If you’re looking to understand the trends in any industry, perhaps the easiest way is to see what events of significance happened the year before.
An analysis of the 2021 legal industry trends necessarily leads us to the seminal year of 2020—when the whole world went remote. The need for remote work, with all of its attendant challenges, is the key trend among lawyers right now.
The security challenge
Cybersecurity is already a significant problem for many firms as reported security breaches have doubled over the last 5 years. Having an entire team of attorneys, paralegals and other staff all working in different locations off of different servers and networks drastically increases the security challenge.
Lawyers have to be vigilant about guarding access to the personal information of clients, partners and staff, to say nothing of information related to the actual cases they are working on. Digital workspaces have to be kept clean, with cache and log files regularly cleared out. Printed documents that are no longer necessary have to be shredded, not simply thrown into someone’s private garbage. And passwords on Wi-Fi home networks must be strong.
That’s just for those working at a home office. What if someone wants to get away from the house and work at an open location—e.g. the local coffee shop—for a few hours? While not ideal, it can still be done safely so long as certain guidelines are followed:
- Seat yourself so no one else can see your work screen.
- Never leave your computer unattended.
- When talking with clients on the phone, stay away from other patrons at the shop.
- Use your own cell phone hotspot to get online, not the wide open coffee shop network.
The next trend?
A survey by the American Bar Association (ABA) revealed that over half of all lawyers are now working from home almost exclusively, which confirms the general industry trend. But a look at some of the underlying data in the survey indicates that this trend might not be long-lasting.
For example, nearly three-quarters of lawyers say they missed seeing people at the office. That’s something that could change with more frequent virtual events, but the same can’t be said for a majority of lawyers (51 percent) finding it difficult to keep their home and work life separate. Furthermore, 49 percent of lawyers report feeling a sense of disengagement from the firm.
The future of remote work in all fields is difficult to assess right now, with variants of the COVID-19 pandemic still a source of concern.
The principal attraction of working from home is supposed to be an improved quality of life. If lawyers are finding that having their main office in the house is having just the opposite effect, then we might be looking at a very different landscape when it comes time to report on industry trends in 2022 or 2023.