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  • Anya Smirnova

Ten highlights from Linklaters' 'new normal' work culture

This week I joined a webinar on 'Managing People During a Pandemic' with great thought-provoking presentations by the Chair of The Law Society's Law Management Committee and Bennet Briegal on managing difficult Partners and Partnership legal agreements and Linklaters' L&D team presenting their 'new normal' working approach. The Linklaters' presentation interested me the most in terms of the tremendous culture shift happening in the legal profession, and I wanted to share with you my top 10 highlights.


1. There was a general feeling of acceptance that the legal profession can work flexibly and that we are building a new culture right now.

It was great to see this people-focused culture shift coming from the top and an understanding that we should not tinker with it but step in and do it purposefully. Only seven months ago, flex work was an exception to the rule, mainly associated with women returning from mat leave or considered a COVID-related emergency. Now it's a new gender-balanced norm, opening doors to more work-life balance and higher retention of working parents' talent in the profession.


2. Key to teams working effectively - be open and adaptable to the individual needs of your team members. Work/life boundaries. Co-creating your 'new normal' with other team members. Active listening and learning.

I love the sound of this, but openness and adaptability are not the skills we are taught in law school. In an environment where every level of the hierarchy is managed by lawyers (i.e. non-professional managers), there is an aspect of learning that needs to be pushed beyond the nice words, and it can be challenging for people to un-learn. Every team is unique, Linklaters' Head of Learning continued. Possible tools proposed: introducing core hours, team-shared calendars (incl blocking out times for personal/family commitments), a firm-wide policy that there is no expectation to reply after a certain hour (kudos to Pinsent Masons for introducing this as their global wellbeing policy pre-COVID).


3. The 4 Ls team exercise - highly recommended

Growth is a buzz word. To be a better person, team, lawyer - there is a constant demand for improvement. It's a simple concept to grasp. What is often missed is that improvement requires feedback. During the webinar, the hosts introduced the 4 Ls exercise to help focus the minds of the respondents on:

  • What did you like?

  • What did you learn?

  • What did you lack?

  • What are you longing for?

Notice how the first three focus on the past while the last one invites to visualise the future. This is an excellent example of a coaching exercise that I often do with my clients. It helps to reflect on and learn from the past and opens the door of a possible future.

4. Linklaters' prediction of the new normal: <80% desk space, most WFH > 2 days. Webinar poll results: <30% of staff in the office.

Does this look like companies would like people to go back to the office, while people seem to be enjoying a working-from-home approach? Most likely, this poll shows that no-one has a clue and that the 'new normal' will be more about finding a new balance through trial and error for each team/company. What I hope for is that employees and teams will lead the decision on desk space reduction based on the best way for them to work efficiently, rather than it being imposed for budget-optimisation reasons.


5. Decision tree.

An interesting tool to help individuals decide if to work from home or in the office on any given day. While the idea is intriguing and worth exploring further, I cannot help but notice how face-to-face is still considered preferable for client communication. Old habits are hard to break, but it's a start. If there is something the pandemic has taught us is that service industries (like law) can still deliver while working-from-home and we can learn from the best practices of other sectors (e.g. IT) that have been doing remote working for years, if not decades.

6. Recreating the magic moments.

This is the glue that connects a team, even more so when a team consists of individual contributors working independently on their piece of work. As humans, we long for connection, we need continuous reassurance of the quality of our work, and left alone we tend to focus on the negatives. This diagram has good ideas on how to recreate all the fundamental activities that make individuals part of a team. My husband's company have been doing watercooler sessions, to chat as if you have met near the water fountain or coffee machine in the office. See you at the kitchen tap!


7. Managing and developing juniors.

Managing and developing juniors is, with the managing team efficiently, the hardest thing to do remotely. How do you make new people feel welcome, how do you make them care, how to make sure they are efficient, using the correct tools and methodology? And how long does it take, with shadowing losing a lot of its efficiency remotely? How do you assess performance? Those are all very complex problems to solve. It helps that law firms usually have an excellent know-how base and know-how team support, that is not the case in-house. The tips offered in the slide will help managers, colleagues and newcomers alike to know how to be and what questions to ask to integrate juniors or newcomers sooner.


8. Meeting management.

'If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be 'meetings.' - Dave Barry. Meetings were hard to manage face-to-face; they are even harder to do while working from home. "Can you hear me?" now precedes "Hello, how are you?". The webinar offered a good starting set of tools to improve meetings' efficiency. My top three are: chop it by 10 min each side, who really needs to be at that meeting and notify that input will be expected from everyone, and agree on roles (e.g. master of ceremonies to check that everyone spoke up).


Add to this a POMO (Purpose, Objective, Method, Outcome) at the start and 4Ls about the meeting at the end, and your meeting skills will soar!


9. Winter is coming. Managing anxiety and resilience.

The prospect of a second lockdown looming and WFH in the dark during long winter months, increase the risk of anxiety and exhaustion. It's hugely important for employers and teams to support their staff in managing anxiety and resilience, individual and team resilience.


10. The future of the billable hours' culture.

Billable hours are a sticking point in improving efficiency and flexible working within the legal profession, even though most work is done for capped or fixed fees. During the COVID times, many employers announced that they welcome flexibility as long as the work gets done. However, performance reviews linked to billable hours targets cancel this flexibility. On the webinar, I asked Linklaters to share their views on this. They responded that they were helping juniors optimise their utilisation rates, living more senior lawyers to self-manage. Another law firm echoed my question and said that they are trying to move away from a focus on inputs to a focus on outputs (getting away from the traditional approach around just measuring chargeable hours). Still, the challenge is moving away from hours as a measure of output. Please share your views and experience of how you and your company see the new normal. Email me, and I will make sure to respond to every email.

Let's have a chat about you. How are you adapting to the new normal? Click here to get in touch with me and book your free intro call.

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