Amanda Norris Ames
Three years into the pandemic, the legal industry is reeling from “quitting” panics, a return to personal contact, and the inevitable impact of artificial intelligence on the profession. But while some firms express a desire to return to “normal,” others recognize that many lawyers thrive without the trappings of “normal” law firm life a few years ago.
For some, business development and mentorship may still mean happy hour after work, but many attorneys have also emerged from the pandemic and built solid practices with little, if any, physical infrastructure or personal contact. These attorneys use vast virtual networks and technologies to develop real relationships with clients and run successful teams—sometimes with individuals they’ve never met in person.
This shift represents a major leadership opportunity for attorney parents post-pandemic. In fact, many attorney parents and caregivers have spent the past three years building the skills that will allow us to embrace change and lead the next generation of innovative law firms. While some profession leaders have expressed fear that this work-from-home environment has allowed lawyers to “go easy,” many of us who have found ourselves in a simultaneous work-and-parent situation during the pandemic know we’ve learned to evolve. new systems for generating high-quality work; to better communicate deadlines, expectations, and boundaries; turning our networks into virtual platforms; to creatively coordinate schedules and priorities; Treating our colleagues and customers as empathetic partners. These adjustments have served us and our families well in a time of need, but they have also allowed us to adapt to our customers and, at times, provide innovative and more cost-effective solutions.
The flexible systems that parents and caregivers have created in recent years have been a means of survival, but as we become the new ‘normal’, companies should also see how these lessons can influence law firm leadership in the future. This change presents opportunities for law firms to tap into an untapped segment of the profession – parent attorneys – and develop diverse teams using approaches unheard of in the legal landscape prior to 2020. Moreover, many of these same changes that will allow parents to work in Leadership roles will also help companies implement technology, competencies and communications practices to navigate future industry disruptions.
And it’s not just virtual law firms that can leverage the potential of the new legal landscape to build more diverse leadership teams. As a fully remote Virginia shareholder in a Maine-based law firm, and practice group leader for a mostly remote team located across three time zones, I saw opportunity in traditional law firms wanting to leverage technology and connections to build innovative practices. I’ve also seen how embracing these innovative practices has helped me grow as a leader—while raising young children—and build a strong team, many of whom are parents themselves.
Now, when I look back on years of continued disruption, I think post-pandemic parents have learned three lessons that can help us shape the law firms of the future:
- Efficient problem solving can replace long working hours. Mothers have always been a small percentage of equity partners in law firms. This is due in part to the fact that many find that the number of hours normally billed to achieve this status is not compatible with family life. But as the legal profession reels with the idea that technology may one day eliminate routine legal tasks, it is clear that most lawyers will need to adapt to focus on creative problem-solving rather than less efficient (and often more time-consuming) tasks. This shift can provide an alternative path to leadership, creating opportunities for those who can develop an area of expertise, solve unique problems, communicate and connect with our customers, without spending many nights in the office. Furthermore, while client requirements (and the corresponding career advancement for lawyers) used to require hopping on a plane to attend important meetings, our recent convenience level with virtual practice allows us to travel less and allows the client to save costs. These are victories for the parents and for the client.
- Communication and connection can replace physical proximity. Thanks to our new Zoom competency, our opportunities for personal contact are expanded, rather than limited. While building a practice over the course of the pandemic in the specialized field of higher education investigations, my team has been able to recruit talent from across the country to join us – and these attorneys weren’t required to uproot their families to take on a new role. This has had the added benefit of helping us build a nationwide practice, where we use the same virtual methods to stay in touch as a team that we use to communicate with our clients.
- Intent can replace FaceTime. Many major law firms have already found that the days of permanent office colleagues are over after the pandemic. I believe personal contact can strengthen teams and relationships. But that connection should now be more intentional, rather than being found in a water cooler. Post-pandemic parenting advocates have learned to set boundaries by necessity, and we must carry them with us as we work to manage teams with intention and empathy. My team has learned that the virtual world requires a more conscious use of our time and connections, and we’re always working on new ways of meaningful mentoring and team collaboration. I believe these continued efforts will be essential to building and maintaining legal teams in the post-pandemic era, and many working parents will thrive in this more regulated environment.
Finally, with these new opportunities for leadership, Parent Lawyers must also raise the bar for all parents working in the industry. The pandemic has further derailed our country’s already inadequate child care system and exposed the need for a safety net for those who fall ill or become unpredictable caregivers. And while a structural solution—requiring support from all levels of government—is necessary to fix the problem, parent-attorneys in leadership roles must simultaneously advocate for these programs within our profession.
When we look back at the past three years, post-pandemic parents of lawyers know that our legal practices have changed irreparably. But we can use the lessons learned in a period of stress and chaos to advance our careers and legal industries in the future.
Amanda Norris Ames He is a higher education attorney, Title IX specialist, and co-chair of the Bernstein Shor Investigations and Decisions Team. She regularly serves as an impartial and unbiased Title IX investigator and hearing officer and assists campuses across the country with all aspects of the Title IX process. Amanda uses her extensive experience in the field to help colleges and universities deal with sensitive allegations of misconduct in a rapidly changing legal and regulatory environment. Amanda’s comprehensive and impartial approach has earned her a national reputation for providing effective solutions and implementing best practices.