Estimated reading time: 13 minutes
Helm360 Digital Producer, Shawn Read, and the firm’s Executive VP, Bim Dave, discuss how COVID-19 and remote work have impacted law firms. They touch on the challenges, various solutions, and discuss how to leverage the changes for future-focused productivity and growth.
Bim Dave is Helm360’s Executive Vice President. With 15+ years in the legal industry, his keen understanding of how law firms and lawyers use technology has propelled Helm360 to the industry’s forefront. A technical expert with a penchant for developing solutions that improve business systems and user experience, Bim has a knack for bringing high quality IT architects and developers together to create innovative, useable solutions to the legal arena.
Shawn Read is Helm360’s Digital Producer. He has a hand in all aspects of Helm360’s digital media production, including videos, online advertising, and email marketing. His role includes working closely with company stakeholders to identify key storytelling moments, create original content. provide media coverage for Helm360’s many worldwide events.
Shawn: Hello, everyone, my name is Shawn Read, and this is the Legal Helm Podcast from Helm360. Today, we’re speaking with Bim Dave, Helm360’s, Executive Vice President, about how the COVID pandemic has affected the legal industry and remote work in general. Nice to be with you, Bim!
Bim: Yes, likewise, Shawn.
Shawn: Of course, the big topic of 2020 is COVID and how it’s affected remote work in regards to the legal industry specifically. How has COVID impacted Helm360 and the way it delivers its services?
Bim: As with most organizations out there, the first month we went into lockdown, there was a dramatic change in terms of how we did our work. As a global organization, we have employees everywhere, a lot of them remote working. Some of them are on client sites, a lot of them work from home, but we also have big offices in San Diego, where our head office is, we have an office in London where I’m based, and a very large operation in India.
When you look at our company as a whole, even from a regional perspective, there are different aspects to the way every country works from home and the cultural aspect that comes into play, so COVID definitely had an impact. That first month was really an adjustment.
From a security perspective, there were a lot of considerations to think about. When you move your workforce from a primarily office-based model to a primarily remote model, there are things to consider around security, particularly around data. The fact you have data being accessed from outside of your network, albeit via VPN, but fundamentally your control over that data flow has changed dramatically. Being able to make sure that security is maintained from that remote working model, making sure the right controls are in place, and the right systems are in place to make sure that that data is protected, is critical. Because ultimately, that’s the hub of everything that we do.
I think our biggest impact was around communications and how we collaborate. There’s a big difference between collaborating over a Zoom or Teams session versus being in front of a customer or being able to interact with colleagues. That element was probably the most challenging out of all of the technology pieces.
With technology, you have a problem and you solve it through the technology or process, whereas communications is really the human element; how we adapt the way we speak to each other, the way we bounce ideas off each other, the way we support each other and our customers. That’s where I think the largest learning curve was for us and most organizations out there.
Shawn: It probably helps that Helm360 was mostly remote to begin with, right? I think you have a lot more experience in dealing with remote situations than most law firms do. Would you say that’s true?
Bim: Absolutely. Given the nature of our business and the model we use to deliver services; it’s a hybrid model. Typically, we have an onshore lead sitting in front of a customer and working with them on their requirements. But from a delivery perspective, we have a distributed model. We have developers and resources that are available to execute and develop code from remote locations. That’s been part of our DNA and the way that we deliver service.
The main challenge was the onshore leads talking to a customer in person versus remotely. I think that’s been the biggest impact. We’ve also had to be more proactive about making connections with our colleagues via technology like Microsoft Teams to collaborate in a different way.
How has collaboration changed via legal tech?
Shawn: Do you think it has changed over the course of the year as you learn more about how to work collaboratively?
Bim: Definitely. I think people have become used to collaborating within these platforms, both from a Helm360 perspective and how we interact with our customers as well.
For example, when I look at the UK and the UK client base, typically they prefer to have at least the final conversations in person. Sometimes that conversation will move to the pub so we can have a bit of social element to it. In the US, it’s different because the breadth of the country is so much bigger. It’s not as feasible to be in front of your customer all of the time so those folks are more comfortable with video conferences and demos that are held remotely. Over the last year, we’ve seen our customers being more proactive about making decisions based on demonstrations that are held over Teams and we’ve learned to use that platform to make that face-to-face connection.
Shawn: What challenges do you think law firms specifically have with remote working, that other industries don’t have?
Bim: We’ve seen very different conversations coming our way in terms of some of the challenges law firms are facing, particularly with this remote working model. A lot stems from what we were talking about earlier around communication and collaboration: How do we effectively enable our workforce to be more efficient in this remote world when we know there are challenges around how we collaborate with one another?
So definitely a huge emphasis on accelerating rollouts of products like Microsoft Teams. We’re seeing law firms who have been sitting on the fence or delayed rolling out products like Microsoft Teams stick with Skype for business, then make the conscious effort to accelerate the timeline to deliver a solution that’s more collaborative. They start asking questions like, “What other technology solutions can we bring to the table to help our workforce do a better job or enable them to be more efficient?” There are a couple of elements to this.
First, there’s the onboarding piece, which is common among all law firms. How do you orient new employees as quickly as possible? How can you help them understand how to interact with all the systems supporting their journey? How do you connect them with the right people? There’s a whole body of information they need access to make sure that they get the right support, that they’re efficient and that they onboard as quickly as possible.
