By Judi Crimmins

Central to Legal Continuity is the need to ensure the safety and wellbeing of staff while balancing the core functions of the business. Companies around the globe have taken unprecedented action in rolling out mandatory remote work for their employees, and the consequences of balancing demanding schedules and the impacts to immediate family can lead to significantly high stress levels.

Legal leaders should demonstrate a personal commitment to the wellbeing of their teams and ramp-up efforts to promote it within their private or corporate practice. It can make all the difference in improving productivity with a commensurate impact on maintaining efficiency and bottom line results.

One of the challenges in trying to foster a culture that supports legal continuity and employee wellbeing is that there are a number of different factors at play. It is important to give Legal professionals a range of support options and benefits in order to meet their varied needs; including consideration of physical factors, practical concerns, and psychological support. Now is a good time to remind staff of employee assistance programs (“EAPs”) if available.

To ensure that lawyers and paralegals remain motivated during the COVID-19 crisis, here are six simple ways to improve their wellbeing.

1. Get Talking

With the pandemic turning many Legal professionals into de facto remote workers, daily communication may be more important than ever.

Contrary to popular belief, studies suggest that over 60% of attorneys are actually introverts. That said, some of the challenges facing all Legal staff while working remotely include loneliness and disconnection, and it is therefore critical to maintain structured connections with colleagues by recreating social contact. Using apps like Zoom, Hangouts, or Slack will be a lifeline for lawyers during the current crisis, when life and working patterns are changing exponentially. Prioritizing remote team collaboration to brainstorm and execute shared tasks can make all the difference to feeling part of the workplace community from afar.

In addition, leaders should take the time to discuss with their teams how they would like to run supervision, check-ins, and sign-offs remotely. It is important to reach out at this time and ask how Legal professionals are feeling and what support they might need to ensure successful legal continuity.

2. Recognize Good Work

Recognizing good work is critical to ensuring that Legal professionals stay motivated. While recognition might seem like an obvious booster, it is often overlooked and relegated to the lowest rung on the ladder during a crisis. However, it is precisely during times of uncertainty that lawyers will need and appreciate it the most, and should therefore be given special emphasis.

Implementing this could be as easy as a quick call, or sending an email to acknowledge good work and saying thank you for going the extra mile. It could also be done by providing tailored incentives, or simply recognizing when Legal staff have done a good job during a meeting. However leaders choose to do it, it will make a huge difference to team morale and drive.

3. Establish a Routine

Productivity is a series of habits and rituals that take patience and consistent discipline to build until they become ‘routine’. For lawyers used to busy office or court environments, in particular, working from home everyday is a new concept that might take a lot of trial and error before finding a routine that works.

Leaders should encourage lawyers and paralegals to establish a structured daily routine and set clear tasks for the day. Good places to start are preparing an office space at home, getting an early start, prioritizing tasks, and scheduling uninterrupted deep work. All these are conducive to an efficient remote work environment and will contribute to the smooth continuity of operations.

4. Encourage Regular Breaks

It might be easy for Legal professionals to forget to take breaks when working remotely. The penchant to ‘power through breaks’ might be exacerbated by a demanding workload and current governmental restrictions to self-isolate at home. But this is counterintuitive, as lawyers are more likely to suffer a ‘slump’, become stressed, and lose focus or motivation.

Legal leaders should encourage teams to get plenty of rest. Taking regular breaks can help regulate goals, improve mental sharpness, retain information, and make connections. Adjusting to a new reality and work-life balance will take its toll on the mental and physical health of many Legal professionals, and the onus is on leaders to take a greater interest and investment in their wellbeing at this time.

5. Embrace Technology

There’s more to a successful setup than a consistent Wi-Fi connection. The marketplace offers many tools and platforms to streamline core legal functions and these can make a big difference to legal continuity during the coronavirus crisis. Legal technology brings the benefits of cutting costs, increasing speed and accuracy, and keeping high-value legal work in-house.

Legal automation can be a safety net during this period. For example, AI can help identify and highlight unacceptable clauses that might be missed in everyday business contracts by someone who is not functioning at their usual level of productivity. Moreover, inevitable workforce absences during the pandemic due to illness or bereavement mean that many companies are at imminent risk of failing to deliver their services or compromising on its quality. The advanced capabilities of LegalTech solutions can ensure that companies deliver the best possible legal services during this time and will safeguard their reputation.

6. Allow Flexible Hours

Continuity through crisis necessitates a new way of thinking. While the Legal profession is renowned for working outside regular office hours, leaders should consider offering greater flexibility so that lawyers and paralegals can fit their commitments around the needs of their families.

Flexible hours can result in greater efficiency and connectivity among colleagues than ever before. An obvious benefit for Legal professionals is the opportunity to extend the regular business hours, which makes for a more satisfied global client base. This could include flexible start and finish times for parents, or allowing employees to work in ‘bursts’ of several hours at a time before taking extended breaks to rest and do chores, then reconvening in the evening.

Legal continuity planning must account for managing employee wellbeing. Creating a culture of health takes passionate and persistent leadership, and introducing steps to provide ongoing support and flexibility will pay multiple dividends in helping legal teams succeed during the current crisis.

– – –

Judi Crimmins
is a regulatory compliance specialist and the Director of Global Marketing at LawGeex. Previous companies include BSI Group and British Water. Judi holds a Master of Laws (LLM) from the University of London. Connect with her on LinkedIn.