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The digital evolution of office management

Anita Mónus has been the office manager at the Budapest office of Weil law firm for 16 years. She is responsible for the areas of finance, administration, facilities management and human resources at the firm. Here she tells the Budapest Business Journal about her experience in running an office, and how things have changed over the years. 

Anita Mónus, office manager at Weil.

What are the challenges of running a law office with roughly 25 attorneys?

Weil Budapest is a highly integrated part of a top-tier international organization, and the same standards apply throughout the firm regardless of size. As for the management of the office, we need to ensure that our talented administrative professionals are experts in multiple areas, that they are capable of using different and often complex software, and that they complete all tasks that are required in every Weil office. Our assets are our people, and recruiting, training and retaining the most talented legal and support staff professionals has always been a challenge. Weil has various programs and initiatives in place, we provide training to ensure continuous professional development and also invest significant amounts in state-ofthe-art technology. We also endeavor to create an ideal office environment, to allow employees to be as effective as possible in order to be successful while at the same time, achieve the optimal work/life balance that’s realistic in a fast paced and demanding international law firm environment. We also provide flextime/part-time schedules and home working arrangements for our employees, to support their family obligations in different stages of their lives. I am proud of the fact that our office has one of the lowest turnover rates among the members of both the legal and support staff, and we have managed to achieve overall high employee satisfaction over the years.

How have these challenges changed over the years?

In recent years, increased client expectations for efficiency and cost-effectiveness, fueled by technological advances are adding to the challenges law firms in general have to address. Some clients are ahead of lawyers in implementing the latest technology and they also have easier access to legal information nowadays (via the internet, for example). Although the nature of legal issues has remained the same, it is the way in which lawyers are expected to deliver their work products and advice that has changed significantly. In the competitive world of legal services, in this new age of technology and information, law firms that keep up and invest considerable amounts of time and funds in implementing the best new tools and solutions will achieve higher client satisfaction.

What are the technological changes you have seen since you began running the office?

There are many. It’s been quite fascinating to witness the changes in our legal industry and the effects of these changes, from the way we operate to meet various client demands to the rapid evolution of office technology, all supporting a continuous quest to achieve higher levels of efficiency and profitability. A good example of the evolution of office technology only requires a short trip down memory lane: After decades of law firms doing things relatively the same way all over the world, the 1980s technological revolution – from the spread of computerized technology to sophisticated duplicating devices – finally knocked down the door. When fellow “Generation-X” professionals started working in the late ’90s, it was customary for international law firms to send 200-plus-page faxes several times a day back and forth to the client/other party, with comments and mark ups and then more comments, changes ... etc. for weeks or even months during the course of a typical transaction. Secretarial staff spent hours safeguarding the proper transmittance of such lengthy faxes (often late at night), standing by the fax machines (and away from their desks where they could have been working on other projects), which resulted in lots of overtime costs in addition to the gigantic telecom bills each month and ultimately – in burnout. A lot has happened since. I don’t even remember the last time I sent or received a fax. Junior secretaries nowadays don’t even know how a fax machine works! They have become completely obsolete. Faxing was replaced by sending documents via e-mail many years ago, saving a lot of time, secretarial capacity and money – not to mention paper. During the past ten years, both the hardware and the software essential for electronic document transmitting and viewing have undergone groundbreaking evolutions.

Have these changes made your job easier? Have some actually increased your responsibilities?

Yes, in a lot of ways they have definitely made all of our jobs easier. Communicating has never been so easy, fast and cost-effective as it is now. Today, the ways professionals can access a document immediately after it’s been sent are nearly limitless, regardless of their physical location, provided there is an internet connection. These changes have substantially impacted support staff workloads and duties, requiring continuous professional development to keep up with the changes. In 
addition, law firm professionals must put more emphasis on proper storage and safekeeping of electronic files, as opposed to old-fashioned physical files. New technological solutions also helped free up office space. This change was particularly welcome when we carried out a major office expansion and refurbishment due to the growth of our Budapest office, and we no longer needed to allocate space for a server room on site.

Have these changes increased expectations for how much you can do?

The expectation is not necessarily on how much, but rather how quickly and efficiently we manage to get the job done and respond to our clients’ needs.

Have you seen a reduction in support staff – or changes in job descriptions – due to the ability to do more electronically?

Again, support staff members from IS to legal secretaries are expected to keep up with the technological changes and complete their tasks more efficiently. Speaking of efficiency, in order to maintain a historically low secretary-to-attorney ratio, these days legal secretaries must learn to use more applications than ever before and become proficient users of various complex programs. For example, more court filings, etc. are done electronically now. Skilled and experienced legal secretaries, who can wear many hats, have language skills and who are always eager to learn new ways of doing their job are highly valuable assets in any law firm.

What about overall efficiency in a field like legal work? In other industries, paper can be replaced, but isn’t the legal profession lagging behind in this respect?

Yes, it is true.  Law firms will be among the last to give up the use of paper, but that’s the nature of our business.  As long as executed original copies are required by various authorities to complete and register transactions, it is out of our control. What we did many years ago, however, was to implement a firm-wide policy to use recycled paper, recycled toners and to print documents double-sided, considerably cutting back on paper consumption and cost. Many of our attorneys strive to minimize printing out documents by reviewing them on the screen instead (using two monitors); however, it is not always feasible. This remains an area for continued improvement in the legal profession.