January is a perfect time to look back and plan for the future. To reconsider our accomplishments and learn our lessons. To think what could have been done better, more efficiently, or just in a different way. To set our expectations, make commitments, and dream big.
The past year was special for the legal profession. We all had to learn how to be more flexible, more efficient, and disciplined. We had to adapt, to establish our new routines, both at work and at home. We came up with different means of communication and got used to numerous applications and gadgets instead of face-to-face chats. We changed our suits to t-shirts, we let colleagues and clients into our homes and lives and got them acquainted with our kids and dogs. Things which we never would have thought would be our reality in the foreseeable future.
Practically hostages of the situation, many law firms started revisiting their development strategies. More and more you hear about introducing working-from-home modes on a regular basis. Some are considering an even more radical scenario: going entirely virtual.
Admittedly, at first sight, these arrangements have proven to be effective – and even beneficial for both employees and employers. Lawyers from private practice have finally been given the opportunity to find their work-life balance, as they need not spend precious hours commuting, and employers can limit operational expenses. Sounds like a great deal. Is it, in fact?
We are a people business in the first place, and we should not make such decisions without carefully considering their impact on various staff groups, including, to start with, junior colleagues, who very often live alone in rented apartments far away from their families. For them, switching entirely to online practice can be fun – such a great opportunity in a digital world – but only if they get enough social interactions beyond their professional lives (which can be particularly difficult these days). And they need real-life training and support more than other team members.
Similarly, for families, this can be a challenge. The most evident one can be resolved relatively easily – a separate room and a strict schedule can work miracles. But what about burning out, which is especially threatening for the female professionals who, at least in our part of the world, have a dual role – they form the majority of the professional workforce and are usually responsible for the larger share of the housework and child-care. Research shows that women are worried that the expectation that their work will suffer will cause it to be evaluated more critically. This creates additional stress and leads to more and more women leaving their jobs, thus depriving the legal profession of a significant talent pool.
These are only a few of the factors. There may be other aspects to consider, like domestic violence, undermining of the corporate culture, and the economic consequences of decreased spending. Without addressing them properly, we may get some short-term financial benefits, though we literally may be risking the lives and the well-being of people and businesses in the long run.
The past year has shown how vulnerable we are as a species. But on many occasions the past year has demonstrated the importance of the values we sustain and the people who share them. The new year will bring new challenges. We need a solid ground to turn them into sustainable success.
By Olena Kuchynska, Managing Partner, Kinstellar Kyiv