If there is one thing that is affecting the health and economy globally to a great extent presently, it is nothing but coronavirus. After originating in Wuhan, China, it has traveled all over the world, impacting nations and businesses worldwide, and the legal industry is no exception.
So, let’s get started and throw some light on the impact created by coronavirus on the legal sector through industry experts.
1. Remote Working is on the Rise
Andrew Legrand, Founder, and Owner of Spera Law Group
It really depends on how the lawyers have prepared for such an event.
Some firms, such as ours, are built primarily in the cloud, and think remote first. We’re fine, and we’re working as normal. All of our processes are designed with the thought that we primarily work from home, and need to get work done there, first.
We do have an office where we can meet clients, but no one wants to meet right now.
Other firms are physical first. Meaning, they depend on everyone being a physical present in an office to get work done. Those lawyers are scrambling to become remote and work on what many of us have worked on for years.
Courts typically fit into the physical first category.
Overall, it seems like as more lawyers adjust to remote first, they’ll find that the legal industry is primed to move to more remote work. Generally, very few tasks done by a law office actually have to be done in person. As lawyers and staff learn to work from home, they’ll likely enjoy it, and force employers to allow more of it in the future.
2. Incorporating the use of Video Conferencing Software
Justin A. Hill , Owner of Hill Law Firm
One thing we are seeing in a big way is the wholesale incorporating of Zoom and other video conferencing software into our day to day practice. From courts allowing hearings by video to depositions and client meetings by video, the landscape of how we interact is changing very fast.
In the end, this will be a great thing for the industry to know that those options are available and workable in a real way.
3. Physical Operations have come to a Halt
Bradley Steven, Founder of LLC Formations
The outbreak of coronavirus has affected almost every business including the legal industry. With a particular cluster of infections, the law firms are continuing to shut down. The law firms in China, USA, Hong Kong, Milan, London, and in far eastern territories are almost closed. Not only has this but the law schools are also closed as the pandemic spread globally seemed inevitable. Even the courts of England and Wales are thinking to be well prepared to conduct most of the cases remotely during the epidemic coronavirus outbreak.
Considering the current situation, I have also closed my office and asked the employees to work from home. We communicate via Zoom and discuss the ongoing projects and business goals. Since the outbreak does not seem to end anytime soon, China has already declared that it’s Supreme People’s Court and the courts of every level will be mediating the cases through online systems. Extending the activity, China has promoted the mobile micro court in the majority of its provinces to help the local courts to conduct trials on the internet.
The establishment of online courts can be made possible in every country. The witnesses can appear by video in many cases under special measures to protect vulnerable witnesses from intimidation. However, this practice could challenge the jury to decide if someone is telling the truth or not. But the exercise will cover all the criminal as well as civil litigations and may go much better than expected for the initial development of online courts.
4. Without Physical Presence, Things are becoming Complicated
Shira Kalfa, Founder & Partner of Kalfa Law
A unique impact on law firms is our inability to commission affidavits in the presence of our clients, or independently verify our clients identify before releasing funds in a transaction as is required by our regulatory bar. The Bar has announced that virtual commissioning is permissible during these unique circumstances however we must be sure to continue to witness the signature and have the affiant hold the document up for us to view the authentic signature. We must ensure the affiant takes the proper oath within our view.
Another related issue is that of banking and the transfer of funds. On any given transaction, we must attend 1-3 banks to tend to payouts and, given the general requirement for us to stay home and to reduce unnecessary travel and trips, it becomes increasingly difficult to close a transaction (either real estate or commercial transaction) without requiring our staff to spend half of the day driving from bank to bank.
The difficulty is that our transactional systems and practice of law are stuck in the ’80s where we must obtain certified bank drafts and then physically drive to the bank account of our vendor or client to deposit the guaranteed funds. We need wire transfer capabilities, however, the Bar is not there.
Generally speaking, lawyers will not accept wire of closing funds and require a physical draft to be deposited at the branch. These difficulties are stifling our ability to conduct closings as transactional lawyers with many deals seeing delays until after the lockdown is lifted due to this reason.
5. Contract Breaches are becoming More Complicated
Andrew Taylor, Director of Net Lawman
I have found that there is a boost in demand for my area of practice at least – where I deal with commercial law and support other businesses and business owners. There are a lot of questions coming through about breaching contracts, how one can do this during a crisis, are there exemptions and the sort.
