COVID-19 - Working Remotely
Survey conducted March 2020
Lessons learned from the shift to remote working
The results of Legal IT Insider’s remote working survey show that if we had given the legal sector a crystal ball that COVID-19 was coming, the main thing that both vendors and law firms would have done differently is been better prepared in terms of equipment and hardware. Respondents wished they had already been set up on laptops long before the crisis. Equipment is also the key priority going forward, with an emphasis on the home set up including monitors.
However, with security concerns and the ability to function remotely a continuing and long-term concern, you won’t be surprised to hear that VPN/VDI and bandwidth were top of the list to address after the crisis hit.
In this report, we reveal how IT directors, lawyers and a handful of consultants wish they were better prepared and what they said their focus is post COVID-19.
What would you have changed in the run up to COVID-19 if you had a crystal ball?
While a surprisingly high 40% of the 142 respondents who answered our survey said they wouldn’t have changed anything about their remote working arrangements in the run up to lockdown, of those who would have made changes, 24% would have had ‘more or different’ equipment for home working.
By far the most common wish is that there had been a bigger stock of laptops or that all office personnel had already been equipped with laptops, with the head of technology at one magic circle law firm commenting simply: "Laptops for all."
However, there is also a regret that there was not more focus in advance on improving the home set up, particularly when it comes to monitors and extra screens. The IT director at one international law firm said he would have reserved a stock of monitors while the operations director at another said: "Ensure people had a least one screen at home to supplement a laptop."
A further 8% said they would have put in place better remote print and paperless arrangements, with the same percentage saying they would have accelerated plans for agile working.
Below are the results in full.
What would you have changed pre COVID-19
Had more/better equipment for home working
Accelerated plans for agile working
Better staff training
Better video conference capability
Better online collaboration tools
Digitised or productised processes
Better client preparation
Contacted clients sooner
Replaced our CMS
Closed the office sooner
Mental health measures
The most common thing that respondents to our survey would have done differently is have a bigger stock of laptops or have accelerated the roll out of laptops to all staff ahead of COVID-19.
Of those who said they would have made changes to equipment, 71% said they would have provided more laptops. Representatives comments include:
“Laptops for all.” Head of technology, magic circle law firm
More kit available and less reliance on ‘own devices’. Operations director, UK top 100 law firm
“Every fee earner would have a laptop as their primary device.” IT director, top five Scottish law firm
“Ensure ALL staff had a laptop, even back office/business services.” IT solutions lead at UK top 100 law firm
“Ensure all employees had laptops and internet access.” Market intelligence manager, large US law firm
“Provided everybody with laptops and headphones.” Head of marketing and BD, European law firm
It’s no surprise that printing has caused issues given that lawyers still love paper and that many law firms are nowhere near yet paperless. Issues include a lack of printers within workers home environment, with many IT users and IT directors wishing they had gone paperless sooner.
These are some of the comments we received:
“Added local printing and scanner for users who are working from home.” Commercial property consultant, large UK law firm
“Gone completely paperless sooner.” IT manager, Full-service law firm based in Yorkshire, UK
“Encouraged less paper file use more scanning of documents better post handling.” Director of IT, full-service law firm based in Yorkshire, UK
“Migrated staff off legacy (non-cloud) programs, and installed scanners for all incoming mail.” Paralegal, South East business law firm, UK
“Improved document management capability to allow file review without a paper copy.” IT manager, UK top 200 law firm
Accelerated or tested agile working
Of those who wished they had sped up the process of remote working or tested it out better, the most common comment was that they should have trialled home working more thoroughly or ‘bitten the bullet’ sooner.
Here is what people said they would have done differently:
“Had a tested plan for all functions, including back office. Although we have got everyone working remotely, some of that had to be done under time and technological pressures.” IT director, East Midlands law firm
“Trialled homeworking so as to have avoided any nervousness over resilience.” Group general counsel, financial services company
“Tested out remote working more thoroughly before it was needed, we only had one test run.” Lawyer relationship manager, magic circle firm
“Bitten the bullet earlier and sent everyone home day one.” Business services director, UK top 100 firm
What are you looking to change going forward to better support remote working?
It is safe to say that remote working is here to stay and that it’s unlikely that any legal practice will operate in exactly the same office bound way again.
While we have spoken to senior leaders who say that teams need to be in the office in order to be truly productive and train younger members of staff including trainees, what COVID-19 has shown us is that, whether we like it or not, even the most traditional law firm’s output is not inexorably tied to bricks and mortar.
