At the end of the 20th century, the term “hybrid” was most often associated with part electric powered / part gas powered vehicles. In the COVID era, however, “hybrid” became a term used to describe working part time at home and part time in a conventional workplace environment. In the post-COVID era and with the emergence of ever-evolving technology including generative artificial intelligence (AI), “hybrid” is becoming associated with a digital, collaborative work environment where law firms and clients engage with one another in the provision of legal and professional services.
Historically, law firms and clients interacted with each other in-person and then by telephone conversations. With the advent of digital communications and the widespread corporate adoption of email in the 1990s, in-person and even telephone engagements waned as email became the predominate means for communication and document exchange between law firms and clients.
While email is good for sending a document or communicating information, it has many drawbacks making email communication ill-suited for true work collaboration between law firms and clients. Please see my prior article, How Dynamic Project Management Can Help Law Firms (Nov. 17, 2021; Law360®) , for a more in-depth discussion of the limitations of email communication and benefits of project management software tools as an improvement over email communication and document exchange.
Businesses today are now more than ever facing challenges relating to employee turn-over, in-house staff reductions (e.g., general and assistant counsel and their legal staff), and the accommodation of flexible (hybrid/remote) employee workplace schedules. As a result, more and more companies are leaning heavily on their outside counsel to act as their de facto project managers to keep their executives, managers, and staff organized, on task, and meeting critical deadlines.
Law firms are filling the void in their clients’ in-house staffing, by turning to project management software like Microsoft Project, Monday’s Project Management, and Basecamp as well as specialized legal community software such as CLIO, HighQ Firm Project Management, and Anaqua (AQX Law Firm).
Traditionally, though, project management software has been deployed predominately within law firms and largely updated and accessible almost exclusively by the law firms themselves with minimal or little client interaction with the project management software tools. Today, clients are increasingly requesting 24/7 access to their relevant documents, client team, dashboards with a budget status, timelines, due dates, action items, payment platforms, etc.
To address the needs of their clients, law firms are expanding the reach of their project management tools and creating collaborative workspaces in which both law firms and businesses can interact with each other in a client-specific confined digital environment. Law firms are also designing client specific collaborative workspaces individualized to their clients’ needs. Both clients and lawyers (and their respective staff) have access to these collaborative workspaces 24/7. These workspaces have tools that organize legal projects, assign tasks with respective due dates, and share, categorize, and associate documents with the specific legal projects, all within the confines of a digital, highly secure environment. Rather than scrolling through endless emails with threaded conversations or nested attached emails with accompanying documents, a hybrid collaborative digital workplace provides a vastly improved workflow. All relevant client documents, communications, and tasks are organized and easily accessible by the client and law firm via a secure authenticated website and mobile phone app.
Hybrid collaborative digital workspaces not only streamline project management but they foster and strengthen the relationship between clients and law firms based on transparency and communication.
Evolution of Charge for Legal Services
In addition to evolving legal services, there may also be an evolution in conventional legal service fee paradigms. Current legal service payment practices include hourly rate fees and alternative fee arrangements for specific legal matters or projects.
However, law firms and clients are considering other fee arrangements that meet clients’ expectations based on the clients’ perceived value received from their law firms. For example, clients are considering the value that they receive as a result of new technology implemented by their law firms for the clients’ benefit and use. Clients recognize the value which may help them avoid or reduce internal legal costs. Accordingly, law firms and clients are negotiating new and unique fee arrangements that compensate law firms for providing the new services to their clients.
Stites & Harbison is committed to providing the best, most comprehensive services to meet the challenges and needs of its valued clients. Hybrid collaborative digital workspaces are one example of the services that Stites & Harbison offers to best serve its clients.
Stephen J. Weyer is a partner in the Alexandria, Virginia office of Stites & Harbison, PLLC. A registered U.S. Patent attorney and trained biochemist, Stephen’s practice focuses on patent prosecution, including cases involving biology, biochemistry, chemistry, pharmaceutics, life sciences, bioinformatics, laser and optics, semiconductor manufacturing, light electrical, business methods applications, and industrial design protection.