10 creative ideas for employee engagement in virtual law firms

Creative Ideas Employee Engagement Virtual Law Firms
Everyone's asking: how do you keep a virtual team engaged as many law firms continue to work remotely? Here are some activities to try.

This is very unpopular news but the truth is, the pandemic is not over. Consequently, many law firms and other legal employers are continuing to operate virtually. That last part isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the experts tell us that 95% of workers actually want to work remotely. Nonetheless, all of this virtual lawyering has created new challenges for law firms.

Chief amongst those challenges is the issue of fostering employee engagement in a virtual world. Thus, we’ve put together a list of 10 creative ideas to keep your legal professionals feeling engaged and important while they’re working from home.

#1: Host virtual caselaw roundtables

This tip harkens back to my days as a young trial attorney in a large firm. Back then, new associates were tasked with presenting important new case developments to their entire department at weekly in-person luncheons. Even though that was some 20 years ago, I remember it well because: (1) I was terrified each time I had to present; and (2) the exercise did actually force me to stay current on legal developments in my practice area.

I can’t think of a single reason why this valuable exercise couldn’t take place on a Zoom call. I also can’t think of any reason why every lawyer and paralegal in the firm shouldn’t have a turn at presenting.

#2: Virtual team building via games

One of the greatest challenges of running a remote workplace is getting people to share the friendly comradery that used to take place in the office. Not surprisingly, some creative entrepreneurial types have come up with ways for remote employees to play online games aimed at team building. Given that legal professions tend to be highly competitive, you might pit partners against associates or paralegals against attorneys just to make things more fun and more interesting.

#3: Play games specifically built for employee engagement

While team building activities are great for, well, teambuilding, there are other games that are designed specifically for fostering employee engagement. They’re so effective, in fact, that some of these games are used by organizations like Nike and the U.S. Army. We all know that law firms can be way too serious. Why not lighten things up while also making people glad they work for you?

#4: Virtual happy hour

One of the biggest downfalls of working remotely is that it’s hard to find time to cut loose and get to know your co-workers on a more personal level. Fortunately, that doesn’t have to end just because everyone is working from home.

While the pandemic may have your team feeling less like meeting up at the local watering hole, there are plenty of online options for a virtual happy hour.

#5: Virtual mentoring

In my experience, one of the greatest things about working in a law firm was the opportunity to be mentored by older, wiser lawyers. It was very important to my professional development and I know I’m not alone in that. While it might be tempting to let mentoring programs go by the wayside while people are working remotely, it is critical not to do so. Luckily, virtual mentoring is possible and effective.

#6: Mock trials

Just because we’re in a pandemic doesn’t mean trials aren’t happening (at least not anymore). In many, places, however, trials are still being held virtually. In light of that, it’s probably a good idea for your team to practice giving trial presentations electronically. Even if you don’t have a case that’s going to trial soon, you can use one of the canned mock trial services partly for practice and partly for fun. In fact, setting up a mock trial competition between team members could add to the enjoyment.

#7: Host client get-togethers with your favorite clients

Anyone who has practiced law knows that there are some clients who just need more hand-holding than others. Oftentimes, those are also the nicest clients — you know, the ones who will drop by your office with donuts “just because”? So, why not host virtual meetings with those folks, whether they’re for work purposes or otherwise? Just don’t forget that these people are actually your clients, not your friends or co-workers. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have everyone up to date on the dos and don’ts of having online meetings with clients.

#8: Virtual coffee breaks

Everyone likes a coffee break, whether you drink coffee or not. Sometimes, it’s just a good reason to get up and away from your desk for a few minutes. Just because your team is working remotely doesn’t mean you can’t share coffee breaks with people from time to time. Like just about every other pre-pandemic office ritual, there are now online coffee breaks that you can share with coworkers.

#9: Encourage constructive criticism

In an office environment, people like to know that they can air their grievances about working conditions, rude co-workers, or difficult clients. When everyone is working from home, however, sometimes those gripes are left uncommunicated and resentments start to build.

Consequently, it’s important to encourage employees to continue to take and give constructive criticism. Your team may not know exactly how to do that in a virtual firm. Thus, it’s a good idea to provide them with guidelines.

#10: Give praise

Relatedly, it’s easy to give feedback on the fly when you’re working in an office. You might see a colleague in the hall, for example, and say something like “great job on that brief!” Those little things matter yet they’re easily overlooked in the virtual law firm. It doesn’t have to be that way. Virtual employee appreciation is easy to implement and makes everyone feel better.

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