How to make the most out of hybrid work

Demand for flexible work arrangements and client collaboration driving structure: lawyer

How to make the most out of hybrid work
Andrea Alliston, Stikeman Elliott LLP

Seventeen months after the legal profession transitioned to work-from-home, it is getting acquainted with a new arrangement: hybrid work. 

While many lawyers prefer the ease of collaboration afforded by being physically together in an office, there are two main factors driving firms and legal departments to address hybrid work, says Andrea Alliston, knowledge management partner at Stikeman Elliott LLP.

One is the competitive market for legal talent. To recruit the best and brightest, management is under pressure to support flexible work arrangements.

The second is the fact that many clients are themselves embracing a hybrid work environment. To interact and provide legal services to them, firms will need to adapt their approaches to work to effectively collaborate, says Alliston.

To support hybrid work, teams need tools for video and audio communication, project management and document-sharing, which can be facilitated on platforms such as Microsoft Teams, HighQ and Clio. For specific functions, Zoom and Webex can be used for video communication, and Slack and Jive for text-based communication. Available tools for project management include Smartsheet, Trello, BaseCamp and Assana. And GoogleDocs and iManage are there for document collaboration.

“There's been such a proliferation of legal technology tools in the last few years, that it is increasingly difficult – if not impossible – to keep track of all the tools that are coming to market.”

A helpful starting point when confronted with a particular use case is LegaltechHub, an online search tool for legal tech products and resources, she says.

Whatever the favoured product, teams must get on the same page about which tool will be used for which task, says Alliston.

“Have agreement as to how the team will work together… I think the challenge in a law firm and for legal departments – maybe to a lesser degree – is that the teams are constantly changing,” she says. “So you're working with different sets of lawyers and different clients. And it is difficult to have a one-size-fits-all approach to every single file and project that we work on.”

“So thinking about, within our set of technology tools and approaches to files, how do individual teams identify how they want to work together on that particular mandate. I think that would be something that is the simple, low-tech solution, but could be quite effective, actually, for setting the ground rules on how you want to work together.”

Alliston adds in an article on the firm’s website, that remote work has raised expectations among users on how these tools should work together. There are heightened appetites around the “seamless integration” among document management and communication tools and lawyers expect “access to specialized applications,” such as transaction-management tools. Lawyers have also grown accustomed to accessing context- or matter-specific “functionality and information,” for example “financial information or similar representative work.” Tools are also expected to facilitate “real-time co-authoring” in document collaboration that will integrate with the document-management system and “online brainstorming, design thinking and team collaboration tools.”

For meetings, the transition to hybrid work has involved significant changes to etiquette and technology.

The technology piece is “a really hot topic” with clients, says Alliston.

“The challenge is that the technology is not there yet. It will get better. And there are some interim solutions that people are implementing. The challenge is, of course, this idea of combining physical environments with virtual ones.”

“The investment you have to make in the technology is not just a software platform that you're going to use, but also the hardware – your technology hardware – and maybe even the physical space, as well, to support these hybrid meetings more effectively.”

It will take time for firms and clients to establish the best way forward and will involve a “learning curve” for meeting participants to adapt, she says.

Remote work necessitated certain meeting-etiquette changes which have proven to be innovative, says Alliston.

“I'm not sure I ever raised a hand in a physical meeting before when I wanted to speak… And if you think about it, it means that we're not interrupting and speaking over each other as much, which is easier to do in-person and much more difficult to do through a virtual Teams or Zoom call. The technology doesn't like it when we all talk at the same time.”

The experience of one Stikeman client, who incorporated the hand-raising function into a hybrid board meeting, showed it facilitated broader participation, she says.

“Rather than feeling you have to interrupt somebody to get your point across or to start speaking, you simply have to raise your hand. And when it comes to your turn to add your point, you add your point.”

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