The legal services sector has seen unprecedented change due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This episode of The Robert Half Legal Report examines strategies that law firms and corporate legal departments are using to adjust to the realities of today’s business environment. Charles Volkert, senior district president of Robert Half Legal, and Billie Moliere, district president with the company, explore key considerations as legal offices re-open. They explore how the expansion of remote work is reshaping staff management, and how creativity, flexibility, and diversity are playing increasingly critical roles in the workplace. They also discuss emerging legal hiring trends and practice area expertise in demand.
Robert Half is not a law firm and does not provide legal representation. Robert Half project attorneys do not constitute a law firm among themselves.
Robert Half Legal Report
Legal Teams and COVID-19: Key Strategies for Adapting to a New Business Environment
Intro: Welcome to the Robert Half Legal Report where we discuss current issues impacting the legal profession related to hiring, staff management and more with leading experts in the field. Robert Half Legal provides lawyers, paralegals and support staff to law firms and corporate legal departments on a project and full-time basis. The Robert Half Legal Report is here on the Legal Talk Network.
Charles Volkert: Hello, everyone and welcome. I’m Charles Volkert, Senior District President of Robert Half Legal and the host of our program. Our guest today is Billie Moliere, District President at Robert Half Legal where she provides skilled and practical guidance to legal clients and candidates. She is also an attorney with more than 10 years of experience practicing law. Welcome to the show, Billie.
Billie Moliere: Thanks for inviting me to join today, Chad. I’m looking forward to this discussion. As you referenced, I started my professional career practicing law for about a decade, then transitioned to legal staffing with Robert Half. I’ve had the opportunity to work in numerous staffing roles with our Robert Half Legal teams in various locations providing consultative staffing and consulting solutions to hiring managers and job seekers over the years. I’m currently based in our New York City office overseeing our east coast operations for Robert Half Legal. I’m certainly looking forward to our discussion today.
Charles Volkert: Like virtually every sector, the legal field has experienced its fair share of disruption during recent months. Business continuity matters, the health and safety of employees, managing client concerns about contract, labor and employment issues are just a few of the issues that legal professionals have been dealing with.
Yet despite the challenging circumstances we’ve all learned some positive lessons since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Law firms and companies are modifying strategies based on those experiences to strengthen their work and delivery of legal services as offices reopen and the adjusted new workplace and business realities. That’s the focus of today’s program.
We’ll discuss current legal trends and how professionals can effectively leverage these practices for success. From the start of the COVID-19 crisis, the health and safety of legal staff became an urgent priority. Very quickly, law firms and legal departments transition many of their employees to remote work locations. They engage tech and legal consulting experts to help provide a broad range of resources to facilitate work process, team collaboration and the remote delivery of legal services.
While working from home became mission critical, it’s now recognized as an opportunity for companies and employees alike and while they may have been initially concerned about productivity levels, many legal managers have seen firsthand how effective and efficient employees can be from home.
Billie, what are your thoughts?
Billie Moliere: You’re absolutely right, Chad. While some mandates requiring work from home were cause for concern at the start, employers and employees alike quickly saw the benefits of that strategy not only from a health and safety perspective but from a performance perspective as well.
Our research and feedback suggests productivity hasn’t actually suffered as teams have transitioned to remote work, that their work has been done as they take full advantage of technological resources that allow them to work and collaborate with their colleagues and deliver on work expectations. Along the way, employers are also taking away a few critical lessons that will likely be applied going forward. For example, number one, cost savings advantages. There’s now clarity that remote work practices have the potential for budget savings down the road such as significantly reduced real estate, i.e. rent for office space, operational expenses, fixed assets such as office furniture, office supplies, and parking subsidies and other maintenance costs.
Additionally, our research suggests that there are other advantages for workers flowing from remote work. Recent surveys reveal that more than 60 percent of employees now realize they can be productive working from home. Nearly three and four workers want to continue working remotely post pandemic and 60 percent believe their work-life balance has improved. I would also note that we know these benefits flowing from employees improve the overall engagement and employment experience thus impacting retention. Last, we’re seeing that today, remote work options are not only more accepted but encouraged by law firms and companies as they start to reopen.
It’s an important and positive trend that has likely become the new normal.
Charles Volkert: It’s great feedback, Billie. And among the benefits, remote work practices have enabled law firms to remain in operation during the pandemic. So, Billie, how have law firms and legal departments addressed other business continuity challenges?
Billie Moliere: Yes, well tech applications have obviously served as a top enabler to support business continuity over the past several months. These resources have actually facilitated communication, technology, enhanced work processes, business operational requirements, even virtual litigation and court filings for both law firms and law departments. They are also enabling legal professionals to continue representing clients with increased competence in these resources and tools ultimately making them even more efficient.
