Confidence high, but regulatory challenges remain, new report finds
Nine months after the initial stages of the March lockdown, fewer firms now describe the impact of COVID-19 on their business as "critical". Confidence levels have remained steady, with 8 out of 10 firms stating they were either "very" or "quite" confident in their outlook. But the forthcoming pressures of regulatory compliance and the substantial legal changes posed by Brexit means there is no easing of pressure on the industry.
The second phase of the 2020 LexisNexis Bellwether Report has been launched, based on analysis of data gathered from 120 solicitors and decision-makers from small, independent law firms.
The first phase was conducted at the start of the first lockdown in March 2020. Nine months later, the report shows that the general sentiment echoes the words of one lawyer surveyed: “We know we’re in troubling times – let’s just roll with it and keep pushing our firms to do better.”
There is a sense that whilst the outlook is not wholly positive, and uncertainty remains, law firms are casting a steely eye over their priorities, and now consider COVID-19 among their top three business challenges -- rather than the one, dominant challenge. Political and economic uncertainty due to Brexit, and the usual demands of keeping abreast of compliance regulations, are now back at the top of the priorities list.
Perhaps the most pertinent takeaway is the overall impact that the pandemic is having on the legal workforce. Staff morale and wellbeing are on a significant downswing as times goes on – as are issues around lack of motivation and isolation, particularly among younger lawyers and trainees.
In balancing the ill-effects of distanced teams in the long-term, LexisNexis suggests a "proactive approach" to employee engagement and morale, fully briefing managers and highlighting support to employees where available. The study invariably sheds light on how law firms have developed through experiences brought by COVID-19. New, unconventional working practices are prompting thought, and perhaps alternative approaches to business. Take this example from a respondent to the survey:
Q. Six month into the COVID-19 crisis, what have been the most important learnings for your business?
A: We have adapted well to working remotely. We are financially stable and work continues to flow in. However, we are not complacent as there are challenges, including supervision, mentoring, motivating and retaining staff and networking with existing and potential clients.
The LexisNexis report is based on online surveys completed with 120 solicitors from a variety of small firms (from under 5 to 21+ fee earners) across England and Wales. The research fieldwork was independently conducted, 5-6 weeks after the first lockdown started, six months after the first Bellwether 2020 study. The data included forms comparisons between changing attitudes from the first wave of the study, to the second
Lexis Nexis is a supporter of the Small Firms Division.