There is no question that COVID-19 has left lasting changes in our lives. There is evidence of this everywhere: in the way that we socialize, shop, and even do business. Most industries have virtually reinvented their way of doing business in order to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.
One sector that has experienced major changes is the legal industry. From streaming court hearings to making technology-based legal services more accessible to the public, nearly every facet of the legal industry has been touched in some way by COVID-19. Below, we look at some of the ways the legal industry has evolved as a result of the pandemic.
Adaptation to Technology
When shelter-in-place orders were first imposed, it virtually left the entire legal system at a standstill. This forced the industry to either make massive changes or face a complete shutdown. What followed was a major shift towards technology in order to adapt.
A technology that has become critical during this time is videoconferencing. Videoconferencing tools, such as Zoom, soon became a necessity for legal professionals. They were used to conduct client meetings and hold depositions, mediations, and also webinars.
Collaborative applications like Microsoft Team and Slack have made it easy for attorneys to work from home and still remain in communication with the office. It allows coworkers to videoconference, send instant messages, share files, and edit documents online.
Prior to the pandemic, cloud computing was already available, offering data storage, networking, and easy access to software. Solutions, such as Microsoft and Clio, have endeavored to make it easy for offices to work remotely. In addition, there was already a movement towards the digital transformation of legal files. However, for most law offices, moving its operations to the cloud did not become essential until COVID-19 hit.
Because of technology, many firms were able to transition to working off-site during the pandemic. In fact, the move went so smoothly that many anticipate the trend to continue beyond COVID-19. Some may even take drastic measures and make it a permanent way of doing business. Since real estate is one of the largest expenses for law firms, many are considering reducing the amount of office space they occupy and moving their employees to a home office instead.
One innovation that quickly developed during the pandemic was e-Filing apps. They helped expedite cases by processing court files without having to go to the courthouse. The apps enabled the user to do the following:
- File documents in courts
- Arrange for service of process, subpoenas, and other documents
- Retrieve documents remotely
- Pay fees and penalties online,
Streaming Court Hearings
The courts also made groundbreaking changes in response to the pandemic restrictions. In order to prevent the “bottlenecking” of cases, many trial courts held hearings using videoconferencing tools. Later, many state supreme courts followed suit. Although the federal courts have been considerably slower in adapting to this new environment, the U.S. Appeals Court and the Supreme Court have permitted live streaming on a limited basis. Needless to say, the live streaming of court hearings would not have been conceivable before the pandemic.
Big Four Accounting Firms Adding Legal Services to its Arsenal
In 2014, three of the “Big Four” accounting firms, PwC, EY, and KPMG, were allowed to acquire law firms in the United Kingdom. Since then, there has been a drive for the major accounting firms to extend further into the legal sector. This took center stage during the pandemic when Deloitte launched its Legal Business Services in the U.S. They stated that in doing so, they will be able to offer more value-added service to their clients.
Non-Lawyer Ownership of Legal Services
Deloitte was not the only major company that has expanded into the legal industry. Both UnitedLex and Axiom have joined in, as well. Though none of them hold law licenses, there is a belief that consumers want more than just legal knowledge from their legal service provider. Rather, they want value-added service. By offering versatile multi-disciplinary service with business and digital solutions, these companies aim to succeed in this new territory.
Digital Legal Exchange
If there is anything that the shelter-in-place experience has shown the legal community, it is the need for more digital transformation. Organizations like the Digital Legal Exchange, a non-profit global institute, have led the drive to accelerate digital transformation by giving a forum for the community to share ideas and collaborate to make this happen on a larger scale. They have held workshops and other events, such as leadership events, podcasts, and panel discussions that are focused on the digital transformation of the legal industry.
State Regulatory Reforms
The pandemic has also brought into focus the need for regulatory reform of the legal industry. More specifically, there is a lot of interest in making technology-based legal services more accessible to the public. The challenge of determining eligibility for the COVID-19 stimulus packages made this quite evident. Consequently, there has been a lot of support for technologies and businesses that make legal services more efficient and affordable to the general public.
The support for legal industry reform also extended to permitting non-lawyers to own or invest in law firms. The state of Utah was the first to pave the way for this by approving several reforms that will make it possible for non-lawyers to offer legal services. Soon after, Arizona followed Utah’s example. Seeing the value of legal paraprofessionals that can offer legal services on a limited basis to the public, the court removed the ban on alternative business structures, fee sharing, non-lawyer ownership, and multi-disciplinary practice.
From technology to the court level, the impact of COVID-19 on the legal industry has been significant. Whether this is just temporary or will have lasting effects, it remains to be seen.
If you want more information about how the legal industry has changed due to COVID-19, call Client Chat Live at call (808) 495-0231 or visit our contact page. We can show you how these advancements can benefit your business.