COVID-19 has changed everything about our day-to-day lives, but as we look toward potential reopenings, law firms must consider how the pandemic will change how we operate going forward. Will we return to our offices? How will we meet with clients? Will courts return to typical sessions or operate remotely? There’s a lot up in the air, but there are a few changes that we can all expect to see in the coming months.
Providing Compliance Leadership
One of the most serious concerns facing businesses across the country right now is how to safely open up without putting staff and customers at risk; liability is on everyone’s mind, and that’s no surprise, given the hundreds of virus-related lawsuits that have already been filed. In order for any business to open up, then, companies need to confront both the public health and legal issues involved and all of them should be consulting with lawyers to minimize their legal liability before welcoming staff and customers onto the premises.
What does this mean for law firms, specifically? While law firms obviously need to consider the same factors before inviting clients back into their offices, especially given that attorneys can, broadly speaking, practice remotely, that’s not the only factor at play. Many firms will likely see high demand for one-time services regarding compliance, discrimination issues, and what policies are most appropriate for businesses in the process fo reopening.
A Cautious Public Presence
In addition to the high demand for services, law firms will need to be careful about cultivating their public reputation. Yes, firms want to present themselves in a way that will attract clients, regardless of a global pandemic, but it’s important to remember that the public is often skeptical of lawyers and regulations more broadly.
Just how concerning is the issue of reputation? In a survey by Console & Associates, 51% of people said they’d ask for referrals from friends and family because they would only want to work with someone they can trust. Overall skepticism is only amplified by what many view as legal or governmental overreach in the course of the pandemic, making firms even more cautious about how they market themselves.
Increased Non-Attorney Tasks
Not everyone who goes to law school is a practicing lawyer; others with a legal education don’t practice whether because they didn’t pass the bar, because they haven’t maintained their licensure, or because they’re now retired. In some ways, that’s a problem – there are a lot of things this group of individuals can’t do – but in the post-COVID era, non-attorneys are likely to perform a lot of critical tasks that don’t require them to go before the court. In particular, retired attorneys or those who have left practice might offer remote consultations via tech platforms that may help interpret and draft policies for businesses, freeing up practicing lawyers to handle more serious cases.
So many ordinary legal functions have fallen by the wayside since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, from divorce proceedings to personal injury suits, but eventually, things have to go back to normal – or at least find a new normal. That means finding a way to operate in the midst of an ongoing pandemic.
Doing so will require caution, wisdom, and willingness to change direction, but what’s important is remembering there is a way forward and that as legal professionals we need to responsibly model what that looks like.