One of the most significant business continuity challenges that law firms have faced relates to client-relationship management and client retention, they continue to address this by proactively and regularly communicating with clients to assure them that their data and confidential information are secure, clearly updating status and progress on legal matters and other projects, discussing the realities and impact of the pandemic on their business, deadlines in future projects or related legal matters.
I’d like to note that law firms are providing counsel to client on a number of pandemic related issues. For example, remote work options, secure access to data, labor and employment matters, customer relationships, business continuity strategies and crisis management challenges to name a few.
Charles Volkert: Well, there’s certainly no shortage of related issues coming out of the pandemic for lawyers to work on, so those were very insightful points that you made, Billie. And as legal departments and law firms reopen their offices, they certainly recognize it is not business as usual. The new normal requires significant adjustments relating to physical workspace, management and hiring strategies, and response to business opportunities.
As employees return to the workplace, what changes should legal leaders be addressing, Billie, and what guidance can you offer?
Billie Moliere: Great question, Chad, and I’m sure this is on many minds today. First, managers should be flexible, agile, and open to adapting as needed as they navigate reopening and accessing workplaces. These key behaviors have enabled legal teams to pivot as needed and respond effectively to recent marketplace uncertainties. This is also critical to maintaining business continuity and business success as they move forward.
Leaders should adapt to new approaches as they potentially manage hybrid teams both at home, remote, and office base. They should acknowledge the new normal, maybe framing this from what was and what is today the normal and it’s more important than ever to manage balancing empathy with productivity and accountability. That means having transparent communication, recognizing work achievement, celebrating successes whether large or small, and engaging with employees as we, of course, show empathy to those employees to further engage.
They should also help hybrid teams stay connected and some recommendations would be updating off-site staff on key takeaways from meetings held at office with that staff that can impact them in their business or projects. Another idea could be to simply continue making all meetings virtual to connect, bringing employees together frequently so that they don’t feel like they’re disengaged.
Another key would be to continue non-work conversations or check-ins. One way employees are keeping morale high is by having short chats like previously done when full teams were in office including check-ins to see how people are doing whether home or office remains important to keep everyone connected.
Another tip would be pay attention to employee behaviors. It’s important to be watchful for signs when employees aren’t performing. For example, under a slow performance, missed deadlines, decrease participation or interest in assignments. In these cases, immediate communication is necessary to uncover the root causes and identify improvement strategies. This could also offset retention issues.
Also, focus on maintaining an inclusive diverse and collaborative work environment. It’s well known that the savviest employees see this for what it really is, a great opportunity for everyone. Our research reveals a number of tangible benefits flow from this as well. Number one, increase productivity levels and more creativity, increase profits, greater employee engagement and motivation, reduce turnover, enhance company reputation that attracts top talent and we know that an engaged and motivated workforce contributes to future business successes.
Charles Volkert: Well Billie, you really encompassed the outline that employers can use with their employees and some of these are common sense but others really remind us of how important it is to be engaged even if it’s virtually in similar ways as we were in the offices.
Two other changes we’re seeing are interrelated to a high degree specifically legal hiring trends and growth in specific legal practice areas. For example, the pandemic has triggered a spike in demand for expertise to help manage legal issues related to banking and finance, compliance, health care, labor and employment, contract management and review, insurance law, technology and software-based needs, inclusive of data security. These practice areas are expected to remain hot during the months ahead with increased business opportunities for firms that are able to expand service offerings in these areas. At the same time, it’s driving more job opportunities for legal professionals with relevant industry and practice area expertise.
We have much more to discuss about legal hiring trends but first, it’s time for a quick break.
Female: To find, hire, and retain the best legal professionals, it’s critical to have a sound hiring strategy in place. Robert Half Legal works with law firms and corporate legal departments to create effective staffing plans that can adapt to changing workload levels, realize significant cost savings, and improve the overall management of human resources. We offer a wide range of resources to assist hiring managers and job candidates including our annual salary guide, industry-leading workplace research, and valuable interactive tools.
For more information, call us at 1-800-870-8367 or visit roberthalflegal.com.
Charles Volkert: Welcome back to the Robert Half Legal Report. I’m Chad Volkert and with me today is Billie Moliere, District President for Robert Half Legal.
Today, we’ve been discussing the widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the legal profession and emerging opportunities and trends as a result. Before the break, we were discussing the legal hiring market and growing opportunities for legal professionals with specialized expertise.
Billie, are many firms or legal departments actively recruiting right now let alone hiring?