It is highly likely that law firms will look at reducing real estate and moving to a more flexible model, which in the short term will be necessitated by the need to maintain social distancing.
So, what did our respondents say they are looking to change to better support remote working now and in the future?
What are you looking to change to better support remote working?
More home equipment including monitors and chair
Digitisation of existing processes
Staff engagement/performance/mental health awareness procedures
Better adoption of Microsoft Teams
More use of O365 and browser-based technology
Performance feedback software
Again, of those that would make changes, home equipment features highest, with respondents still grappling with a lack of monitors and the need to improve the home office set up. Even the few law firms that can congratulate themselves on everyone having a laptop prior to lockdown need to now think about how to maintain efficiency if employees continue to work from home longer term.
We know of one US law firm whose staff have long all worked from laptops and which has a mirror, two-screen set up in the home environment. While that is still highly unusual, there is a big question hanging over how efficient and accurate staff can be – particularly over a lengthy period of time – when working in a far inferior home set up.
Here are some of the comments as to what respondents are looking to change to support remote working going forward.
“More monitors for users.” UK patent attorney
“Home office setup.” CIO, magic circle law firm
“Additional equipment for long-term home working: monitors, chairs etc.” IT director, Scottish law firm
“Help with user's home configurations e.g. monitor/desk setups, router issues, poor Wi-Fi, help renegotiate broadband contracts, etc.” Systems developer, North West UK law firm
Remote working has inevitably added multiple security challenges, including how you ensure the safety of your employees’ network, which is why respondents say that refining virtual private network arrangements have been top of list post lockdown.
If the employee’s network is connected to a VPN, all the data transmitted will be encrypted. However, the huge increased volume of traffic placed on VPNs has caused major challenges, necessitating the addition of remote access servers and load balancers.
Interestingly, no-one responding to our survey mentioned moving to a zero trust security model.
“Refining end point, VPN and security measures.” IT director, UK top 100 law firm
“Moving to HA VPN, increased IT headcount.” IT director, UK top 100 law firm
Other respondents simply made comments along the lines of ‘more VPN’ or ‘cloud VDI’.
With entire families working from home, it’s unsurprising that bandwidth and broadband were immediate priorities for firms post-COVID-19. We have split this from VPN but if you were to combine the two, it would be by far the biggest priority for respondents after the lockdown hit.
“Broadband capacity in the community.” Operations director, UK headquartered international law firm
“Private home bandwidth.” Managing associate, European law firm
“Access to technology needed; higher bandwidth to support video.” Market intelligence manager, US law firm
Printing is a frequently reference topic in our survey, but what’s interesting is the split between those who say that having local printers and scanners would have been better and those saying that printing needs to be phased out completely. It is worth noting that many large firms with financial institutions for clients are prohibited from connecting printers to their home computer.
Comments as to what changes will be put in place going forward included:
“Local printing.” IT manager, leading UK, North East and Yorkshire law firm
“Reduced reliance on printing.” IT manager at a South East UK law firm
It is patently obvious that collaboration tools have come to the fore in a way that could not have been anticipated pre-COVID-19, with many lawyers embracing tools such as Zoom and Web-Ex to conduct meetings and even court hearings.
Asked what they were focussing on building post COVID-19, these are a few of the comments we received:
“Collaboration tools.” Director of IT infrastructure, Am Law top 20 law firm
“Collaboration tools within Citrix.” Director of IT, North West UK law firm
“Collaboration.” IT director, top Scottish law firm
“Further electronification, more focus on collaboration tools.” IT manager, East Midlands UK law fir
COVID-19 has transformed the way law firms operate, with an increased emphasis on workflow and digitisation, and an acceleration of the shift to cloud technology.
It is worth pointing out that arguably, ‘digitisation of processes’ and ‘eSignatures’ could fall into the same category – if they were combined, this would be the second biggest priority going forward. It also accords overlaps with the ‘move to paperlite’ ambitions of many.
Perceived barriers to eSignatures are being overcome, and law firms that pre-COVID had very heavy paper processes have quickly had to adapt – although many have struggled and required people to attend the office.
It is important to remember that underpinning the technology is a human story, and it is good to see an improved focus on staff wellbeing – you will note that staff barely featured when respondents were asked what they would have changed in the run up to COVID-19, but that jumps up the list going forward, including an awareness of staff mental health. Given the isolation endured by many who are working remotely (not to mention the juggling that parents are having to do while working from home) that is to be commended.
Our thanks to all of those who took part in the survey.
The 142 respondents were largely comprised of IT heads from law firms spanning the US, UK and APAC as well as number of lawyers and vendors.