Partner – Hannaford Turner LLP, England
1. How has the Covid-19 crisis affected the way you work as a lawyer? What are the key positives and negatives that have emerged out of lockdown?
The answer to this question is “hardly at all” and “totally” in equal measure. On the one hand it has been very much business as usual as we already had the technology in place to ensure that the switch to full-time remote working was virtually seamless. On the other hand, the dynamic of building and maintaining relationships with clients, contacts, suppliers and within our team has changed fundamentally. Like everyone else we have been on a steep learning curve but the experience has generally been positive because everyone has been getting to grips with it together. That said, I do miss the face to face interaction.
At Hannaford Turner, we are a shipping firm with most of our clients being international rather than based in the UK; going forward, we will need to consider new ways of keeping in touch with our current clients and also generating new business. Lockdown has been a challenge in this regard as much of these efforts have been through face to face meetings and attendance at industry events but this too will evolve as the legal industry adapts.
2. Will you and your company continue to use flexible and agile working in future? Will you reduce the size of your physical office space?
Prior to lockdown we already had a certain amount of flexible working. I believe one lesson learned from this experience is that in seeking to be more flexible and agile we must recognise that different team members have different needs depending on their character and their personal circumstances. Some of our staff can’t wait to get back to some form of office-based working environment whilst others perceive real benefits for their work and for their personal lives in retaining a more flexible working culture. With regards physical office space I think the question is perhaps more about how it is used rather than simply being a question of reducing size. If, as looks likely, the function of the physical office moves away from being the working hub to becoming the meeting, team-building and collaboration point, then some new thinking is required to ascertain how to maximise the benefits that can be achieved in that environment.
3. How have you employed legal tech during the crisis? What has been successful and what has been lacking?
As I’m sure is the case for most law firms, we already had the legal tech in place before the crisis but we were not using it as frequently or as fully as we are now. We have been striving to go “paperless” for a number of years and the new working conditions have naturally had a significant positive impact on that initiative. I don’t believe there has been anything lacking in our legal tech and for me personally it has been more a question of learning how to get the best from it. I am one of those lawyers whose requests for assistance from IT support are frequently given the code PICNIC – problem in chair not in computer!
The last year has also demonstrated the value of effective IT support; we use an external provider for this service and they are always available at the end of the phone which has been an enormous help in the delivery of our service to our clients in a seamless manner without them knowing (or caring!) whether we are in our office or elsewhere.
The crisis has also resulted in advances in how the shipping sector deals with certain documentary processes. As a shipping firm, we regularly deal with ship registries, financiers and notaries and many shipping documents require notarisation or other execution formalities which have not been possible during the crisis. It’s often said that “necessity is the mother of invention” and this has been the case as documents are signed remotely, notarisations and witnessing are completed remotely (in many cases via Zoom and uploaded on secure platforms) and the ship registries have adapted their processes to enable this. Undoubtedly, some of these advances will remain in place as the crisis abates.
4. How do you see the advancement of legal tech affecting the legal industry in the next 10 years?
For use of legal tech, the last 10 months has probably moved the legal profession forward 10 years but, perhaps even more significantly, it has shown the industry the importance of embracing further advancements. I believe that one of the challenges will be how to make legal tech enhance the legal profession and the service being offered to clients, not simply to commoditise it. In this regard lessons can be taken – both positive and negative – from the changes to retail banking over the last 25 years and the related impact over that period on customer satisfaction.
5. Has your company changed its remuneration structure during the crisis?
We haven’t changed our remuneration structure during the crisis, our focus having been to ensure that we adapt our working practices to fit the new business environment. When we have settled into the “new normal” and there is greater clarity on how working practices will look going forward, it will be worthwhile then considering if our current remuneration model remains robust or whether a different structure would be more appropriate. Remuneration is of course a key factor in engaging and keeping the best people in the industry but it is not the only factor. If, as looks to be the case, we are moving towards a more flexible working pattern, serious thought will also need to be given to other important “people” issues such as training, mentoring, team building and career development as traditional approaches may become increasingly ineffective.
6. Name one key thing that will be different in the legal profession in 10 years’ time.
In 10 years’ time, hand in hand with advancements in legal tech will be the fact that the overwhelming majority of legal professionals will be digital natives. As a result it is almost certain that networking and communication will be pushed increasingly into the Digi-sphere with platforms such as Linkedin (and their successors) continuing to develop and become increasingly relevant to business interaction. It seems likely that there will be less travel solely for business development purposes; shipping is an industry which has thrived on face to face contact so it will be interesting to see how the process of relationship building and business development evolves as the world and its practices change.