The Influence of a Mobile Workforce on the Legal Profession

The legal profession has been significantly reshaped in recent years. Whether you work in-house or for a law firm, I think you'll agree that while the push to deliver legal services in more efficient and cost-effective ways has been in place for a while, it gained a heightened sense of urgency during the economic downturn. Today, as businesses focus on the future, advances in technology, an increasingly mobile workforce and the “Millennial effect” are hastening additional changes in the legal field.  

I'd like to share some highlights from our Future Law Office report, The Evolving Legal Profession and Emerging Workforce of Tomorrow. We've been publishing this research since the year 2000 and our latest report examines the efforts being undertaken by law firms and corporate legal departments to navigate and manage the new realities of today’s business environment.

Here are three key takeaways:

1. Technology has become a game-changer. Much of the evolution that has taken place in the legal field could not have happened without the technological advances of recent years. Web-based tools have streamlined client communication and helped improve the delivery of legal services. Some of the most commonly used technologies in today’s law offices include e-filing systems, meeting or audio-conferencing tools, document storage sites, collaborative or information-sharing sites and client portals or extranets. In addition, the impact of wireless networks and mobile communication devices has been significant, along with the influx of more members of the Millennial generation into the workplace. Gen Y's natural affinity for technology has undoubtedly contributed to the adoption of cutting-edge tools by many law firms, as well as helping to foster greater collaboration and information sharing at work.

2. ‘Millennial’ workers are making their mark on the legal workforce. 
Gen Y professionals are increasingly vocal about what they want in the workplace, including more flexible hours and the ability to work when and wherever they feel most productive. This has helped to usher in positive changes for all legal professionals. Back when I was an associate, if you aspired to make partner, you were expected to work long hours in the office. This meant 14-hour days, and then some, along with making an appearance in the office on Saturdays, in order to exceed billable hours requirements and show your dedication. These days, Millennials are pushing a new work model: One in which they work just as hard, but not necessarily in the office, or by keeping standard schedules. They’re insisting on more flexible hours and the ability to work outside the office -- including working from home or their neighborhood coffee shop. Gen Y is trying to send a message that they’re equally as committed as other generations of workers and are still logging long hours, but they don’t feel the need to be tethered to a desk in the office.

While this “wherever working” trend is prevalent in many businesses that law firms interact with, if law firms remain resistant to adapting to new modes of working, they may risk losing both talented legal professionals and progressive corporate clients.

3. Increased mobility is affecting the size of law firms' physical office spaces.  
With mobile devices and wireless networks enabling legal professionals to work remotely from any location, law firms are reducing the size of their offices, reconfiguring workspaces and becoming more creative with design. The number of traditional offices are being reduced to create more open workspaces that enhance collaboration and teamwork. Law firms also are enhancing common spaces to improve the office experience for both employees and clients. This includes simplifying the reception area, moving conference rooms near reception, and providing services, such as a visitors’ lounge, catering kitchen and business center.

What's Next?

As we continue to move toward greater mobility and flexibility in the legal workplace, I believe that staffing models will be impacted by this trend. “Mobile support teams,” or groups of highly skilled legal professionals who go from engagement to engagement to work on substantive matters, are likely to take hold as a cost-effective staffing strategy.

These are just a few of the trends that reflect the legal profession’s efforts to become ever more nimble and responsive to client needs. For more information, download our complimentary Future Law Office research report.

What are some of the ways your law firm or legal department has adapted to a changing business landscape? Did your organization part with any longstanding traditions in order to implement best practices that emerged from the economic downturn? Please add your comments. We'd like to hear from you.