When the world shifted from commercial work spaces to home offices, most in the legal industry didn’t expect changes to last more than several months. Yet here we are today, with 76% of U.S. attorneys working from home at least one day per week, and what most imagined to be a brief detour turning into de facto operations.
Yes, most law departments have responded with ad hoc solutions to bridge the gap, but may not have a sustainable long-term remote strategy in place. What do General Counsel and Chief Legal Officers need to do to enhance their remote management? With our years of experience running a fully remote temporary legal staffing firm, we have a few tips on how to oversee remote attorneys to maximize their progress and performance.
Tracking time for a clear perspective
Ask anyone who has left a law firm environment for in-house counsel and they will likely say one of the aspects they miss the least is tracking billable hours. Yet the move to work-from-home operations has encouraged more in-house law departments to establish transparency in remote operations and explore activity tracking. The ability to calculate bandwidth and gauge workloads provides General Counsel with vital insight:
- Project progress – Without micromanaging, you can confirm the headway being made and the timelines for project completion. This way, you maintain an up-to-the-minute viewpoint without stressing out your staff with near-constant check-ins.For example, the right time-tracking software allows your law department to outline projected milestones and timelines for projects. You can regularly check-in to see the amount of time that has been dedicated to deliverables. Notes sections allow your attorneys to outline their contributions and the challenges they’ve encountered along the way.
- Workforce allocation – With the “do-less-with-more” edict from senior management, knowing when your people are overtaxed can help you pinpoint when to increase your headcount or engage temporary attorneys.If your attorneys are steadfast about tracking their time, you can get transparency into how your projected workloads translate into actual workloads. This can allow you to determine who is approaching their bandwidth limitations and who is already at real risk of burnout.
The good news is that you can monitor without being obtrusive. Before you invest in a tracking platform, make sure to evaluate its ability to integrate with your existing systems, capture data accurately, and provide comprehensive reporting that is easy to digest.
Loosening the reins for better results
For better or worse, attorneys are familiar with logging long and late hours, but are less accustomed to taking advantage of flexible schedules and alternate work hours. Rather than expecting attorneys to work harder, the pandemic has created an opportunity to reevaluate norms and encourage them to work smarter.
When are your in-house staff at their best? Are they handling more complex and time-intensive services in the morning, afternoon, or evening? Tracking their activity and contributions can offer an enlightening glimpse into each attorney’s biorhythm for peak productivity.
Though some tasks will require them to operate within typical business hours (in-house calls, communication with government agencies, etc.), there are plenty of objectives (document review, agreement evaluation, etc.) that can be completed when their energy is elevated. By rejecting the status quo and coordinating with your people, you can get a better performance.
Revisiting your approach to team interactions
Shifting to remote legal department operations has altered the lines of communication. In the past, you could stroll down the hall to inform your staff of an elevated priority. Now, you need to be more deliberate about delegation.
Where do you start? Here are a few extra layers of consideration to keep in mind as you try to maximize your remote operations.
- Who – Now that your team is spread out, it’s crucial to specify who is responsible for exact deliverables in your legal services. Though the right communication and collaboration tools can improve operations, it’s still important that your staff knows from the outset who needs to drive which tasks, so your remote team doesn’t stumble or flounder with their progress.
- What – Are your in-house staff focusing on the top priorities? If there are niche skills outside of their expertise or low priority tasks, it’s better to remove those from the plate of your in-house staff and transition them over to temporary attorneys.
Looking at the big picture
When you decide to embrace operating remotely, there are a variety of new and expanded considerations to keep in mind. Everything from promoting IT accessibility and data security to fostering strong communication and team mental health needs to be adjusted for remote operations. But with the right commitment and guidance, you can enhance your performance and address the challenges of the day.
Want to learn more about legal practice management and other challenges of remote operations? Get our new eBook “How Corporate Law Departments Can Thrive in a Remote World” and unlock best practices for remote operations.