Legal technology isn't the only thing that must be onboarded in the looming ‘new normal’: better accommodations for wellness and creating better workplace habits is a pre-requisite for SMEs moving forward.
There is a correlation, Richard Hugo-Hamman espouses, between habits, routines, standards and quality. A legal professional cannot produce quality work, or run a quality business, unless good standards are in place which, in turn, cannot exist without meaningful habits.
“A healthy leader reads, takes time to think about the business, works out how to implement it in the business, and then does it,” he says.
Almost two years ago, Mr Hugo-Hamman – the executive chairman of LEAP Legal Software – published The 11 Habits of Highly Successful Small Law Firms, a comprehensive checklist outlining pathways to success for the boutique sector. The global coronavirus pandemic has upended much of what we understand to be traditional workplace norms and, as the legal profession broadly agrees, the post-pandemic marketplace will look vastly different to life before COVID-19.
It is pertinent, he submits, for boutique firm leaders to evaluate their utilisation of these integral habits – not just for their professional longevity but also their personal health and wellbeing, as a ‘new normal’ comes into view on the horizon while the fog of coronavirus starts to lift.
The habits must therefore be considered in conjunction with an increasingly digital landscape, Mr Hugo-Hamman submits. Daily practice may be in the process of more rapid modernisation, but prioritisation of the necessary steps to be a successful, holistic practitioner and business owner remain the same.
But where to start when it comes to creating and maintaining best practice habits, especially as we enter the new normal? According to Law Firm Solutions principal Amanda Mead, “you need to start with your health and wellbeing first, because you’re the person who is the captain of the ship. You need to take care of yourself so that you have the energy to make a greater impact for clients”.
If there is a healthy leader at the helm, the law firm will also be healthy and more productive, she posits.
“In the past, I think the older generation have been a bit reluctant to engage with technology, but the pandemic has shifted that and they have had to better engage with tech (whether it’s with LEAP or other providers) and give flexibility to staff who needed to work from home. Moving forward, that flexibility will have to be maintained in some form, and leaders are going to have to work with their teams to better understand their needs.”
This necessarily means, Ms Mead continues, having a more in-depth understanding for the personal needs not just of one’s self, but of the team too.
“[Lawyers have got to] carve out personal time in the day, even if it’s just 15 minutes. I recently set up a 30-day challenge on LinkedIn and Facebook for lawyers to make time for themselves and think about their wellbeing. I did this because, quite often, there are times where we're just literally giving and giving and giving. Lots of lawyers they just love to help and love to give, and they create more time by tapping into different resources, but then they use that time to keep giving out. They need to actually give to themselves,” she advises.
The stress that can and does build up from such a load, Mr Hugo-Hamman adds, often comes from disorganisation in smaller law firms. However, overcoming such stress through better management and leadership is not insurmountable, he says.
“In boutique law firms, organisation starts by looking at the work that came in over the course of the past week – as the source of current stress – and meet with the people they work with to evaluate that work. [Business owners in boutiques] stress about incoming work but they never stop to measure what has already come in the door. Meetings to assess the work that has come in, and what has been completed by whom, is something that needs to be done every week, not once a year.”
“Such meetings and organisation of workflow has to be the fulcrum around which the firm’s mental health flow is built,” he surmises.
It also goes without saying, Mr Hugo-Hamman notes, that implementation of the right technological platforms and products to make life more convenient and efficient is “life for dummies”.
“When a firm gets LEAP and uses it, things are organised by default. They don’t need to go and get a three-day business degree to work out how to run a law firm, because we have already worked all of that out – it’s there in the software. All the firms have to do is use it.”
Further to this point, Ms Mead outlines that, from the perspective of smaller law firms, platforms such as those from LEAP give you everything in one place, thereby better accommodating one’s holistic wellness needs.
“If you’re better organised from the outset, you’re not forever trying to catch up. You can't do a catch-up game, especially if you're setting up a new business.”
“You need platforms where everything is organised from the word go, because you're never going to have time to come back and change that. It would just be a miss from the start onwards unless you set up with something like that from the go,” she advises.
The flow-on consequences for not having such structures and habits in place can be significant, Ms Mead warns: “If you’re tired in a client meeting, that client will be able to pick up on it. Boutique lawyers need to take better care of themselves because when you're sitting there and you're listening to your client's issues and interacting with them, you need to give across a positive vibe and that you can help them.”
“You need to be able to say, ‘I'm going to fight for you’. You don't want to be sitting there, whinging about your own problems because you haven't taken time out for yourself. If you want to close a sale, you need to be able to sit there and feel good about actually sitting where you're sitting,” she suggests.
“You can’t provide good advice if you’re stressed,” Mr Hugo-Hamman concludes. The best way to alleviate such stress and achieve productivity and success, the pair deduce, is to create an inextricable nexus between healthy habits and holistic wellness and one’s day-to-day business practices.