This past year has seen some unprecedented changes and unpredictable moments for most of us, in both our working and personal lives. As restrictions continue to ease and life slowly starts to shift back to “normal”, we would like to reflect on the past year. Here at ILSPA, we believe that it is important to find and focus on positives. So in the interest of inspiring and uplifting our Students and Members, we want to share some unexpected positives that have been happening in our profession over the past year.
After slowing down this past year, we are now seeing a rise in recruitment and positions needing to be filled. Many companies continued to recruit throughout the pandemic and adapted their recruitment, interviewing and onboarding processes to meet their needs during the lockdowns. As time has gone on, other firms have adopted these new methods also, and we have seen some exciting changes to legal recruitment.
We spoke to Kam Vara, Director at expert recruiting firm Katie Bard, who specialises in placing office executives and support staff in the property, legal and commercial sectors. She explained how the legal sector has embraced remote recruitment, even referring to it as one of her “busiest sectors”.
Kam spoke about how she had seen a “cultural change” in law that has “led to some restructur[ing] of how roles are going to be done and how roles are going to be recruited.” And she stated, “All this has been going on in the background to what I think will be a new model moving forward, and that new model will be beneficial to any new candidate looking for work in the legal market.”
Ethan Cumming, Senior Content Editor at ILSPA’s partner TotallyLegal, also reported seeing an improved, streamlined recruitment process throughout 2020. He explained, “The recruitment process has really been put through its paces in the past year but has come out stronger for it. Some law firms were more prepared for remote interviewing and onboarding than others, but at this point, more than a year on from the start of the first lockdown, most are fluent in video interviewing, and some of the more advanced hiring processes also include online skills assessments, virtual open days and more.
“Although some hiring managers and employers still prefer an in-person interview, these virtual processes and new technologies have allowed the job market to carry on through the chaos. Going forward, video interviews will continue to be utilised as a cost- and time-saving alternative even when face-to-face interviews can go ahead again.”
A stronger, flexible and more cost-effective recruitment process is a great benefit for both recruiters and candidates. Candidates are now able to apply for roles further afield, as they will not necessarily commute daily or need to travel to attend interviews. Virtual open days allow candidates to learn more about the company easily, while advanced online assessments help employers assess candidates effectively. Time and money can be saved by both candidate and recruiter, whilst still ensuring an effective recruitment process.
Diversity and Inclusion
Ethan also predicted that the adapted recruitment process will lead to more diversity and inclusion within the legal sector. He explained that “the increased uptake of virtual recruitment processes and the general acceptance that remote working does work for legal professionals has the power to lead to a more diverse and inclusive profession. For example, if virtual interviewing, onboarding and working processes are all in place, a smaller law firm with just a handful of regional offices no longer has to limit its recruitment to candidates in the local area. Instead, applications could be accepted from people across the UK or even further afield, thereby leading to greater diversity and inclusivity in the workforce.”
The key skills that are desirable for a Legal Secretary are also evolving. Along with legal knowledge and administrative skills, the increased possibility to work from home means that candidates will need to show they are tech-savvy and competent with communication software (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Docs, etc.). They will need to be self-motivated, adaptable and confident. These desirable skills are easily transferable from other sectors, which is a huge advantage for people who are looking to enter the profession.
Training and Education
The various lockdowns have led to an increase in home learning for many people, legal professionals included, choosing to use the time to upskill themselves. Companies and firms have also noticeably been encouraging their staff to use their time studying if they have been unable to work due to the restrictions.
ILSPA partner Prodigy Learning has reported that the introduction of remote exams has led to a substantial increase in candidates gaining certifications. This was clearly evident at this year’s Bett Show, which had to take place virtually for the first time. In partnership with Microsoft, Prodigy Learning held a Virtual Testing Lab whereby attendees could sit the Microsoft Certification Exams from the comfort of their own homes.
When talking about the event, Prodigy Learning said, “The BettFest 2021 Virtual Testing Lab exceeded all expectations for #TeamProdigy.
“In early January, the Microsoft Certifications Testing Lab reached preregistration capacity and had a huge waitlist before the show even started! The demand from educators and students wanting to gain certification was incredible, especially during COVID-19, as proving skills on CVs and LinkedIn in the latest Microsoft technologies is more important than ever.”
