A key issue driving this friction is growing concern that with junior lawyers spending more time working from home, they’re missing out on a critical aspect of their professional development – learning through osmosis.
This article discusses why an enforced full-time, return to the office strategy isn’t the only (or maybe the best) way to address the learning gap created by the increase in homeworking. Instead, we outline how Clarilis can help law firms to support junior lawyers hone their drafting skills – even when they aren’t working physically under the watchful eye of a more senior colleague.
The rise of the WFH learning gap
For the most part, the increase in remote working in recent years has positively impacted lawyers – particularly in terms of increasing flexibility and work-life balance. However implementing hybrid working has come with a steep learning curve and a plethora of fresh challenges for law firms – including issues with learning and professional development.
An article published by The Lawyer in December 2023 acknowledged rising anxiety amongst senior lawyers that junior lawyers aren’t learning as quickly due to working from home. The importance of the in-person, firm-specific aspects of legal learning certainly seems to have become increasingly apparent since they were taken away by the reduction of office time following the pandemic. This has created a broad learning gap that spans everything from client etiquette and interpersonal skills to the more technical aspects of the job, including drafting.
One of the reasons for this is the dramatic reduction in impromptu conversations between colleagues, preventing information and knowledge from being passed from partners to juniors, and even between juniors. The reality is, the on-the-job learning models that worked when everybody was sitting at desks in the same building, aren’t anywhere near as effective when lawyers aren’t regularly in the office together.
How does this relate to drafting?
Pre-pandemic, when a junior encountered a question while drafting, they could simply ask a more experienced colleague in the office for guidance. The same junior lawyer working from home may feel awkward asking this same simple drafting question when it has to be scheduled as a Teams call. Consequently, instead of validating a query, they might choose instead to follow their instinct. Understandably, this will not always lead to correct or accurate outcomes. So, to maintain the quality of their work, partners must allocate more time and attention to reviewing drafts to make sure inaccuracies don’t make it into the versions sent to the client. There’s also the risk that the supervisor will just correct a draft when reviewing rather than scheduling a call to feedback, especially if the feedback only consists of minor drafting tips. Consequently, the drafting learning gap has a wide-ranging impact – on the junior lawyer, the supervising partner, and potentially even the client.
How to fill the drafting learning gap?
Instincts in senior ranks can be to fill this learning gap by demanding fee-earners spend more days in the office. The gradual increase in office days since 2022 is evidence of this. In Bloomsberg Law’s 2022 Workload and Hours Survey, 31% of respondents said they were fully remote or had ‘complete flexibility’ over their schedule. In 2023, this figure dropped to 13%. The December 2023 article in The Lawyer mentioned earlier also referenced a gradual increase to four days in the office being enforced by some firms – but also admitted this is a ‘prickly’ issue for associates. Findings of a survey by legal software firm BigHand reflect this associate resistance to increasing their office days, with more than a third of respondents stating they’re 'actively ignoring' directives to stop working from home. In fact, almost half went as far as to say they would look for a new job if forced to work more than three days a week in the office. As a result, law firms are grappling with the possibility that by recalling their lawyers’ freedom to work from home, they could risk losing their best people and it could also prevent them from attracting talent in the future.
How can Clarilis automations help?
With hybrid working seemingly here to stay, law firms are looking for ways to use technology to better support lawyers when working remotely. For example, for many of our clients, Clarilis isn't just about efficiency and business gains - it’s also a digital drafting mentor to their lawyers - especially when working from home, where more senior lawyers aren’t at hand to bounce ideas off.
The benefits of Clarilis as a tool to guide and de-risk drafting are expressed by Forsters’ Head of Knowledge Miri Stickland in her leadership mindset interview:
“We’ve embedded learning into our Clarilis automations, so they provide prompts and advice to lawyers. This assists them with making the correct drafting choices for specific transactional requirements. It provides learning at the right time.”
With Clarilis, the drafting process is guided, with notes presented alongside or triggered by drafting choices. Delivering bite-sized guidance to users at the point of decision is a far better approach than producing long-winded guidance notes, which may or may not be read.
Clarilis drafting guidance is also dynamic, removing drafting choices that are irrelevant or contradictory, informing users that they are making off-market or unusual choices, and using matter information entered by the user to ensure that only relevant notes are displayed, hiding the rest.
Drafting automation also encourages user experimentation by allowing fee earners to explore different drafting options and see the effects in the resulting draft document. By building the draft through the automation, they can see the effect of their answers instantly in approved drafting amendments - in a way that is much more dynamic than just reading a flat precedent.
And whilst the people may be remote, that doesn’t stop collaboration and supervision. The questionnaires and answers can be easily shared with supervisors and colleagues, which are much easier to review than the resulting documents.
Drafting on rails reduces risk
By facilitating ‘drafting on rails’, Clarilis performs a virtual mentoring role for many of our clients. If we refer to a leadership mindset interview with Marcos Toffannello, Head of Knowledge at Birketts, he told us:
“People aren’t always working in an office, and this means they can’t consult their supervisor in the same way they would’ve done in the past – this brings an increased risk of mistakes not being picked up. What we can do to prevent this is to de-risk documents by using automation to constrain the way they’re produced in the first place.”
This control over drafting output allows delegation with confidence. Taken a step further, it allows supervisors to review redlines that separate freehand drafting from the automated output, greatly reducing the time required for review. This gives the supervisor more time to advise and supervise the junior fee earner, and the whole cycle gets faster, quality is improved, and the junior progresses.
Conclusion: Drafting practices need to evolve for a WFH generation of lawyers
Lawyers who started work in the pandemic era may have never experienced full-time life in the office. Consequently, the current generation of juniors and associates have missed out on the informal learning provided by spontaneous conversation and face-to-face time with a Partner – things that previously were part of day-to-day office life. However, law firms using Clarilis intelligent drafting technology, are going some way to filling that gap left by the loss of osmosis learning.
Clarilis automations are designed to capture best practice and ensure it’s used as the basis for all drafting – whether drafts are produced in the office or at home. We also build supportive drafting guidance and other learning features into your automations. This reduces the demand for supervision time, allowing drafting to be delegated to junior lawyers working remotely, in a supportive and risk-mitigated way.
To find out more about these features of our automations, book a demonstration with a Clarilis innovation specialist.
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Implementing hybrid working has come with a steep learning curve and a plethora of fresh challenges for law firms – including issues with learning and professional development.