Think Tank: Tech Investments and Millennials Drive Big Law Telecommuting Opportunity

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Think Tank: Tech Investments and Millennials Drive Big Law Telecommuting Opportunity

By Chris Cartrett, Executive Vice President, Aderant

Three large law firms announced flexible workplace policies in March 2017.  While these announcements might seem sudden, we believe they’ve been in the making for a long time.

We see large law firms with the option to capitalize on a market opportunity, because their previous investment in technology has intersected with generational shift.

Allow me to explain.

First, Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP announced a remote working program that would “allow eligible associates to spend one or two days weekly working remotely.”

About a week later, Jackson Lewis P.C. revealed a flexible workplace policy permitting associates and of counsel attorneys “to work remotely from locations outside the office as needed, provided they are accessible and responsive to the firm and their clients.”

Finally, two days after that, Baker & McKenzie LLP launched a branded flexible work program called “bAgile.” The firm’s announcement suggests the program is open to most law firm staff, including those who are not attorneys.

Some firms say these announcements simply formalize into policy a law firm benefit that’s been informally acceptable for some time.  They join other firms that have put formal policies in place.

For example, Law360 reported White & Case LLP has had a “remote working has been solidified as a firm policy for almost a year.”  Likewise, Above the Law points to Shearman & Sterling LLP which it says in 2016 “adopted a policy allowing associates to work from home two days a month.”

While it might seem as if this trend exploded overnight, it probably took many years.  As David Lat, the managing editor of Above the Law, said in the piece above, it’s been underway for 10 years, but “resistance” has only recently begun to fade.

Investing in the Technological Capacity for Agility

Much of the public conversation since has equated telecommuting with agility.  Yet, the fact an associate can plug a laptop into a docking station at home just scratches the surface.

From a purely IT infrastructure perspective, agility is far more than just mobile time entry or call-forwarding – those are merely table stakes today.  Agility is, in fact, about running a better business including being able to do routine tasks such as managing and editing prebills anywhere and at any time.

The modern legal technology imperative requires that staff and attorneys have same access to law firm systems from anywhere as if they were physically in the office.  This means the same depth of functionality – across collaboration, automation and analytics – whether finalizing a legal brief from home, or reporting on matter and budget status at a client’s office.

We all commonly refer to technological change as occurring quickly – and it does relative to historical innovation – but the reality is it took years for large complex organizations like a big law firm to build the technological capacity for agility.

The Millennial Influence

Millennials represent the largest generational shift in modern history and are on pace to outnumber the aging baby boomer generation.  This is having a profound influence on workplace culture, and especially with respect to business technology.

Millennials came of age with technology, and have a special appreciation for the simplicity it brought to their personal lives.  Consequently, millennials have different expectations for the role of technology at work.

And why not?  Who wants to be chained to a desk to use some clunky piece of business software?  Legal technology has enabled mobility and collaboration to the extent the modern lawyer can do legal work from anywhere – without being tethered to an office desk.

Law firms clearly built the technological capacity for greater flexibility, and millennials have provided the cultural nudge.

Investing in Technology to Seize Future Market Opportunities

There’s little doubt these programs are about gaining an edge in talent amid a competitive market. Savvy technology investments over time have enabled these firms to seize a market opportunity as cultural norms about work are shifting.

It’s not especially risky to predict the market is likely to experience other large law firms following suit. If your IT infrastructure can’t support it, or can’t support it with the same degree of effectiveness as your peers, now’s the time to make it happen. Such a steady round of announcements might seem like a trend exploded over night, but in reality, it’s all been a long time in the making.

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