Pandemic Trends and Predictions for the Legal Industry

By Shannan Buckley

On March 13th, I left the office for what I thought would be a couple of weeks. I left my succulents behind, and my favorite black flats under my desk. I told my colleagues that I would see them in April, and I genuinely believed that would be the case when I walked out the door.

Well. I was clearly wrong!

I think a lot of us were in the same boat back then. Faced with a once-in-a-lifetime global event, it was hard to predict how anything would turn out, both for the world as a whole and for our industry. Six months later, things have changed far more than I could have anticipated and some trends have clearly emerged.

Firms are being careful about hiring, but that’s actually a good thing for candidates.

It’s true that we are seeing a lot fewer roles open roles, and we’ve observed that the tighter marketplace means that the gainfully employed are more cautious about making a move. However, we’ve also seen that firms are only hiring when they feel confident that they can offer a candidate a “home” for a long time.

We saw a lot of firms put roles on hold back in March because they didn’t want to hire anyone if there was a real worry that the position might be eliminated. We’ve heard from multiple clients that the one thing they do not want to do is hire someone they would need to let go in the near future.

While this smaller market has been more challenging for job seekers, it’s also meant that we are able to feel confident that we and our clients are offering our candidates long-term opportunities. The people we’ve placed since the start of the pandemic probably have some of the most secure jobs in law firms. That’s because their new firms already had a grasp on the new economic reality when they hired these professionals.

While we understand that some people are wary of more change right now, if you are feeling stuck in your current position and see a new opportunity that might be right, exploring it will be safer than you think!

Firms are putting safety and health first.

At least in New York, we’ve observed that most of our clients are staying remote for the time being. Some senior-level staff and partners are going in, but it’s usually for limited times to a reduced-capacity office with lots of safety procedures in place. All interviews have been conducted via Zoom and our placements have been successfully onboarded remotely!

In addition to firms valuing their employees’ physical health, we’ve also witnessed firms want to do more to support their staff and attorneys’ emotional and mental well-being. We’ve partnered with many firms to offer their employees our Wisnik Well-Being virtual training, which provides tools to address stress management. Although the pandemic has made supporting well-being particularly crucial, I expect this trend to continue even beyond.

Law firms don’t want to be fully remote forever.

I do expect that our industry will be one of the last to trickle back into our urban office buildings, but I also don’t think the physical office will become obsolete. Although the pandemic has illustrated how incredibly productive people can be while working remotely, it’s also illuminated how much more of a challenge it can be to collaborate or maintain culture with no in person interactions at all. Through our well-being programs, we’ve spoken to and surveyed a lot of people who miss the energy and colobaration that in-office work allows. The market reflects this prediction. Despite the fact that the vast majority of law firm employees are currently working remotely, all of the new jobs we’ve received since March are attached to an office location. Several of the roles have flexibility as to which office a candidate can apply for, but none allow for the person to be permanently remote.

What we do expect is a lot more flexibility regarding partially remote work in the future. The thousands of attorneys and staff members who have spent the past few months producing superior work products from their home offices, kitchen tables and couches have proved that a dedicated employee can be just as productive working from home. Professionals have shown that they are internally motivated and have earned a lot of trust.

I think many of you will agree with me when I say it’s been a tough six months. However, I’ve been inspired by the effort everyone in our industry has put into keeping one another safe and getting work done under difficult circumstances. I am curious – what are your predictions for how our industry will continue to adapt to the new normal? Leave us a comment below!

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