Billie Moliere: Chad, there are a number of bright spots when it comes to hiring in the legal field. Unemployment rates for lawyers and paralegals are pretty low compared to the national average. Firms and companies are recruiting for business-critical roles. They’re seeking candidates with specific experience who can hit the ground running with minimal training.
As you mentioned, we’re seeing growing demand for specialized legal experience. To provide a little more context, I’ll just provide this information to you–mid-level lawyers with three to five plus years of experience in high demand practice areas and tech proficiency, paralegals with two plus years experience particularly those with a bachelor’s degree and experience in e-discovery, trial prep, compliance or contracts. Employers are also seeking advanced tech skills in Microsoft platforms and case management software. We’re also seeing increased hiring of lawyers and paralegals on a contractor project basis.
Flexible staffing is a strategic and prudent approach considering market uncertainties especially for smaller firms. This enables access to specialized expertise and practice areas as caseloads expand. A flexible staffing model can also be key to business continuity, of course.
Charles Volkert: Well, it’s interesting, Billie, the growing demand for full-time hiring and then at the same time based on the pandemic, the increased demand for project and contract-based type hiring within the legal community, are there any other trends you’re seeing at this point?
Billie Moliere: Yes, there are few others. We also expect more opportunities for legal professionals with litigation experience now that the courts are reopening. Litigators are needed to manage growing pandemic-related filings and suits such as contract and labor and employment claims. Employers are placing a premium as well on candidate’s soft skills and capabilities. Soft skills are key attributes in today’s market.
In particular, those skills like customer client facing ability, agility, and adaptability considering the fluid nature of work along with a positive “can do” collaborative attitude coupled with empathy.
Last, we’re seeing a high volume of job opportunities that are fully or 100 percent remote for legal professionals.
Charles Volkert: So interesting, Billie, and to underscore your last point, legal managers are now more open to the concept of a remote workforce than ever before based on their recent experiences and this has got to be a very positive outcome because instead of looking just in their local market, hiring managers can now look across the country to find the best talent. So, many geographic barriers have now been lifted, which is expanding the talent pool and hiring managers have greater access to top talent now than ever before.
Billie Moliere: Well, you made some great points and I agree. With the expanding talent availability by removing geographic barriers, there’s also a bit of a continued war for talent still. This is causing hiring managers to face stiffer competition when seeking top candidates with specialized experience in high growth areas. Considering this, there’s no question the hiring process has become tougher. With that said, larger talent pools don’t necessarily equate to more options for specialized role and potentially means more applicants, which requires management to spend more time during the hiring process, reviewing resumes arranging and conducting interviews, conducting background checks including references, et cetera, and that’s becoming a big challenge.
The fact is in order for hiring managers to find and successfully recruit strong candidates, they need to streamline and expedite the hiring process and as well offer competitive compensation and benefits packages.
Charles Volkert: Well, and key to addressing this challenge, Billie, are a couple of capabilities you highlighted earlier–agility and flexibility. Legal managers are adapting their approaches to secure new talent and applying a broad range of technologies to facilitate the employment process. What strategies, Billie, are helping to optimize hiring success in today’s environment?
Billie Moliere: Great question, Chad. This is another thing that’s obviously top of mind for many. One, I would say screening top promising candidates start with an online platform, forms that provide a pre-hire assessment and questions that can outline how they might be a match for the environment. Video conferencing platforms such as Zoom or MS Teams. I know a lot are already utilizing these but they are being routinely used for interviews. They can occur quickly, so it’s not as much a requirement to pre-schedule and you can access talent more quickly utilizing these platforms. AI applications are also being used to provide data-driven insights to measure candidate skills and predict hiring outcomes and many are leveraging onboarding portals for more comprehensive, consistent, and effective hiring.
Charles Volkert: And an important trend you just noted, Billie, the growing use of video conferencing for candidate interviews. I know we all are spending more time than we ever thought on camera nowadays. Can you suggest ways managers can make the most of remote interviews?
Billie Moliere: Absolutely. Number one, be prepared. A critical first step is to prepare in advance. I know we all do this all the time and if you’re accustomed to hiring and interviewing, sometimes you may feel like you can wing it but I would say it’s important for an interviewer to prepare and set the stage, setting realistic expectations with candidates about their remote interview details and process.
I would clearly map out the interview process with the candidate, outline who will launch the call, the specific video platform that will be used and then identify all the names and titles of all the people who will participate in the interview.
I would prepare the technology in advance to avoid glitches. I routinely use technology and I routinely have glitches and so, I can personally vouch for this as a great best practice. You want to take time to become familiar with the technology you’ll be using. Do a trial run prior to the call, check sound, connection, Wi-Fi, and ensure your equipment is fully charged and ready to go.
