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6 Ways Coronavirus Could Change the Post-Pandemic Firm Environment

6 Ways Coronavirus Could Change the Post-Pandemic Firm Environment

Coronavirus has brought some industries to a screeching halt, but the legal industry (though seriously impacted) seems poised to survive and potentially thrive.  Firms — normally seen as risk averse and traditional — are being forced to change in real-time, and are shifting their perspective on how to structure their workforce and operational processes.

For attorneys looking to grow their career after the coronavirus pandemic ends, the state of the industry can be confusing.  It may not be clear whether you should go after a remote or project-based position, for example — will it negatively impact your career trajectory?  The answers are no longer as simple as they once were, as the legal industry is going through changes just as significant (if not more so) than the ones it underwent after the Great Recession of 2008.

Here at Garb Jaffe & Associates, our Los Angeles legal recruiters are committed to helping attorney-candidates navigate the job market effectively, and secure a position that’s perfect for their needs.  To that end, let’s explore the ways in which the pandemic is likely to influence the law firm environment in the long-term.

Remote Work Options Go Mainstream

Remote work is taking center stage during this pandemic, with almost all white-collar knowledge industries, including law — from firms to in-house departments — operating remotely at this time.  Remote work had already entered the “conversation” over the past decade, but has now emerged as a significant breakthrough in what it means to be a working professional.

As employers are forced to operate remotely during this pandemic, many are beginning to perceive remote work as a reasonable alternative in the long-term, even after the pandemic ends — so long as productivity remains equivalent to in-office work.  In truth, whether remote work options will truly go “mainstream” depends on the firm employer and how willing they are to make real organizational changes.  Operations consulting may be necessary to transition the firm from a primarily in-person work environment to one with mixed remote and in-person processes.

Remote work going mainstream could mean a fundamental shift in compensation for remote attorneys (who have normally been paid less for being remote, but may see a pay rise post-pandemic as remote work is normalized).  It could also mean that going remote is not as significant of an “opportunity loss” for growing one’s career.  Before the pandemic, shifting into a remote role was seen as risking one’s future career opportunities — this is very likely to change, however.

Access to Part-Time Opportunities in Biglaw

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Biglaw firms were already beginning to implement a variety of alternative career tracks in an attempt to keep skilled attorneys who were simply not able to maintain the work-life balance required of a standard full-time position at the firm.  These firms were offering:

    • Part-time attorney positions;
    • Project-based attorney positions;
    • Remote work attorney positions; and
    • Non-partner track positions (full-time, but reduced pay and hours).

Part-time and project-based opportunities are very likely to grow post-pandemic, as Biglaw firms contend with an economic downturn (i.e., spotty client spending) and have to cut costs as a result.  Attorneys who are considering starting families and exploring alternative career opportunities may want to use this time to explore part-time and project-based opportunities as a means of securing a more sustainable position in the long-term.

Renewed Focus on “Agile” Solutions

“Agile” solutions have been a buzzword ever since last decade’s Great Recession, but the post-pandemic workplace — especially Biglaw — is very likely to renew this focus.  The main target for “agile” innovation during this downturn appears to be the age-old concept of a meeting.  Traditional meetings often stretch for hours without clear direction, and may involve employees who have only a distant connection to all the questions and issues being raised during the meeting.  This is an enormous waste of time in many cases.

During the pandemic, offices are increasingly discovering that virtual meetings resolve some of these inherent challenges.  Workers who are not actively involved in the conversation can move in and out of the meeting with minimal friction, or can stay on mute and continue doing work until their participation is absolutely necessary.

In the post-pandemic world, industry observers believe that in-person meetings will in many cases give way to the normalization of virtual meetings — and this may extend to meetings that would otherwise require out-of-office travel.

Cutting Unnecessary Positions

In any economic downturn, unnecessary or otherwise “nonessential” positions — certain middle management layers, perhaps supplementary positions that are meant to support the primary workers (i.e., legal secretaries) — are likely to be cut.  In the Biglaw context, this may lead to a reduction in low-level hiring: junior associates, paralegals, and legal secretaries, which may have an overall effect of increasing the workload for those attorneys who remain.

