By Mariia Synytska
Previously, remote work seemed unusual and even frightening. However, in the past two years, it’s become a new reality for many lawyers. Employees have become accustomed to working at home, and even found benefits from this way of working over typical office work.
Emily Witt, career coach and legal recruiter at Whistler Partners, said that remote work can influence career growth. She gave advice on career development for lawyers, saying, “remote work influences career growth by giving us the ability to reflect.” Witt explained, “when we think of career growth, we often think of the career we are currently embarking on but working remotely creates the space for one to ask, is this the right career for me? Every pivot is a growth opportunity, so if working from home gives us more time to ruminate on that, we’ve indeed bloomed, in my opinion.”
Law firms can improve the skills of their employees by being proactive about mentorship opportunities and providing e-learning (whether practice area workshops, computer training, fitness classes, guided meditation, etc.). “There are so many online resources, so setting up the groundwork for employees to find them can help in so many ways,” Witt said.
For law firms, the transition to remote work was challenging. MyCase, a practice management company, analyzed survey responses from 819 legal professionals to see how they incorporated remote work conditions into their practice. According to the survey findings, 88% of respondent firms moved to remote work either entirely or partially and 69% of lawyers think that remote work will have a lasting impact on how they operate.
Remote work creates a new kind of legal practitioner – the T-shaped lawyer
As professional development and education became easier in the new remote and digitalized work era, many career areas are in need of change. In the legal profession, there has been a great influence by the book written by professor Elaine Mak, “The T-shaped Lawyer and Beyond: Rethinking legal professionalism and legal education for contemporary societies.” Apart from the expertise in other areas, T-shaped lawyers must improve their soft skills, like communication, problem-solving and teamwork.
A recent LinkedIn article expanded on how T-shaped lawyers are the future for the law profession and included some of the competencies that clients want to see in legal practitioners, in addition to their expertise in law:
- Being able to effectively use technology to provide efficient and cost-effective services
- Excellent management and business leadership skills
- Being able to mitigate business risk
- Excellent change management and business leadership skills
- Being diverse
- Having solid government and regulator relationships
- Having strong interpersonal skills
In the year following the introduction of the ‘T-shaped lawyer’ by Elaine Mak, the Council of Higher Education issued a report with recommendations on how law students can work on their soft skills. Among these recommendations was the idea that the students should take classes in other disciplines, such as technology, politics and finance, which would enable students to broaden their skill sets
Statistics: how remote work influences motivation
Witt commented on the necessity of motivation working remotely. “If you are going to be successful working remotely, you have to have motivation. I can see this as early as when I first wake up. I’m a morning person, and since there isn’t a commute, I have made sure to design my day to take advantage of my most productive hours.,” she said. “Working from home gives me that flexibility and focus. My life used to be clouded by getting ready and a subway trip — often with delays — on top of it before I sat down at my computer.”
Witt said, “by the time I arrived at the office, I had lost the precious working hours of my day. Now I get up, journal, meditate and sit down at my desk before most people set their alarms. I also enjoy the short breaks that you can take while working from home.” She explained, “for example, a quick trip to the dry cleaners mid-day can free up my work/life checklist, and I can go right back to concentration mode.”
There are many opinions on how remote work influences motivation. Some people can concentrate better when they’re alone, while others feel they can’t find a home atmosphere suitable for work. Scientists at the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences studied how remote work employees quantified the impact remote work has on their motivation. Among respondents, 74% answered that remote work had a positive or somewhat positive effect on their motivation.
There are, of course, those who claim that working from home negatively impacts their work motivation. The scientists behind this survey asked respondents to write down some of the areas in their work life or setup that could increase motivation. Answers included:
- Better ergonomics and better work conditions
- Better work-life balance
- Shorter workdays or smaller workload
- Good communication with colleagues and more video meetings
Motivation in remote work: how to understand your team’s emotional state and support your team members
Leading a team of professionals is not an easy task, and with the increasing popularity of remote work, leadership has become even more challenging. The latest management practices have concentrated on creating strong emotional connections between group members that can withstand the winds of change.
Witt suggests regular check-ins to understand the team’s mental health. “I think check-ins should be mandatory. It’s often a challenge to discern emotional state when not physically around other employees, so Zoom Meetings semi-regularly carry a lot of weight.” Witt explained that the best way to approach this is to often ask teammates how they’re doing. “Working from home allows us to get closer to our colleagues in ways we never imagined, particularly during the pandemic. Everyone is overcoming obstacles, whether living alone and feeling lonely, sharing space with family members and juggling childcare,” she said. “The ability to see one another’s homes allows us to be more open with one another. Embrace that openness and see it as a way to connect with colleagues on a much deeper level.”
“Video Get-togethers and coffee meetings also become very important for team morale. One of my favorite days was when we had an impromptu Friday meetup, and we had an outside guest surprise us,” Witt said. “Often, working from home can be isolating, so constant reminders that others are there for support are beneficial.”
One of the largest takeaways for leadership in remote work is to develop the right support system and emotional connection with your team.
– Mariia Synytska works as a Content Lead at Lawrina. She conducts research through trending legal topics and coordinating copywriters This article is an edited extract of the free ebook Lawyer’s Work and Productivity in a New Normal.