Every industry in the U.S. has been affected in some way by the COVID-19 crisis, including law. The legal world is traditionally slow and cautious when it comes to change and has not been affected as easily by past economic downturns. However, the effects of this crisis have exposed weak points in the world of law and at the same time have sparked innovations that will continue to be used even after the crisis ends.
COVID-19 revealed just how outdated the legal world is. This has forced changes in the way that the law is taught and how legal services are delivered to customers. Additionally, it shows how justice itself is dispensed.
Over the past month, law schools have gone digital, the problems with partnership model law firms have been exposed, and technology has become a requirement rather than a suggestion. The legal industry has been turned on its head as long-held traditions have been abandoned without much of a fight.
These changes are likely to stay and become a legacy of COVID-19 that may last well past the cure of the virus.
Many in the industry recognize the opportunity to begin learning how to better serve consumers. According to Forbes, “The industry will be less inward-focused and far more customer-centric.”
It will be consumers and the marketplace that determines the validity of law students and law firms. Technology has always been underutilized by many industries despite the growing consumer demand. There are over 45 million smart home devices already a part of U.S. households. Embracing technology will provide instantaneous access to whatever knowledge a consumer or lawyer needs and the differences between in-house, outside counsel, and allied legal will be lost.
In order to adapt, many changes will have to be made. Law schools will have to become more than degree factories. Legal education will have to become cheaper, easier, faster, and more broadly focused on learning for life.
According to Legal Evolution’s
Paul Smith, “As COVID-19 plays out, law firm marketing will move inevitably from events and hospitality to savvy digital offerings with more self-service emphasis and more sophisticated and mindful use of client data.”
The use of technology will only increase as the modernization of legal culture and the justice system continues.
As the global healthcare industry struggles with a shortage of staff for 7.2 million positions, unprecedented numbers of people are unemployed and seeking legal aid. This is pushing the legal industry toward a whole new culture based on the buy-sell dynamic. Additionally, the needs and wants of legal consumers that could be born as a result of COVID might push collaboration, experience, and results over pedigrees and provenance.
There is also the matter of regulatory barriers to legal help in both the corporate and consumer markets that must be removed. COVID-19 has given lawyers and legal professionals the incredible opportunity to modernize the justice system into something faster, more accessible, and efficient, something no other American crisis has managed.
One such judicial modernization is Remote Courts Worldwide spearheaded by Richard Susskind who wrote, “Online Courts and the Future of Justice.” The Remote Courts Worldwide website allows lawyers, judges, and others in the industry to communicate and exchange ideas about how to modernize judicial systems around the world.
The industry also has an opportunity to modernize the culture of law firms and hopefully help curb the horrific suicide, mental health, alcoholism, substance abuse, and divorce rates that occur among legal professionals. In fact, across the U.S. a divorce occurs about every 36 seconds. COVID-19 may inspire a reboot of legal culture that encourages an understanding of emotional intelligence, flexibility, diversity, equality, and work-life balance. This can only be done if the industry agrees to change the metrics that define it and pushes for an understanding of core values that define the legal profession.
The COVID-19 Virus has forced social distancing and remote working on legal workers which has only sparked the creation of new social structures among law firms. The “human side” of lawyers is visible when their spouses, kids, and pets make themselves known on camera. As this continues and distinct distance between work and home life is crossed the legal industry may be pushed into a more modern era. COVID-19 might just be responsible for the legal industry’s cultural revolution.