LexisNexis

IBA webinar report: Post-Covid professional development in law firms

Monday 13 December 2021

Whitney Gatz
Baker McKenzie, Tampa, Florida
whitney.gatz@bakermckenzie.com   

On 30 September 2021, a webinar was jointly presented by the IBA Academic and Professional Development Committee, Young Lawyers' Committee, Law Firm Management Committee and Professional Ethics Committee. The webinar focused on the professional development of lawyers post-Covid through ethics, training and culture. How do we develop lawyers in a world with a rising amount of remote working? Can professional ethics and culture transcend into the virtual world? Can a junior lawyer develop the right skills without being in the office?

The panel compromised of the following: Ben Roe, a lead knowledge lawyer for Baker McKenzie's Global Disputes and Compliance Group and Treasurer of the IBA Academic and Professional Development Committee; Bruno Oliviera Maggi, a professor and a founding partner of Bruno Maggi Advogados and Co-Secretary of the IBA Young Lawyers’ Committee; Rafhael Bentos, a tax associate with Mattos Filho and the Young Lawyers’ Committee Liaison Officer of the IBA LGBTI Law Committee; Tracy Calvert, a lawyer and Director of Oakalls Consultancy and the Co-Chair of the IBA Professional Ethics Committee; and Gary Assim, a senior partner with the UK national law firm Shoosmiths and Chair of the IBA Law Firm Management Talent and Leadership Subcommittee.   

Ethics

It is the defining characteristic of the legal profession. It is a series of characteristics which enable clients, third parties and courts to regard anyone within the profession as a trustworthy individual and a trusted advisor. However, many incoming lawyers have not had sufficient training in ethics and there is an expectation that their ethical behaviours will be developed through their ongoing practise of law.

For example, newly qualified solicitors in England and Wales are prohibited from becoming sole practitioners quickly. The expectation is that the solicitors will be able to learn ethical skills through the environment in which they practise. This can be done by working with senior colleagues and mentors and continuing professional development programs within their firms, instilling a culture of ethics early on in their career. The challenge for law firms post-Covid is to maintain the ethical standards within the new 'normal' hybrid work style. These standards need to be addressed and firms should look into redrafting their policies and procedures that accommodate flexibility and explain risk management.

Training

From experience, the most successful form of training is delivered face to face. Training includes so much more than knowing 'black letter law'. It also includes regulatory requirements and of course, ethics. Ethical training includes the professional codes and how to correctly apply these to practical situations. However, now firms should also look into continuing developmental training tailored toward remote working conditions.

With hybrid work patterns post-Covid, firms must recognise that they need to bring people together with opportunities to develop and learn professional behaviour. Senior lawyers have made an effort to assist and give junior lawyers more opportunities than ever because of the remote working. There have been opportunities in participating in meetings and attending international conferences with clients.

Firm culture

Junior attorneys are missing the connection of working in the office and are experiencing loneliness and Zoom fatigue. They are craving for a sense of ‘belonging’ to the firm since flexible working policies have impacted the culture of the firm. Firms are looking into doing 'team days' or 'office days' where employees come together and host a social event to fill this void.

Post-Covid, firms need to be flexible and fluid with working on firm culture. It needs to accommodate both in office and remote workers – a team environment with a centralised office experience. Firms also need to promote inclusivity and support to junior attorneys. With these changes, you will have a well-run firm with solid culture.