Then there’s the general ad hoc stuff, like, how is everyone getting on and is everyone doing their job in the most efficient way? It’s not just the way you practice law as an organization, but it’s also your business processes, your systems, your people. It’s just navigating the law firm. How do you do that remotely?
This reminds me of the challenges we had at my old company, Thomson Reuters. One of the key things I used to struggle with was new employees coming into the organization. They’re coming into a vast organization, with global reach, multiple offices, multiple people, multiple divisions; lots of different solutions in place to be able to do everything from requesting time off to billing customers, to getting help, to collaborating. There was literally a different tool for anything you could think of.
The other big part was knowing who’s who and how to get the information you needed about something. One of the things I did was give my direct reports and people within my team the ability to ask questions around how to navigate the organization, but also do that in a cross-functional way. So, when my equivalent on a different business team was onboarding someone, I made myself available for an onboarding session to let the new hire know they could ask me for help and I’d connect them to the right person in the product team, the support team or wherever it might be, to remove those obstacles.
Pre-COVID, when a law firm was based in one office, it was easy to stand up from the cubicle and say “I need help” or to be buddied-up with someone physically to bounce ideas around or ask questions about SharePoint or whatever. With that ability gone, you’re dealing with new employees who are hesitant to ask questions and you can’t rely on visual cues (i.e., body language, how they’re interacting with their machine, etc.) to discern if they need help. You lose that in the remote landscape.
So, the onboarding piece is critical in terms of thinking differently, particularly in this time of distributed hiring.
Then you’ve got to think about it from the existing employee perspective. They’re already comfortable with navigating the law firm and its systems. The key thing here is making sure the right tools are in place to enable them to be successful in this remote working model.
An existing lawyer who’s comfortable in their office is relying on their secretary for files or needed information. They’re used to secretaries printing and placing files on their desk for manual review and markup. That world is gone now. You can’t physically do that.
So big movements on solutions like Paperless Proforma – where everything is electronically moved around the firm, there’s full visibility and edits are made electronically – are being put into play. These solutions have a huge impact on existing employees who are used to a manual process, even though they’re more efficient through this kind of technology.
Then you have to figure out the connection point between you as a lawyer and your customer. How do you make the transition from being able to entertain your customer in person? It was you’d take them out for dinner or to a show and really form a relationship with them. How do you do that with impact in the virtual world? Because, again, the personal aspect does diminish in screen-to-screen interactions. We have to be real about that.
I think to bridge that gap, you’ve got to think a little bit differently in terms of how you engage with customers. Some of that is through online media. You can see a definite shift in the way law firms are adapting to technology-focused blog posts and video sessions. There’s more interaction between stakeholders within a law firm attending and being part of panels where they’re discussing various topics, sharing a glimpse into the law firm and into themselves from a personality perspective so that they can engage with their audience differently.
I think online presence is a big part of it. How do we get in front of customers? I mean, look at us. We’re having a conversation we would not have probably had a year ago to connect with our customers and help them understand what we’re thinking about, which direction we’re going in, what kind of technology challenges we’re solving, all of those kinds of things. That’s a real game changer in terms of how we interact in the future.
And then the last part of this is around impact to the business and how you quantify that. How do you use some of the technology to do that differently? In the pre-COVID world, you could have a series of reports delivered to your desk or you had a conversation about the financials in a collaborative way. That element has gone. A lot of that does transition nicely to this virtual world, but a lot of it is down to how do you make sure that everyone is engaged.
Has working remotely made law firms embrace innovation?
Shawn: I’ve never worked in a law firm, but I’ve heard that they’re clinging to paper, that they resist going to a paperless office. Do you think that’s true? And if it is true, how has COVID changed that mindset?
Bim: I think there is an element of truth to that, but I wouldn’t say it’s as high you think. It’s probably 50% true. Over the last year, year and a half, I’ve seen a big shift in terms of law firms being more proactive about getting themselves aligned from a technology perspective and investing in technology to really push themselves forward, both internally and externally. I see a lot of large law and mid firms setting up innovation groups internally or partnering with external consultant firms to do idea generation around business processes to help accelerate going paperless. There’s a lot of positive stories around firms that have been embracing technology to make incremental improvements in this area.
However, you’re absolutely right. There’s definitely a large population of firms that haven’t done that and have been forced to due to the COVID crisis. I think it’s forced them to think differently about the way they’re doing things. To refer to the previous example, there are partners and senior lawyers out there who are so used to taking paperwork home, sitting on a couch and physically writing on proformas, and then handing it back to a secretary the next day because they’re not comfortable with or not used to doing it a different way. They find it difficult to embrace technology, even if it’s put in front of them.
We see law firms investing large sums of money in brand new systems so they can be more efficient and the first thing they say is, “Okay, this is great, the technology is great, but give me a print button”; they want to default to the old way, which isn’t efficient and extremely difficult in the remote work model.
End of Part One
Part 2 of this discussion will be released next week. Tune in for Bim’s insights on how law firms can leverage their remote work landscape for ongoing benefits.
Is your firm struggling to streamline its remote work systems? Interested in learning how to take it to the next level? Contact us! We’re happy to help you optimize your legal tech to its fullest.