The quick switch to remote working in the early days of the pandemic highlighted just how much law firms still needed to invest in digital capability – from effective collaboration on documents, to timely client delivery through platforms and internal communication.
Ian Broom, CEO and co-founder of app platform Fliplet – which has a particular focus on helping professional services firms to develop such tools for themselves – worked with a law firm for the first time in 2012. Its innovation credentials were well established, but he was pleasantly surprised to find quite how many of legal’s business needs apps might meet even then, he says. The pandemic period has since completely changed the game of course, especially when it comes to internal process management.
“Here was a business not just with a single app use case, but an entire backlog of apps that it wanted to build,” says Broom. It flipped his perspective and essentially Fliplet’s business model, and today his team will regularly advise on the app functions and features that are likely to work best in the context of law firms’ complex organisational structures, cultures and management challenges.
Fliplet has some 60 law firm customers today, as well as plenty of other big names in the professional services arena, but in 2020 demand changed dramatically, explains Broom. “Pre-pandemic firms typically came to us for rapid single mobile solutions – to get something out and into the app store. They already had intranet solutions, and usually the ability to deliver desktop software for themselves as required.”
The early days of Covid-19 suddenly called for something just as quick to roll out, but much more unified, as many mobile-working pilots went fast forward to keep everybody connected and fear of ‘the cloud’ all but evaporated. “And everyone had different ideas about exactly what was needed,” Broom recalls. “One business was really concerned about a big overcrowding problem hitting the canteen. They wanted people to stay at their desks and order either to pick up, or have food brought down for them. They then weren’t moving through all the communal spaces as much.”
There has been such an effort to get people doing more on mobile, and it can be so hard to change behaviour, firms don’t want to lose the momentum
It wasn’t the most convincing use case, he admits, particularly as there were progressively fewer and fewer people in the building anyway – but interesting nevertheless. More obviously successful was the vital risk-management activity of tracking employee and visitor occupancy levels alongside their health status – and booking desk space accordingly – where this was permitted in line with government guidelines.
Here firms had some potentially frustrating decisions to dish out about their hotdesking arrangements. At some the concept of ‘my desk’ was simply removed, with all space up for grabs. In others, however, people might find they had no desk to work at if adjacent ones were already taken on a particular day. “Then a partner decides they need to come in, and everything else must change to accommodate her at the last minute! They needed a notification system for all people that could deal with decisions and last-minute changes, but wasn’t manually arduous for the office managers, and also didn’t upset people,” says Broom.
Fliplet rapidly designed a new remote and office management solution (ROMS), which also incorporated health-screening using QR codes. “Firms could just print the codes out for the different spaces in their building – fairly low-fi – and people scan in and out as they pass,” says Broom. “They can track exactly where you’ve been, and the proximity to any suspected case, to help firms manage responses more sensitively.”
Two important factors behind a tool like this are the ability to flex as circumstances change and management through multiple devices, he stresses. “You want to book on your computer, but then scan on your mobile. We’ve also helped firms to send automatic timed notifications to remind people to scan, complete a health survey, or verify their booking before they arrive.”
And with offices now welcoming people back more regularly, the future role for Fliplet apps such as ROMS is moving on again.
“There has been such an effort to get people doing more on mobile, and it can be so hard to change behaviour, firms don’t want to lose the momentum,” says Broom. “As a result, apps are now starting to deliver more directory information and support longer-term internal communication.”
As one example, Eversheds Sutherland decided to support the community and tackle potential feelings of isolation with an app focused just on socialising – employees sharing how they’d been supporting their wellness in lockdown, winding down, what they’d been watching on TV or reading, and of course the ubiquitous pet pictures.
“It’s an idea that offers something for everyone, and can also cut right across organisational lines.” Employees can subscribe to specific topics and opt for notifications about threads where there is something of interest to them personally.
Now, with marketing departments feeling the pressure, more are also setting up client-facing apps with experiences that mirror consumer trends – quiz-style assessments of situations, bite-sized data and benchmarking, he adds.
And they aren’t necessarily discarding the desk-booking policy – indeed, some are currently exploring how this will look for the new hybrid-working and innovation spaces that are opening up.
“The Fliplet approach is based on the fact that we don’t always know what our customers need, and neither of us know what the future holds,” Broom concludes. Information needs are likely to keep changing as the world does, and business apps can change to meet them.