We have invested heavily in ensuring that the security of our client’s information and identity remains secure as we move digitally as best we can. We believe this investment is 110% worthwhile and know that our clients will thank us for the extra effort we are putting in to meet their needs and respond accordingly.
6. Electronic File Sharing is on the Rise
David Perecman, Founder at The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C
In New York City, law firms no longer have a choice for workers to perform their job duties on-premises – offices must be closed and workers must remotely, assuming they are set up for that. Currently, staff members need some form of remote access to their desk computers to do work and access files and documents. Depending on the firm, most of this may have been in place already. Depending on the resources of the company, firm owners must also make a big decision regarding their personnel’s hours: can they be paid full time or part-time? Ideally, all staff would be able to work remotely and receive payment as usual.
By executive order, filing documents with the court is on hold in New York; however, documents can be electronically sent to adversaries and co-counsel or parties on the other side of a deal.
A current complication is mail. Now firms must have it picked up at the post office at intervals and delivered to people in the firm to be handled, scanned, etc., or have it forwarded to the attorney’s personal address. There are delays with this method, but it can be done. For banking, we can get a scanner and make arrangements with the bank to scan deposit checks and have a checkbook offsite for someone to write and send out checks as needed.
Mediation companies are also working remotely for those who use them, and depositions can be done remotely as well. In addition, there are digital methods of actually marking documents as exhibits. On the day to day running of the business, we still can utilize phones and teleconference abilities – we will be able to get through this.
7. Reduced Number of New Cases
Darryl Smith, Founding Partner of Florida Car Accident Lawyer Team
“The coronavirus has temporarily shut down many law firms for the foreseeable future. As a company that represents car accident victims, the number of people in need of our services has reduced over the past month. We are spending our time wisely, and focusing on improving our business practices until the economy stabilizes and things are back to normal.”
8. Financial Decisions are getting Affected by Cash Flow
Leah Norod, an Associate Attorney at Romano Law
“As transactional lawyers, we’re currently seeing a shift in priorities from our clients, where deals or transactions are being put on the backburner or on hold indefinitely as cash flow became a concern for many companies and individuals.
However, the employment law area of our practice has had a spike in recent weeks as business owners try to understand their obligations to their employees in the face of this outbreak.
Similarly, our entertainment practice has remained steady as producers and creators use this time to their advantage to generate or develop new content. Law firms should anticipate the needs of their clients in the coming weeks by providing helpful bulletins or web content and being readily available to help assist in emergencies.
9. Our Remote Work Policy Worked for Us
Shiyang Gong, Attorney at DeHeng Law offices and CEO of AiLaw
Like other businesses, law firms are also badly affected by the COVID-19, and it also impacted our law firm. We are making some decisions for the protection of employees and planning to avoid a financial loss during this pandemic. First of all, we restrict the travel of our employees, cancel their conferences, and our HR department is reviewing travel arrangements for all staff as the situation is going worse every day.
We implemented a remote work policy, for all attorneys and other office employees to avoid financial loss. We ensure that all internal and client-facing meetings done remotely using software for video conferencing. AiLaw firm is already a paperless and cloud-based law firm, now we are allowing everyone to access necessary documents and systems whether or not they are in the office.
In the current scenario, we ensure our employees that their health is our priority and offering any possible support for them and their families. We have also started cross-training employees to be able to do the jobs of others and asked our team to prepare working extra hours if needed to cover for a sick team member.
10. The Two Sides of the Impact – Financial and Client Perspective
Matthew Kreitzer, Owner of Matthew L. Kreitzer
There are two major ways that the shut down has impacted the legal industry; a) a financial perspective and b) a client perspective.
From a financial perspective, small law firms make most of their money on billable work. We rely on new clients coming through the doors, similar to any other small business. Safety precautions have limited our ability to meet with new clients, thus driving down the amount of revenue we can take in.
From a client perspective, law firms are limited in their ability to go to the court to get help on their cases. Many families are calling in with issues that are either time-sensitive or they need some kind of relief. However, only the most severe of cases (cases involving clients denied bond or cases of domestic abuse) are still going forward. Most people are waiting months, sometimes until July, to get any kind of help from the court system. This can be disastrous for landlords and small business owners.
This concludes the fact that every legal professional has been affected by a coronavirus in one way or the other. Everyone is trying hard to deal with this challenge successfully through technology support, outsourcing litigation services, remote working, enhanced client communication, and service, etc. One cannot say till when one needs to work like this, but till the time coronavirus stays, mutual support and working is the only way to get through such difficult times.