The heavy weight of the Covid-19 pandemic is slowly beginning to lift. The current debate has to do with who will take the vaccine, rather than whether we will have another wave of infection, an improvement indeed. While we are not entirely out of the woods yet, it is a good time to reflect back on the last year and take stock over what’s changed, what hasn’t changed, and how you may want to manage your career knowing what you know now.
We have learned how to bake bread, how to help our kids through distance learning, how to enjoy virtual holidays with family and friends, and of course how to work remotely. Almost overnight the notion of remote work changed from an infrequent luxury to a healthcare necessity. Working in the office is now the thing that feels foreign to many of us.
Accordingly, in this article, we are going to discuss the top five ways in which Covid-19 has changedthe way big firms and in-house attorneys do business, and how that might impact your own career choices. We will also consider whether some of these systemic changes are here to stay for good.
- Keeping Your Balance on the Work/Life Seesaw
Even before the pandemic, no one could ever accuse a lawyer of having a routine 9-to-5 existence. Yet, it seems clear that remote work has further removed the boundaries between your home and your work life. By eliminating the daily commute to the office, it is likely that lawyers, both in the firm and in-house, are working more hours. Thus, attorneys working from home need to build in more extended breaks during the day to better tend to at-home family issues.
That being said, being available at all hours to deal with a work issue can take a toll on your mental state. Having the discipline to pull yourself away from the computer can be quite a challenge.
Therefore, if you are starting to think about making a career move now that the pandemic dust is just starting to settle, then you will want to know how a potential new workplace deals with remote work and whether the organization has realistic expectations of balancing the work and the personal.
- Zooming Around Without Traveling at All
For those of you in-house and firm attorneys who were accustomed to frequent travel, the pandemic has certainly minimized if not halted your work travel. With regard to those things that may not come back once the pandemic is over – extensive work travel might be one of them.
More likely than not, the question of whether a person needs to travel for something will come under more scrutiny even in a post-pandemic world. Efficiencies and the cost savings alone – with the added benefit of people being able to spend more time with their families – will likely become more important before work travel is authorized.
- Are Billable Hours a True Metric for Productivity?
As noted, the altered workday, with more extended daytime breaks, has been a characteristic of the pandemic. It also may have inadvertently put a spotlight on the question of measuring attorney productivity.
While law firms in particular are famous for judging a lawyer’s productivity by the number of hours he or she bills, that may not be the most equitable way to evaluate lawyers during this challenging time. That is because it is not necessarily fair to require the same number of hours from an attorney working remotely who needs to hold down family responsibilities, compared to an attorney working remotely with a much quieter home life. Thus, we may see some organizations reconsider the best way to track attorney productivity, at least while the pandemic is still a reality.
- A Slow Return to Work, or the Hybrid Workspace?
The issues of when to return to the office, how the office layout might change, and whether to bring people back in stages or promote a half-remote/half-office environment have been on the minds of employers and managing partners for many months now. Those issues, in fact, will not go away anytime soon.
Indeed, Covid-19 has required workplaces to establish new policies relating to how often employees can work at the office or stay remote. More importantly, firms and companies need to make sure that employees feel connected to the team, regardless of whether they are in the office or working remotely.
- Reinventing Your Practice
Another change to the legal industry ushered in by the pandemic is the viability of reinventing your practice to reflect the moment. More to the point, many employment attorneys felt the pull to reinvent themselves as “Covid-19 lawyers” in order to capitalize on all the changes in the law, and all the unique scenarios that came about because of the Covid crisis.
For employment lawyers in particular, they were initially trying to use old statutes and precedents to field client questions on the workplace problems created by the abrupt lockdown in most of the country. Then, they had to quickly get up to speed on the emergency legislation coming out of Congress to help rescue the economy. Now, employment lawyers are grappling with issues surrounding whether employers can mandate that employees get vaccinated.
Elder law practitioners also saw their practices change dramatically because of Covid-19. Typically focused on nursing home and elder abuse cases, elder law attorneys had to quickly pivot to learning all they could about the science of how the virus was transmitted. That was because they needed to show just how ill-equipped nursing homes were in dealing with the problem.
With regard to your own practice, you may have felt the urge to become a “Covid attorney” to meet a demand. Some commentators conclude, however, that jumping on that bandwagon could only have short-term benefits. While it might be helpful on some level to be able to field legal Covid issues, you need to make sure your career is a viable one after the pandemic is over.
Overall, when considering what has changed, and what hasn’t in the practice of law over the last year, you would have to conclude that the “how” has changed, but the “what” has not. In other words, the manner in which we do our jobs – the “how” – is dramatically different than before the pandemic. We rarely go to court, we rarely meet clients in person, and we rarely have an in-person meeting with our colleagues. Remote work has been one of the defining changes this past year, and it will likely continue after the pandemic.
Yet, the fundamental practice of law at a firm or in-house – the “what” – has not really changed at all. Litigators are still making arguments, corporate lawyers are still doing deals, in-house attorneys are advising their companies, and the legal world keeps turning.
So, as you consider your own career moving forward, know that those fundamental skills from law school will always serve you. Yet, rather than show off those skills in person, you will more frequently need to impress the court, a client, or counsel you are negotiating a deal with in front of a Zoom filter from the comfort of your own home.