I would also recommend using a well-lit area for the interview, a non-clutter background. I would just note oftentimes the video platform you use will allow for a virtual background, so some employers have used this as an opportunity to kind of sell the job and their organization by affixing their logo or a motivating model of the company or firm in the background to further attract talent.
I’d be sure to minimize any distractions also throughout the interview. For example, turn off computer alerts, shut down email, close the door of the room you’re in, turn off your phone and any other sound that may interrupt the interview.
Charles Volkert: Well and Billie, maybe I just jump in there whether it’s your young child running through the background, a pet, the grass cutters outside, I think it’s important to take all of those type of things into consideration. We’ve all been on video over the last seven-eight months where unforeseen things have happened in the background or caused noise and so I can’t reiterate your comments enough on how you have to prepare.
Billie Moliere: Absolutely. And Chad, I just add a few other notes here. I would maintain similar dress protocols as you would in your standard interviews you had in the office. It wouldn’t change much of that. I’d also just ensure you’re engaging during the interview. The video platform sometimes can cause a delay, so you want to make sure you’re maintaining eye to eye contact, you’re looking at the candidate versus looking at something else, paying attention to your facial expressions and tones, making sure you pause after someone speaks so we’re not speaking over one another.
I’d also ensure there’s time allotted for questions. A lot of times, we’re working in tight deadline driven days and so we want to factor that in because remember, the interview is a two-way process, so this would be necessary for the candidate you’re interviewing so they have an opportunity to get to know you and the potential opportunity as well.
Last, I would just mention, I would ensure that you have a strong close that sets forth next steps with a time frame so that the candidate understands what to expect moving forward. That’s pretty important and just one last comment, have a backup plan. If the technology somehow goes awry, obviously, you want to make sure you have a phone number or some other media email to get in contact with the candidate that you’re anticipating interviewing.
Charles Volkert: Well, maybe another personal experience from what I’ve learned, Billie, it can be helpful to record the interview call itself. Of course, advise the candidate if you’re going to do so. This enables you to remain engaged and facing the candidates so you don’t need to take notes. You can later review the recording. Also, you can share the recorded meeting with colleagues, internal teams, and senior managers who can provide input on the candidate to help with hiring decisions or quite frankly, accelerate the hiring process because they can use that video maybe in place of their own interview.
Billie Moliere: All excellent points, Chad, and for candidates, many of the same tips apply. Test the technology and the connections ahead of time, make sure you’re in a well-lit area and there are no distractions that could interrupt your interview, prepare as you would for face-to-face meeting, write down your questions, ask about the job, the company skills needed, couple of other tips, log on a few minutes early. I think that’s important. It shows your interest and shows you’re prepared and ready to go. Ensure you have a professional background, again, potentially adding logo of the company you’re interviewing with and look directly at the camera during the conversation. That confirms your interest in the position and the person that you’re interviewing with and obviously thank the interviewer at the end of the call establishing a next step expectation.
Charles Volkert: All great points, Billie, and I’m sure our listeners are appreciating your insights. Before we close, do you have any final thoughts on lessons learned during recent months and how legal professionals can positively shape the future?
Billie Moliere: Yeah, thanks, Chad. I think this is an ideal time for legal managers to focus on engaging their staff at all levels, whether staff or working in the office or remotely, managers should take time to solicit their input. For example, ask for feedback on which interim pandemic processes were not effective both technological and non-tech related practices, ask what obstacles are impeding staff performance and how the company maybe can best support them in achieving those objectives, solicit suggestions for changes that can improve operations, workflow, collaboration and communication, perhaps assign a team of staff members to analyze suggestions and incorporate as appropriate into ongoing operational practices. Last, conduct rolling employee surveys to promote engagement, well-being and anonymous open feedback.
Charles Volkert: Great information, Billie, and a key takeaway we talked about earlier, it’s imperative to shore up business continuity and crisis management strategies.
It’s also critical to develop, review, and refresh step-by-step action plans for future business disruptions including actual threats, potential threats, and recovery efforts.
We’ve reached the end of our program. Thank you, Billie, for joining us and providing such valuable insights. How can our audience contact you and where can they obtain more information?
Billie Moliere: Thanks, Chad, and look forward to connecting with anyone who might want to reach me. My name obviously is Billie Moliere. Email address is [email protected].
Charles Volkert: Excellent, Billie. And our listeners can reach me at [email protected] and you can visit the Robert Half Legal website for additional information on legal career and management resources including our latest salary guide for legal professionals at roberthalflegal.com.
Thanks again, Billie, and to our audience for listening today. Join us next time on the Robert Half Legal Report as we discuss important trends impacting the legal field and legal careers.
Outro: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of nor are they endorsed by Robert Half Legal, Legal Talk Network, or their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders or subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.
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