In this latest interview, Shoosmiths partner Stephen Dawson talks to The Lawyer about flexible working patterns, about how the forced lockdown has changed the way legal services are provided and the pressure of doing things better, faster, smarter.

And if you happen to be looking for something to read, Stephen also has some excellent book recommendations.

How will the providing of legal services look like in a recession/post-COVID-19 crisis?

The post-COVID-19 landscape for legal services is likely to be driven by two main factors. First, by what sort of recession we will experience ie duration/severity; and secondly, by the new working practices we adopt as restrictions begin to lift and we all “build back better”.  And with indications that Government will not adopt austerity as its tool for resurgence, I am optimistic for a shorter-term V-shaped recovery. Of course, the risk of a more protracted U-shaped (or so-called bath shaped) recession could pose a longer-term threat.

The challenge accepted by Shoosmiths is to invest in new methodologies and “products” to help us better serve increasingly demanding clients. Artificial intelligence is well developed as a viable long term solution and we have launched products to make clients’ lives very much simpler and more joined up. Live working products, allowing us to transparently report to clients as work is carried out are also likely to gain traction.

But whatever the shape of recovery, it is highly unlikely that any business sector (legal services included) will simply snap back to its pre-Covid 19 ways of working, even when all restrictions are lifted. Forced lockdown has shown us all that, although the legal services we provide may not change, ‘how’ we provide them fundamentally can, and potentially for the better.

What positives can you see emerging from this current Coronavirus crisis?

I don’t think it is contentious to say that one good thing to emerge from the crisis is a genuine (and long term) shift towards more flexible working patterns. Working from home has been validated as a genuine approach to delivering professional services to clients, across sectors. Everybody will have their one brand of working from home (or agile working as we call it at Shoosmiths) but there will be a seismic shift towards using technology to deliver services.

Other positive changes include people really looking at how they interact with the financial services providers (be that banks or fintech businesses). The consumption of financial services has also therefore changed, and I suspect people are also looking at their personal spending approach and patterns.

What will be the major challenge for the financial services sector in 2021?

I predict that short to medium term the biggest challenge will be to deal with the shift from traditional banking methodologies to those more technology-based suppliers, operating at a distance. At a recent roundtable event I led, we concluded that being ‘useful’ is the key motivator for fintech businesses, and being relevant and useful in people’s lives at the moment when they need those services. The existing branch-based approach will come under further challenge.

What will the new normal look like (post-pandemic)?

Over the last 10 – 12 weeks the whole legal sector has surprised itself. A usually tech-sceptic profession has not only realised that technology has kept them in business during lock-down, but they have also seen the potential for greater efficiency, reduced costs and better work/life flexibility. And while lawyers have had this pleasant shock, the C-Suite of every major business on the planet is thinking the same: how can they do things better, faster, smarter going forwards.

I have every expectation this strong will to improve will lead to a fundamental change in many aspects of how lawyers operate and interact with their clients. In the short term, we will no doubt see fewer people in offices and in physical meetings for so long as social distancing rules remain. But afterwards, too, we will continue to work more often from home and commute less. And we shall see a dramatic increase in the adoption of technology; both legal tech and other solutions that better enable communication and new ways of collaborating from diverse locations.

Your Coronavirus reading list: top 3 book recommendations

I enjoy reading as a way to escape. Whilst not ordinarily a Stephen King fan, I thoroughly enjoyed stepping back in time and reading 11.22.63; the date of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Say no more.

On a more serious note, again with an element of stepping back in time, The Last Days of Night by Graham, Moore.

I have also just treated myself to a talking book, and thoroughly enjoyed the “boy done well” story of As the Crow Flies by Jeffrey Archer. A guilty pleasure.

Stephen Dawson is one of the 30+ speakers making up this year’s speaker line-up at The Lawyer’s In-house Financial Services virtual event. For more information on the conference, a copy of the agenda, or to register for any of the 10+ sessions available, please visit the event website.