7 Lasting Ways COVID-19 Has Changed Law Practice
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted nearly every industry imaginable, from healthcare to hospitality. The legal field is no exception.
In the early days of the pandemic, law firms had to pivot quickly to maintain client services without exacerbating a public health crisis – for example, by shifting from in-person client meetings to video calls. COVID and law practice’s evolution will continue well beyond these immediate adaptations. Attorneys can anticipate some of the pandemic’s impacts to last a long time.
COVID and Law Practice: 7 Pandemic-Related Changes Lawyers Will See
From how attorneys work to where they work, these are some ways the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the legal field for the long term.
Certain Legal Areas Are Going to See Increased Demand
The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic saw a spike in certain areas of law. Employment lawyers noted an escalation in coronavirus lawsuits related to discrimination and termination. This trend may be here to stay as workers and employers grapple with new touchy topics, such as the possible requirement for “vaccine passports” as a potential condition of employment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has already ruled that employers may mandate COVID-19 vaccines.
The ramifications of the pandemic go far beyond employment law. The pandemic has pushed many companies to institute home-office policies and some companies plan to make such policies permanent. Technology law dealing with data storage, privacy compliance, and cybersecurity are likely to take off and remain in high demand as more businesses move online.
Remote Work Will Become Increasingly Normalized
The trend toward remote work has also impacted law firms. This may benefit lawyers, as firms will be pushed to accept greater flexibility. In some cases, this may encourage an improved work/life balance. However, other attorneys may find it more difficult to separate their private and professional lives.
The continued adoption of remote work also raises new concerns for law firms. Teleconferences, digital file-sharing services, and email exchanges are all potential targets for cyber criminals. Cybercrime is expected to increase in 2021. Law firms will have to ensure they have the cybersecurity tools and processes to protect sensitive client data. Risk reduction measures like cyber insurance will gain significance as a result.
The Forces That Shape Workplace Dynamics Are Set to Shift
In the past, mid-day lunches and after-work socializing were part of a lawyer’s everyday networking with colleagues, superiors, and clients. These opportunities are now limited and will likely remain restricted going ahead. This may make it more difficult for junior-level attorneys to effectively network and make the contacts they need to advance their careers. COVID and law practice’s developments will require lawyers to find other ways to forge professional connections.
Emphasis on social capital as a means of career advancement may thus decline. Instead, more focus will be given to factors like technical prowess, which will be crucial to successfully implementing tools needed for secure remote working.
Technology Skills Are Going to be Increasingly Valuable
Future lawyers will have to demonstrate competence with various software and hardware, from secure document-sharing platforms to videoconferencing. Proprietary cloud-based law firm management systems may become the “new normal” to ensure continuity of service.
Increased openness toward technology may also allow for greater automation in the legal field. Workflow automation solutions and enterprise legal management (ELM) platforms can digitize processes like contract requests. An automated contract renewal request can be followed up with an automated request to e-sign the relevant non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
The Tipping Point of In-House Versus Outside Counsel May Shift
The increased acceptance of remote work will also impact the ongoing debate on the need for in-house versus outside counsel. Both law firms and corporate legal teams will likely end up reviewing business continuity plans and reevaluating the outside firms they are currently using.
Changes within the legal field, such as firm consolidation and specialization shifts following COVID, will also impact firms’ and companies’ decisions on where they send their external work in the future. The influx of Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSPs) is another consideration.
The use of ALSPs was already on the rise before the more recent developments regarding COVID and law practice. A continued desire for further cost-cutting measures following the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic means this trend is likely to continue.
Catering to the Client Will Be More Important Than Ever
Legal field changes will impact clients as well. For example, online billing and client payment collection systems are likely to become standard practice. This is another step toward ensuring continuity of service in case of unforeseen disruptions similar to COVID. Lawyers may have to guide clients who are less technologically adept. This adds a new level of service to the typical attorney-client relationship.
On the topic of billing, financial pressure on clients may impact law firms. While law firms tend to weather economic downturns better than firms in other industries, they aren’t immune to trickle-down effects. Legal services providers may face pressure to provide different billing models. Possible alternatives that can be used in place of or in conjunction with the billable hour include flat-fee arrangements, contingency fees, and fee caps (billing up to a certain amount).
Greater flexibility may also be seen in terms of payment methods. COVID generally accelerated the transition toward digital payments because of concerns regarding unsanitary cash transactions. While digital and online payment methods have long been the norm for law firms, a new possibility is the use of cryptocurrency to pay for legal services.
The issue was already raised in mid-2020 when the Washington D.C. Bar issued an ethics opinion that lawyers in D.C. are permitted to accept cryptocurrency for legal services payments. However, the fee agreement must be reasonable, and the attorneys should have the means to safeguard the virtual asset.
Overall, COVID and law practice’s evolution will ultimately gravitate toward more flexible and agile means of working with clients.
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