The Lessons Amid the Chaos: What We’ve Learned Looking Back on 2020

| December 28 2020

Well, this year didn’t turn out the way anyone planned. 

At the start of the year, we thought we’d have 12 months of bad puns about “maintaining 2020 focus” or “seeing clearly in 2020.” Instead, it’s been about 18 years of global pandemic, isolation, stress, anxiety, economic slowdowns, social unrest, protests for racial justice, virtual school, election stress, and now another wave of illness and accompanying lockdowns.

It’s been a year of dealing with the unexpected, making overnight changes, and rolling with the punches. There’s no doubt that COVID has changed the way we work. And there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle: remote work is here to stay, and with it, a new way of communicating with clients and colleagues. 

Here are a few of the lessons the team at Hanzo has learned this year. 

 

Legal Professionals Can Work Remotely—But It Changes How and Where We Communicate

 

Early in 2020, businesses everywhere had to close their offices and open their minds to the option of allowing knowledge workers—including lawyers—to work remotely. And, to the surprise of many, remote work turned out to be not just possible but, in some cases and for some employees, optimal. 

We weren’t surprised: Hanzo had an all-remote dispersed workforce since long before pandemic shutdowns necessitated working from home. But we’ve also taken care to equip our staff with the tools to stay in touch across physical and temporal separations. One of the primary ways we maintain connection is through Slack’s collaboration platform, which we’ve been big fans of for a while now. 

In a matter of days this past March, the rest of the business world followed suit. Nearly overnight, organizations implemented technologies to foster long-distance collaboration and communication, from videoconferencing systems like Zoom to collaboration solutions like Slack and Microsoft Teams. For the most part, those processes have been successful—so far.

There is an important caveat, though, and it’s one that organizations are still absorbing. With new tools come new sources of electronically stored information that may be relevant to internal investigations or litigation matters. Many businesses haven’t fully integrated these new data sources into their information governance and ediscovery pipelines, which means they could be caught flat-footed by a request. 

Throughout the year, Hanzo has been hosting webinars about Slack and more broadly about information governance, internal investigations, regulatory compliance, and ediscovery with collaboration data to help fill that gap. 

We also worked with the Association of E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS) to conduct a benchmark survey and a follow-up webinar about corporate readiness with respect to collaboration data. Like us, about 70 percent of our respondents described their collaboration tools as something they or their teams “can’t live without.” Our panelists all shared  the opinion that collaboration data from platforms like Slack is subject to discovery obligations when relevant to a dispute involving business communications.

 

Agility Is an Essential Job Skill

 

As the year has gone on and we’ve settled into remote working, some expectations have changed. Most professionals aren’t wearing suits anymore. The inevitable distractions of children and pets during Zoom calls have become standard fare, serving as an opportunity to check in with each other as humans with full lives instead of merely service providers filling a role. 

But not everything has shifted with the times. People still expect their lawyers to provide responsive, helpful, on-point legal advice to help them navigate whatever challenges they’re facing.The Daily Business Review asked its 2020 “Most Effective Lawyer” honorees what lessons they had learned in 2020. Over and over, respondents pointed to the value of agility and resilience in the face of constant challenges. Dealing with the unexpected has been a critical skill this year when nothing has gone according to plan. 

Nor has this need for adaptability been limited to individual attorneys; entire organizations have had to pivot to meet new requirements or work around new restrictions such as closing offices and transitioning to a remote workforce. This need for malleability has forced a realization that law firms must operate as businesses rather than committees of equal partners, few or none of whom have specialized business training. As one commentator observed, “Business decisions are often made with little information and must be made quickly and decisively,” because “no decision is often the wors[t] decision of all.” 

For individuals and organizations alike, “the future must be flexible.”

 

The World Will Never Stand Still and the Time to Prepare Is Always Now

 

One of the strange realizations of 2020 was that even as we were pivoting to meet new, unanticipated needs, the calendar continued to march forward. Plans previously put in place—like the effective start date for enforcement of the California Consumer Privacy Act—weren’t sidelined or rescheduled just because everyone was busy with new challenges. 

During one of our webinars about Slack, Kyle Kelly, a Senior Ediscovery and Litigation Support Specialist at Coinbase, made this point about the importance of preparation. “If you weren’t prepared [for the challenges of 2020], it’s a reminder to be proactive in the future, so you’re more ready the next time something critical occurs. What worked? What didn’t? Look at the tools—especially your collaboration platforms—that really turned out to be important, so you can be better prepared next time.”

This sentiment on preparation and readiness underscores our final lesson, which paraphrases an old saying about the best time to plant a tree: the best time to prepare for your next business challenge was yesterday, but the second-best time is always today.

What weren’t you prepared for in 2020? Did you adopt any solutions that you’ve never fully onboarded? The end of the year is a great opportunity to look at what information your company is generating and to be certain that you know how you’ll preserve and collect that information if—or, more likely, when—you need to. 

Hanzo is here to help, whether you need to archive your business’s website or preserve and collect data from Slack.


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