From airlines to restaurants, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted just about every industry in the United States.
More than a year after the pandemic, coronavirus cases are finally declining throughout most of the country and industry leaders are beginning to wonder what post-pandemic “normal” will look like.
Let’s take a look at the 3 biggest ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic changed the legal industry, and whether or not you can expect these changes to be permanent.
The digitalization of the legal industry
The pandemic forced the notoriously old-school legal industry to embrace technology in a dramatic way. With many law firms and courts closed, lawyers were suddenly forced to work from home using tools like Zoom, LawWare, Document Direct, Slack, and Microsoft Teams.
Many legal experts anticipate that at least some degree of telecommuting will remain in the legal profession. This belief is based, in part, on the fact that law firms were able to transition to remote offices much more smoothly than expected.
What’s more, law firms discovered that they can save a ton of money by reducing their office footprint. As Kent Zimmermann, a consultant at Zeughauser Group who advises law firm leaders, explains:
“There was already some movement in that direction, but I think [the pandemic] will accelerate momentum toward less big corner offices [and] more flexible arrangements in more firms for more people.”
The pandemic didn’t just change where lawyers work, it changed how lawyers provide legal services.
Courts that had lagged behind on the path to digitalization were forced to allow lawyers to submit court forms online, and to conduct depositions, hearings, and trials remotely. The U.S. Supreme Court (a historically camera-shy institution) even live-streamed oral arguments for the first time in its history.
Although most courts are open for in-person business again, the pandemic has forced states to examine how they can use technology to improve access to justice. For example, Michigan recently launched a permanent online dispute resolution service for certain civil disputes and small claims matters.
Reduced legal services and litigation delays
Lawyers experienced a significant dropoff in work during the pandemic, as many potential clients, understandably hesitant to venture outside their homes, put off seeking legal help.
The lack of new clients coincided with the lack of work that could be done for existing clients due to court and law firm closures.
We don’t expect this trend of reduced legal services to continue. Lawyers across the country have already reported a rise in disputes related to the pandemic. These disputes include:
- Coronavirus-related personal injury and wrongful death claims
- Disputes arising out of employment relationships
- Domestic violence disputes
What’s more, the courts are beginning to sort through the massive backlog of cases that were put on hold during the pandemic.
Changing role for female attorneys
The pandemic was particularly hard on female attorneys with children, who in many cases took on a disproportionate amount of the childcare work.
Readers familiar with our annual Women in Law School reports will remember that, although women have outnumbered men in law school classrooms for 5 years in a row, they are still underrepresented in the legal world and especially in leadership positions.
What’s more, women have been leaving the legal industry at a higher rate than men. It will be interesting to see whether these trends continue and perhaps become even more extreme as a result of the pandemic.