Pivoting the Legal Workplace in Canada: Tenant Talks Recap | Tenant Talks

On April 21st, 2021 Aura hosted the latest edition of our virtual speaker series, Tenant Talks™. This time we wanted to talk about pivoting the legal workplace in Canada

Panelists included representatives from Forte Law, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, Alexander Holburn Beaudin + Lang LLP and Fraser Litigation Group. Rocky Ozaki, Founder & CEO of NoW of Work Inc., facilitated the discussion. Our host was Dan Boram with Aura. 

We wanted to know: How are companies in the Canadian legal Industry making decisions that will impact their future?

Here’s what we learned:

(More of a watcher than a reader? Watch the video recording of the event here.)

Question #1: Please share the current state of your workforce? Is the office open?  

Michelle Tribe, Partner at Fraser Litigation Group, said that they’ve been open through the entire pandemic and that their space has allowed for them to stay in the office while adhering to CDC guidelines. They do offer remote access but most employees have opted to remain in the office. 

Chris Hirst, Managing Partner at Alexander Holburn Beaudin + Lang LLP, said that the decisions have been made at the regional level. Their Vancouver office is open and has been since August. However, only about 30-40% of the workforce regularly comes into the office, with 50-60% choosing to work remotely. Their Toronto office has been closed since last March and they don’t expect to re-open until January 2022. 

Will Westeringh, Managing Partner at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP said that his firm has been coming back steadily since Vancouver started lifting initial social distancing guidelines. Now, about 32-35% of the workforce are coming into the office 2-5 days per week.

They are also taking extra health precautions to keep their employees and employees’ families safe. 

Sara Forte, Founder of Forte Law Corporation, said they’ve set a schedule where employees are split into two groups and go into the office on the same days as their group. This way, they still get to work directly with the people they need to work with. 

“The one thing that has surprised me is how much people want to come back into the office,” Sara said. 

Question #2: How has the relationship between lawyers and their apprentices has changed over the last year?

Chris started the discussion by admitting that it’s been a difficult year with the changes they’ve had to make. Apprentices have always learned their fundamentals through shadowing partners in person. Through daily interactions and listening in on cases, apprentices are able to learn how the day-to-day job will look.  

Will was up next and said that there has definitely been a learning curve for his lawyers and their students. His firm has had to make a few changes, but the key is being deliberate. 

“We are much more deliberate about how we interact with our students, in particular,” Will stated. 

Michelle said that while her firm doesn’t have a ton of students, she has seen how different it is for students in this environment, compared to how it was before the pandemic

“It’s hard to create that relationship when we have to be so guarded about our interactions,” Michelle said. 

Rocky then asked the panelists about positive changes that firms have seen between lawyers and students. 

Will said that it’s been easier to include them in more communication and share information. In an office setting, lawyers will just pop into each other’s office. But in a virtual setting, there has to be virtual communication where it’s easier to share more widely.

Next we asked our panelists and audience a poll question: How many days a week do you want to work from home in the future?

The majority of respondents said 1-2 days per week from home. 

Question #3: How has the business model of your organization has changed/evolved over the last year?

Will said there’s been a progression over the last year since the pandemic started. While things slowed down last spring, things have picked up since then and business has been good. 

Sara said that overall business has been really good, as well. They have seen an uptick in business and have had to hire more lawyers

Chris said that he had a similar experience to Will and Sara in seeing an increase in business. 

Question #4: In terms of client experience and success, how has the client journey changed in your organization over the last year?

Michelle started the client experience discussion by saying that at her firm, they’ve had to change to virtual meetings rather than in-person which has been beneficial to clients who don’t live nearby. In-person meetings are now a bit different with social guidelines.

“The experience is a little more awkward, but the clients have been very understanding and happy to work with us,” Michelle said. 

Will said that his firm’s main goal was to stay engaged with clients. They did this through satisfaction surveys, phone calls, emails and regular check-ins.  

Sara said that most of her clients have been happy to switch to virtual and that it’s opened a broader audience for them in terms of geographical area. 

“It’s really widened our scope and allowed us to serve a broader geographical area, which I think will continue,” said Sara. 

Question #5: What do you think the future workplace experience is going to look like? 

Sara said she’s optimistic about the future, especially with all the tools we’ve gained and skills we’ve been forced to learn over the last year. 

Michelle and Rocky touched on personalization and how much we’ve learned about it over the past year. We can customize the client experience to their individual needs more so than ever. 

Will and Chris agreed that there will be some positive changes. And a lot of the tools we’ve been given in the last year will help law firms and clients alike. 

Then we asked another poll question:

Given the impact COVID-19 is having on the way we work, what do you expect is the most likely change to your physical office in the future?

30% said they expect no change

23% said change to co-working 

8% said upsizing or relocating

Question #6: What kind of technology have you adopted and what has worked?

Chris said that the best thing they’ve done as far as technology in the last year is going paperless. Their entire system is paperless and he said it’s been much more efficient. 

Michelle said that their biggest change has been to ensure that everyone is properly set up to work remotely if they need or want to. Specifically, her firm has set up lawyers and employees with work computers and phones. Additionally, all the conference rooms are fully connected to Zoom and every lawyer has a camera on their computer. 

Will talked about the importance of having one place to share, upload, and collaborate on documents with all staff members. 

Dan Boram, CEO of Aura then asked the panelists: What do you think of hybrid options and flexible work spaces?

Sara said that her firm is going through a new build right now and will be fitted with individual offices as well as “Zoom Rooms” where they can hold virtual conferences. 

She said that the focus of the new design is to offer an option of spaces based on what each lawyer needs each day. Whether that’s a collaborative open space, or a private individual office. 

It was great to hear industry experts discuss the current workplace and their plans for the physical office moving forward.

To listen to the rapid fire question and answers, see more data about flexible workspaces, and find out what else our audience asked, watch the full TenantTalks™ video recording here.

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