracked these kinds of initiatives and behavioural changes even further.

Digital workplaces and the adoption of remote working were already gaining traction pre-COVID-19. Fast forward to present day, law firms are using and leveraging this time in lockdown to review their technology strategies, and finding that there may be opportunities to accelerate the evolution of virtual workplaces that suit how lawyers want to work post the pandemic.

The lessons learned from our time in lockdown are numerous, in particular, that lawyers can still access data and content, and can collaborate and share knowledge with clients and colleagues, all in real-time and from anywhere. And, the debate will continue on whether lawyers are more or less productive working remotely.

Technological transformation has been a priority, with a noticeable shift in the demands and expectations from clients, and employees. Legal teams are being challenged to be more fluent in technology – not just with the tools that make their clients’ lives more efficient, but they are also required to be proficient in the applications that colleagues across the business use every day. This facilitates an instinctive and habitual collaboration within the entire organisation, while also enabling audit trails and increasingly sought-after management information to be captured.

The evolution of the role of a lawyer against the backdrop of COVID-19 will continue to demand new and more varied skills. Beyond knowledge of the law, legal professionals must have excellent communication and influencing skills, particularly if remote working remains commonplace.

All lawyers must be able to liaise effectively with stakeholders, demonstrate business and commercial awareness, and have change-management experience (including capabilities in global regulatory intervention). A predilection for lateral thinking, a flair for people management and flexibility in operational approaches will become invaluable traits in all lawyers, from the aspiring to senior counsel.

Disruption has happened very visibly, on a global scale across all sectors, businesses and the in-house legal market. We have not had a great amount of time to process the adoption of remote working, but this period has shown that it can, when it needs to, alter entrenched methods of working and maintain a high quality client experience.

As companies plan for this continued evolution in the wake of the global pandemic, reshaping of their existing legal operations in some shape or form looks inevitable. Time will tell whether COVID-19 looks set to alter the profession as we know it. It will be interesting to see if the adoption of certain changes are short-lived or is the legal function 2.0 actually here to stay?

About the Author:

David Saunders is a partner of Eversheds Sutherland and Head of Client Development at Konexo.

His practice is in financial services regulation and consulting. David has particular experience and expertise in the senior managers & certification regime, governance, conduct and culture, past business reviews, regulatory change projects and investigations. He also undertakes legal transformation and optimisation projects for in house legal teams.

David was formerly Deputy Group General Counsel at Nationwide Building Society.

[ This is a guest think piece by Konexo for Artificial Lawyer. ]