2020 has been a wildly unpredictable ride for law firms. In the face of challenges never before seen, organizations everywhere have had to adapt to survive and, hopefully, thrive. On The Rankings Podcast, the current and 10th President of the ABA, Patricia Refo, shared her thoughts about what firms need to focus on now, and in the future. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts to round up a year of enlightening conversations with attorneys at the top of their careers!

2020: The Year Firms Digitally Transformed

It goes without saying that one of the biggest changes in 2020 was the way that firms use tech. When the pandemic hit and restrictions ensued, the majority of firms found themselves quickly enacting contingency plans that included remote working.

Firms that were already digitally transformed were naturally more agile. They could pivot quicker, and carry on with some semblance of ‘business as usual’. For the rest, there was a steep learning curve. The benefit is that most firms have been through it now. Systems have been implemented, operations have gotten leaner, and the majority of organizations are now in a much better place.

From another angle, we’ve seen things like Zoom hearings which come with their own sets of challenges. Particularly, for example, when it comes to the ability of a jury to examine evidence up close. Even law education has changed, with hybrid teaching methods between brick-and-mortar and online on the rise. Who knows what the future of legal tech is, but perhaps 2021 could be the year that we experience the first accredited online law school!

How To Overcome Technology’s Shortcomings

Experimentation with tech has got us through the last year and it’s important we use metrics to take stock of what’s worked well and what hasn’t. Despite plenty of positive advancements, Patricia Refo was keen to point out some of the limits of technology in the legal industry.

“One of the things that is powerful to me that we have all lost is the unintentional unplanned contract with other people. And that means we have to replace it with something that is intentional.” — Patricia Refo

Patricia urged that we get intentional about contact. Face-to-face chance encounters are a huge source of referrals. Remove these from the day-to-day and we’re missing out on potential clients, as well as general networking and learning opportunities.

Being intentional means focusing on building relationships in the virtual world. Focus on following up with your clients, on following up with your referral sources, and trying to be present as much as possible. Patricia urges you to send that email, figure out a time for that Zoom call.

Sure, everything’s a little more complicated. However, as we know from our interview with Jordan Harbinger, choosing to make the effort without seeking reciprocity often reaps the biggest rewards.

Make Self-Care And Mental Health A Priority

I think we can all agree that 2020 was mentally exhausting in many ways.

  • The endless calendar notifications calling our attention to Zoom meetings
  • The total barrage of bad news permeating our lives
  • The delicate balancing act of work and personal time, made harder when your home is transformed into your office!

Many of the entrepreneurs and elite personal injury attorneys we’ve interviewed stress the importance of maintaining a good work-life balance. If you’re working from home, there are a few best practices that you can take into account:

  • Make sure you have a dedicated workspace that is separate from the space you relax in
  • Pay close attention to your ‘office’ surroundings – good lighting, temperature control, and appropriate seating are so important for productivity
  • When you switch off for the evening, switch off completely. That means turning notifications off of your phone and setting strict boundaries for when you’re working

Obviously it’s not just home working that has affected our mental health this year. Patricia Refo explained that the pandemic has exacerbated problems that have been around in the legal industry for a lot longer:

“We all need to be careful that we’re taking care – not only of ourselves but of our colleagues. Lawyer wellness is a serious issue on a good day, and these aren’t good days for some people.”

Patricia stressed the importance of being alert to the needs of ourselves, our colleagues, and our friends. The CDC reports a 30% increase in depression and anxiety symptoms in the general population at the end of 2020.

There are many resources available around wellness and mental health, including some aimed directly at the legal industry. We’ve collated a few useful links here for anyone facing difficulties:

Look Forward To A New Start

Despite the challenges we’ve all lived through, we are starting 2021 with a lot of hope. Take care of yourselves, and your loved ones over the holidays, and get ready to meet the new year with a strong mindset, drive, and ambition.