The team at Arbor Law have been “virtual lawyers” for many years now, well before so many of us were required to move our entire working worlds online. We have serviced our clients with a mix of hybrid working and often fully virtually for the last decade. Although this past year has seen little change in the ways we work, we are conscious that for so many in the legal industry, it has been a revelation that with the right systems in place, high quality legal services can be delivered entirely remotely.
We have always celebrated this hybrid approach to working but equally know the move online has not come easily to everyone, with many in the legal industry continuing to find this challenging. In light of this, we thought we would pass on some of what we have learnt over the past ten years of virtual lawyering to hit the ground running on projects in the right way, get up to speed with our clients and build strong relationships from the offset.
Understand scope and responsibility
Our lawyers at Arbor often join an in-house team to support a project or take the lead as counsel in fast-moving transactions – supporting clients when it is all hands-on deck. Our MO is to plug in and start making a difference from the outset. But even when there is a need for fast immersion, it is key to set business and project objectives, outline parameters and be clear about any limitations. This needs to be done with the right stakeholders and setting out clear deadlines. Always build in that time to fully understand and agree scope and responsibility and communicate this to the relevant people.
Understanding company culture
Taking the time to truly understand corporate culture when working with a client is critical to being able to work with them in the right way, even when working remotely. This means taking the time to understand the beliefs and behaviours within an organisation, how it works with customers, partners and stakeholders. You should ensure you align with this to become a seamless extension of the business or legal team, whilst still providing a valuable outsider’s perspective and objectivity.
Getting to grips with tech and systems
In the world we live in, understanding what technologies our client works with and how they like to collaborate and communicate is amongst the first things we do. In today’s digital world, this can be extensive and varied. We make sure we invest time in getting to know what systems they work to in terms of legal technology, from contract management systems, matter and case management, document automation and storage, and determine how best to communicate and collaborate with the team.
It’s also important to note that not all legal teams and businesses have digitally transformed, so sometimes it’s about adapting to more manual ways of doing things whilst helping on the journey to automation.
Communication and reporting
Central to good relationship management is creating a way of reporting regularly and communicating on outcomes. It’s important not to over communicate just as much as it is to not do it enough, so we agree with clients what works best to ensure they have the transparency they need, using the right channels and formats and keeping it clear and concise.
Asking for feedback
When we work virtually, we miss out on some of those more informal moments where we can cascade feedback. This means it’s key to build those into any client working relationship on a regular basis and have agreed mechanisms where both client and lawyer can discuss what is working well and what might need to be improved. Feedback should always be kind, helpful and specific.
Finally, whilst working virtually looks set to be part of a lot of lawyers lives for the long-term, don’t forget the incredible value of facetime, with clients and being out in the legal community. Seeing people face to face accelerates relationships and sets a relationship tone that you can then carry into remote ways of working. As tempting as it might be to keep hiding behind the laptop and being that virtual lawyer, take time to go and meet with contacts in real life, when world starts to fully open up again!
The team at Arbor Law worked in international law firms then as senior in-house lawyers in global businesses and fast growth start-ups. They were then amongst the first lawyers to disrupt the traditional legal business model and provide flexible resourcing solutions to in-house legal teams. They have taken all those experiences to build Arbor Law. Arbor are currently recruiting for senior lawyers with their own practice to be part of their business. If you would like a confidential chat, drop them a line on firstname.lastname@example.org. You can meet our team on https://arbor.law/people/.