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Virtual law firm: did 2020 make you look again at the way you work?

virtual law firmA lot of lip service is paid to setting up a virtual law firm. In a previous article we looked at how to go about this in terms of the practicalities. However, what is the reality of working in a virtual firm and do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks?

When COVID-19 forced many law firms to send their people home to work, remote work’s time had really arrived.

The rush to give employees access to all the tools they’d need to work from home all came very suddenly. Yet, once everyone settled down, what quickly became apparent to many office-based firms is that employees could be productive and focussed when not in the office. In many cases, even more so. Employers everywhere began to understand that remote work really works.

Once the pandemic is over, will firms go back to “business as usual” and require that everyone work onsite? I have my doubts. It’s just possible the pandemic is the watershed moment that finally convinces employers that working from home is the new way forward.

Virtual law firm benefits.

It comes as no surprise that remote work brings a plethora of advantages for law firms. However, some are less obvious than others. Let’s take a look at the key ones.

Freedom to work from anywhere.

The only real caveat to this one is you have to have a phone and internet connection. That said, connectivity is becoming less and less of an issue as times goes by and the pandemic will have played its part in improving the availability of fast broadband.

A key benefit of a virtual law firm is that it allows you to tap into a talent pool that was formerly unavailable when location was paramount. Moving home to commute easily to the office used to be a limiting factor. That has all changed. Whether you are in Dundee or Dunedin, you can now work just as effectively.

In addition, remote working is one way to avoid high-rent and high-mortgage areas. That’s especially true for many firms where high cost city living was a pre-requisite for your career.

Work / life balance – manage your time more effectively.

virtual law firmHand in hand with remote working comes flexible working.

Solicitors can start and end their day when they choose – as long as this does not interfere with the work being done on time. This is invaluable when dealing with the needs of your personal life. Whether it’s the school run, doctor’s appointments or having to be at home when the central heating boiler needs fixing, the flexibility of homeworking addresses these needs.

Less commuting stress.

According to Lloyds Banking Group, the average UK commuter spends 492 days of his or her working life getting to and from work. That works out roughly at just over an hour each work day.

That’s just one side of the coin. An hour of commuting each day is linked to higher levels of stress and anxiety. Research also shows lengthy commutes to be associated with health issues such as raised blood sugar, higher cholesterol and increased risk of depression. Clearly, cutting out the commute helps both your mental and physical health. In my case, it also means I have the time to eat more healthily, have a little extra sleep and get a healthy breakfast.

Money savings – from fuel and commuting costs.

According to Lloyds, people living in the East of England, in areas such as Cambridge, Norwich and Peterborough, fork out an average of £78.93 each month on commuting costs. Londoners spend an average of £76.49 on their commute every month. Those in the South East are also spending above the UK average of £66.31 per month, splashing out £75.77.

The equation is straightforward. You can save between £800 and £2,000 a year by not having to commute. Petrol, car maintenance and insurance, season tickets and lunches soon add up. A virtual law firm puts money back in your pocket.

Reduced business overheads – no more expensive office rents.

Personal savings are one thing, but business savings also come into it. You can save on overheads, office costs, transport subsidies, business rates and a host of other things. Whilst you may still need to maintain some form of office environment, costs should dramatically reduce.

Increased productivity and performance.

Given the right home office working environment, you can enjoy fewer interruptions, less office politics, a quieter noise level, and fewer meetings or more efficient ones. When you add in the absence of a commute, remote workers typically have more time and fewer distractions. That leads to increased productivity. That’s a major benefit for employees and employers alike.

Executed well, remote working allows solicitors and law firms to focus on what really matters – performance.  Getting in early and leaving late may look like more work, but actual performance is a much better indicator of productivity.

Positive environmental impact.

In the United States, it is estimated that the 3.9 million people who work from home at least half time reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of taking more than 600,000 cars off the road for an entire year. That’s a huge 7.8 billion vehicle miles. 3 million tons of greenhouse gases are avoided, and oil savings reach 980 million dollars.

The empty raincoat?

virtual law firmIn one of his books, the famous business analyst, Charles Handy, described the ideal for any business as being the maximisation of economic performance. He thought this was being done at the expense of the needs of the individual – something he called the empty raincoat. His inference being the needs of the business turned employees into psychologically empty vessels.

Now, with flexible working, we at last have the opportunity to balance both needs in a win-win situation.

Conclusions.

So, there must be some downsides? I’m struggling to find them. Some have told me that they miss the camaraderie of the office. My advice is look at the benefits listed above and get over it. You’ll have the time to make new friends.

For me, in an ideal world, I’d take it one stage further. I’d like to work for LawWare from a home office in my favourite place – Granada in the south of Spain. I’d be up early for my tostada, cafe and cognac. Out at lunchtime for tapas and relaxing in the sunshine in the evening after a full day’s work.

I’ve yet to have a conversation about that with my CEO, Warren Wander. But, in all honesty, I could be doing that right now and he wouldn’t be any the wiser. Only kidding, Warren!

The bottom line is working remotely can give employees the time and environment needed to make healthy choices. If you would like to find out more about the benefits and practicalities of setting up a virtual law firm, please contact us.

Mike O’Donnell, October 2020.

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