The pandemic and its effects have dramatically affected the practice of law and will continue to have a long-term impact on the ways that legal work is conducted in the years to come. The good news is that now that vaccine rates are on the rise in the United States, it’s possible for members of the legal profession to envision and prepare for the post-pandemic world.
That’s where a new report issued by the ABA Coordinating Group on Practice Forward comes in. This report was published a few weeks ago and is designed to increase understanding about both the impact of the pandemic on the practice of law and predictions about the future of the legal profession.
The report, “Practicing Law in the Pandemic and Moving Forward: Results and Best Practices from a Nationwide Survey of the Legal Profession,” was based on input from 4,200 ABA members “from all geographic areas, practice settings, sizes of firms, corporations, and organizations, levels of experience, age, family status, races and ethnicities, types of gender identity, and types of disabilities.” The results cover a broad range of topics such as the impact of the pandemic on the legal profession, the post-pandemic expectations of lawyers, the impact of the pandemic on diversity and inclusion, and recommendations for both legal employers and individual lawyers.
The report included, among other things, recommendations for lawyers seeking to take advantage of the “new normal” on the other side of the pandemic. For example, one key piece of advice contained in the report for lawyers in leadership positions is that they should take steps to maintain law firm culture now that working remotely has become commonplace and will likely continue in the post-pandemic world.
Notably, the authors emphasized the importance of having the technology in place to facilitate communicating and collaborating with work colleagues regardless of where they happen to be working: “(T)he pandemic has underscored the importance of collaboration, communication, and teamwork. Going forward, organizations need to better understand how to foster resilient, effective and gritty teams that can work well together, rather than a culture where lawyers are siloed, rarely interact at a personal level, and are prone to hoarding work or clients for themselves.”
Another key piece of advice from the report is the need for law firm leaders to prioritize technology spending in order build in business resiliency. This is because the pandemic ushered in a remote working revolution, and out of necessity, most law firms were eventually able to put technology into place during the pandemic. More often than not the tools relied upon to facilitate remote work included cloud-based tools, since putting that software in place was the only way to ensure continued operation and financial stability.
For many firms, those technologies now play an important part in their business continuity plan and help protect the firms from the effects of another unplanned disruption. According to the authors of the report, this built-in business resiliency is one of the keys to success in the post-pandemic world: “If the profession is to move forward to more remote working, employers need to provide both state-of-the-art technology and readily available staff to help out when glitches arise. It could, for example, be a good investment for firms to provide stipends that help lawyers, as well as staff and paralegals, to obtain the resources that they need to sustain a home office…”
Finally, the authors of the report suggested that the pandemic offers the legal profession an opportunity to restructure the way that law firms operate. For far too long legal employers have remained stubbornly resistant to fundamental changes and have insisted that alternative ways of practicing law, such as remote work, were an impossibility given the nature of the practice of law.
As the authors explain, the pandemic has shown that their protestations were grounded in outdated assumptions, rather than in facts: “The unprecedented transition to remote work has truly created a ‘new normal,’ and this paradigm shift will have far-reaching consequences for the profession well after the pandemic has abated … As we emerge from the pandemic, we have the unique opportunity to re-evaluate and reimagine all aspects of the practice of law. For too many years, law firms, companies, and other work settings that employ lawyers have defaulted to structures, policies, and practices that are a carryover from decades-old approaches to hiring, retention, advancement, compensation, and diversity.”
Hear, hear! It’s high time that we reimagined the practice of law by taking full advantage of the many benefits offered by technology. Is your law firm ready for the “new normal”? If not, what are you waiting for? There’s no better time than now to prepare for the future of law practice by laying the technological building blocks for success in the post-pandemic world.
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase legal practice management software. She is the nationally recognized author of “Cloud Computing for Lawyers” (2012) and co-authors “Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier” (2010), both published by the American Bar Association. She also co-authors “Criminal Law in New York,” a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for Above the Law, ABA Journal, and The Daily Record, has authored hundreds of articles for other publications, and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. She is an ABA Legal Rebel, and is listed on the Fastcase 50 and ABA LTRC Women in Legal Tech. She can be contacted at email@example.com.