Jo is Excello’s recruitment and HR director and has been with the firm almost since its inception a decade ago. The impact of Covid-19 has thrown up both challenges and opportunities across the profession. We spoke to her about the trends she’s seeing as lockdown starts to ease and why #WFH is now all the rage.
What were the practical difficulties in preparing the firm for lockdown?
As an agile law firm since we were founded in 2009, the truth is that lockdown presented us with few real difficulties. This is the way we have always worked. Our lawyers can work wherever they want to so our systems, processes and culture are all engineered to flexibility and working remotely. We also have a network of offices that our lawyers can use as they choose, so there were a few quick dashes to the office to retrieve the odd laptop but it’s been genuinely ‘business as usual’.
How do you keep teams motivated and in touch during an enforced period of separation?
Our consultant lawyers are used to working in an agile way which means they are adept at using technology to remain connected with each other and their clients. The ability to work in a way which offers them control over how they spend their working day is a key aspect to ensuring we have a highly motivated team. Our systems and technology are designed to bridge the social gap when working remotely.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a concerning time for everyone and so we have made an extra effort to support and check-in with those used to team working and early on established regular virtual get-togethers, the ever more competitive online quizzes and a half-term scavenger hunt involving the kids.
Our intranet is an integral communication tool for our Excello team and being used even more than usual. One of the most popular features was the daily photo taken by any of the team on their lockdown walk. I think we all appreciated the genuine beauty of the country and the creativity of some of the photos – the beer can, standing proud in a City park, proved highly popular!
How has the pandemic affected the legal job market?
We are seeing a lot of different news coming out across the profession which will make recruitment more challenging for some firms and individuals. Many of these reflect the economic fallout from Covid but for Excello, and other dispersed firms, we have seen an unprecedented interest in the way we work.
We have enjoyed our most buoyant recruitment period over the spring and summer, increasing our national team to 110 partner-level lawyers, and see this continuing. We are being contacted on a daily basis by lawyers looking to work in a better way but always recruit on quality, not quantity.
This October’s PII renewal will present some big challenges for a number of SME firms and we’re keen to hear from ambitious commercial practices looking to be relieved of the day to day burden of law firm management but wanting to keep their teams in place and benefit from the infrastructure we can provide at Excello Law.
How has remote working affected the legal sector? What is the new normal?
For many lawyers having initially been forced to work from home during lockdown, there is a realisation that delivering legal services whilst adopting agile working practices is more than achievable. For many lawyers the experience of working in this way will have been transformational for them personally having had a taste of the balance and flexibility that working in this way has to offer and for law firms a realisation that productivity is not affected.
I think it remains to be seen what the new normal will be for law firms going forward but I genuinely believe the profession has achieved more in the last five months than would have been achieved in another decade or more.
Working from home doesn’t suit everyone but recent surveys are highlighting a majority of workers do not want to go back to working full-time in an office, with lengthy hours and long commutes.
Whether it’s fully working from home, or a combination of office and remote, there is fundamental change brewing and those organisations that respond and adapt will steer a stronger path through.
Does this present an opportunity to retain female talent within the profession?
This presents a fantastic opportunity to widen the scope of working practices within the profession for the benefit of everyone. Whilst the discussion and awareness of greater diversity has been prominent in recent years, I hope that first hand experience of different working practices will offer a practical and revealing insight for firms which will in turn lead to greater sustainability for women in terms of their legal careers and for those needing to work part-time due to taking the burden of childcare or other caring responsibilities.
Modern life is almost incompatible with the traditional long hours and presenteeism culture so one benefit of lockdown could be that we don’t even have this conversation anymore! It would be lovely to see flexibility established as a fundamental workplace right.
Our business model has always appealed equally to men and women because the benefits of being in control of your working day, your fee structure and the clients you work with are universal.
What will clients want in the future?
Clients will increasingly be focused on budgets and will want value for money, combined with sound and practical legal advice direct from experienced practitioners. Like everyone else, they have adapted to dealing with their partners and advisors online but will demand greater transparency over fees and high levels of customer service from a lawyer that reflects their own values.
Lawyers and teams that meet these demands will help to future-proof their practices and develop a sound following.
How do you see the next 12 months?
For us I think it will be very positive. We have a successful business model that is meeting lawyers’ needs and have a proven structure to transition and support lawyers to working as a consultant. We’re picking up on a real groundswell of change in the profession which we are very well positioned to meet and we’re eager to hear from individuals, teams and firms looking for fundamental change.
And I’m really looking forward to being able to organise our next national conference. It will be lovely to see all the Excello team again, introduce our new joiners and enjoy the buzz of friends and colleagues getting together. It always seems to be a late night..!