COVID-19 has abruptly brought our world to a screeching halt. We can all agree that the post-pandemic world will be different, and the legal practice will not be an exception. As we continue to be apart and try to overcome the global pandemic, it’s easy to become despondent about what the future waves of the virus will wage upon us as we absorb the sobering fact that a majority of will catch the virus and thousands of people will die.
Lawyers – like everyone else dealing with the pandemic – cannot delude themselves into thinking this is a short-term problem. The global pandemic will have a profound and lasting effect on the world and the practice. Rather than think about the grim statistics, we need to focus on the purpose of our practice and how to perform the work we have been trained to do. We must stay safe, healthy, keep in touch with loved ones and – most importantly – look at the situation as an opportunity to modernize how we deliver services.
For several years I have been talking about using technology in the practice and adapting to the tsunami of changes tech is bringing to our society. We have ignored and resisted the technological changes that are changing the way we practice.
It is no longer enough to use e-filing, email, video conferencing, video-based court hearings, and e-signatures. We must move to the cloud, learn to work easily from home, adapt to video-based mediations, and get comfortable with remote teaching, and then we have to move further down the road of advancing the practice. There has to be a more serious approach and greater thought given to how we will be practicing law in the future.
This will require a complete change in paradigm of the practice.
- The portion of society that solos and small firms service – the middle class – will be devastated by the pandemic. Already the stock market crash has taken about 25% of the retirement portfolio, over 4,000,000 people will be applying for unemployment, supply chains are being stretched to the limit, and a global recession is not far away. So, who will be able to afford legal services?
- We will have to work harder to get justice for the people most affected by the collapse of the economy.
- More businesses will be going bankrupt.
- More retail space will become vacant.
- Embracing technology beyond Zoom and video conferencing and moving into collaborative technology.
- Remote working, online courts, eLibraries, digital signatures, case management and knowledge management are now mandatory.
- Increased use of electronically stored information (ESI).
- Accepting artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics, predictive analytics which have already disrupted the legal market.
And through this tsunami of effects, where will lawyers stand? Will we be sitting on the beach catching some rays as the tsunami overcomes us? Will we be like the lobster who gets washed up onto a rock and refuses to move the several inches to the ocean to survive?
If we are the leaders that we profess to be, then let’s lead. Let’s find some answers. Let’s propose new systems for helping solve legal problems and serving the community. Or we can all become Uber drivers (at least until drivers are still needed)
There are lots of directions we can take individually and creative, innovative steps the bar can take, but whatever we do, we need to move now! I don’t have all the answers, but I refuse to be drowned by the tsunami that has hit us. We need to start be the leaders of society which lawyers have been recognized to be.