Before the pandemic, people looking to take Microsoft Certification Exams through Prodigy Learning were required to attend a test centre in person to sit their final exam. One such test centre is Mouse Training London, which confirmed that it has seen an increase in candidates throughout the past year. It explained, “In these challenging times, and to comply with social distancing regulations, Mouse Training London has had to limit attendance at its testing centre. The Exams from Home Certification Solution has proved to be enormously popular and enabled its candidates to continue to prove industry-demanded skills at home. In fact, Mouse Training London is hosting more certifications online compared to the corresponding period last year when candidates had to physically attend the training centre.”
Rosie Keighley, Marketing Manager at SecsintheCity, agreed that online courses and training have been very popular for Secretaries and Personal Assistants (PAs). She told us, “Whether because of remote working, furlough or lockdown, many PAs, Secretaries and other legal support professionals have had a bit of extra time on their hands this year. While that time could have been used for relaxing or indulging a hobby, 15% of the SecsintheCity audience decided to use its free time to take an online course in the past year, demonstrating the proactivity that successful support professionals are known for. With so many valuable courses out there, as well as an abundance of new technology and apps to explore, there is always something new to learn that could take your career to the next level.”
People’s current desire to use their time at home productively and upskill themselves will obviously be advantageous to themselves and their career prospects. It has led to changes in how courses and qualifications are taught and assessed. These changes have allowed qualifications to become more accessible and flexible. This in turn will enable more people to start training in the future, when perhaps they would have previously been prevented from doing so by constraints like location or time. ILSPA’s Live Online Classes are certainly more popular than ever!
Changes to Working Habits
One of the most noticeable changes over the past year, and the one that has affected the majority of people, is the change in our working habits. In particular, the need to switch to working remotely. We spoke to Dave Capper, Director of Simply Law Jobs, who said, “A global pandemic will usually instigate widespread change very quickly, so one of the positives to come out of the past 12 months is the change in behaviours and attitudes towards remote and flexible working. For law firms [that] might have once seen remote working as ‘not for them’, being forced into it has opened their eyes to the benefits of what it can bring for both the employer and employee.
“We’re finding that people in the industry have taken to this model like ducks to water. Yes, it does present its challenges, and we are finding that professionals are missing the social interaction with their colleagues, but overall, people are enjoying the flexibility that remote working offers them.
“Post-pandemic, we anticipate that there will be a much more even split between home and office working time.”
Ethan from Totally Legal also highlighted this, saying, “One of the key unexpected positives of 2020 has to be the adoption of remote and flexible working practices in the legal profession. Prior to the pandemic, working from home was a luxury afforded to a fortunate few in legal, but that has all changed now, with some law firms like Slater & Gordon closing up their London office spaces entirely in favour of permanent remote working. A survey we conducted in August 2020 found that 93% of legal professionals would like to regularly work from home even once normal office work resumes, showing that legal professionals have not only proved that they can work from home, but that they want it to continue going forwards.”
Law is a sector that can be slow to embrace new working styles, preferring instead to remain with more traditional methods where both Lawyers and Legal Secretaries work with their clients in an office setting. The pandemic has meant that law firms have been forced to implement changes. Many are now experiencing the benefits of being able to offer a more flexible way of working, when perhaps they would not have considered it before.
Communication and Networking
Along with working, networking has also had to be performed online. Virtual webinars, events and classes have all been incredibly popular throughout the lockdowns. Whether it is due to the increased need for interaction or the desire to use their time productively, people have truly embraced online networking.
Attendees no longer need to worry about the location, as they can join from anywhere. Professionals in more remote areas can now easily take part in events that were previously inconvenient or expensive to get to.
The range and choice of events have also drastically increased. No longer is it just the conventional after-work meet-ups or all-day ticketed events. There are now lunchtime webinars and virtual events that you can replay or catch up on when it suits you.
Events, webinars and classes are often promoted online or through social media, making it easy for a wider range of people to hear about them and get involved. Social media also allows you to join groups associated with your role, your skills or your sector. This automatically opens up a network of people who all share an interest with you. In many ways, it has actually never been easier to make connections and grow your network.