As a general rule, however, “agile” solutions need not leave individuals without sufficient organizational support.  Some Biglaw firms are more cost-conscious (perhaps their clients are more seasonal and less stable), so it pays to spend the time with your legal recruiter to identify those firms that are likely to cut corners, and those firms that are more likely to invest in the support infrastructure for their staff, even when there is a downturn.  In the long-term, working without sufficient office assistance takes a toll, and may lead to burnout — a healthy career trajectory requires healthy firm infrastructure.

Long-Term Impacts for Women Attorneys

In the midst of the pandemic, there have been many reports — in the United States and worldwide — of work male professionals having a change of perspective with regard to their household duties and their overall work-life balance.  Simply put, it appears likely that some men are realizing that it could be better long-term for them to establish a more balanced lifestyle, so that they can spend more time with their families and help ease the domestic burden often shouldered by working women.

What does this mean for women attorneys?

It’s likely that as men demand a more balanced lifestyle post-pandemic, Biglaw firms will retreat from the default perception that women are “less willing” to put in the work long-term compared to men.  This may lead to a rise in partner promotions for women, among other opportunities.

The Post-Pandemic Response Will Vary Significantly from Firm-to-Firm

Though there are certain trends that observers (justifiably) expect to spread through the legal industry, not all firms are necessarily going to be impacted to the same degree — and this is generally true of any major economic disruption, including last decade’s “Great Recession” that left an indelible mark on the legal industry.

Elite Biglaw firms are not in as disadvantageous a position (with respect to hiring) as midsized and smaller firms, as Biglaw firms tend to have the talent, networks, and diverse, well-funded client base necessary to sustain business and hiring post-pandemic.  In fact, industry observers expect Biglaw firms to “bounce back” with relative ease due to their ability to volume hire skilled attorneys as business returns to normal post-pandemic.  By comparison, the attorney new-hire acquisition cost (time, expense, efficiency) for smaller firms may pose a real problem for such firms as they struggle to get back up to speed.

Worth noting: not all Biglaw firms are going to adopt a similar strategy, and some will be more cautious than others.

So, what does this all mean for attorney-candidates?

Given what we know about elite Biglaw firms, we can extrapolate a few possibilities:

    • Elite Biglaw firms may not fundamentally alter their work offerings in order to entice attorney hires (as they can always generate sufficient interest in the hiring market);
    • Elite Biglaw firms are often in a better organizational position to “rev up hiring” after an economic downturn;
    • Some elite Biglaw firms will be hiring during the pandemic as they sufficient long-term work to take such risks; and
    • Some Biglaw firms will invest in organizational changes for the future.

Contact Garb Jaffe & Associates for Recruitment Assistance

The coronavirus pandemic has created a great deal of uncertainty — not just in the legal industry, but in the economy overall.  Many attorneys are either feeling as though they have to put their “nose to the grindstone” and suppress their desire to make a change (i.e., moving to a new firm) given this uncertainty.  By contrast, some attorneys are now motivated to make big changes given this potential long-term instability in the job market.

If you’ve been contemplating a career change, the coronavirus pandemic should not necessarily stop you from making the right decision for your happiness and success.  As you explore your options, however, it’s important to understand what the future may hold for the industry.

We’re here to help.

Here at Garb Jaffe & Associates, our team of experienced Los Angeles legal recruiters have spent decades working with attorney-candidates — from midlevel associates to junior partners and beyond — helping them to identify and secure positions that are well-suited to their workplace preferences and career trajectory.

We provide personalized recruitment services.  Unlike many of our competitors, we work closely with attorney-candidates from start-to-finish, helping them to identify potential landing spots, rewrite their resumes, practice for interviews, connect to pre-existing professional networks in target firms, and more.

Ready to speak to a legal recruiter at Garb Jaffe?  Call us at 310-207-0727 or complete an intake form through our website to schedule a meeting today.

We look forward to assisting you.

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