HOW LEGAL PROFESSION IS ADAPTING TO COVID-19 SITUATION
This article is written by Vidisha Mishra and Prachika Modi from the KIIT School of Law.
Covid-19 has changed the legal culture in India, which no one could have imagined. In India, the legal profession has always been slow to adopt the technology but due to coronavirus firms, courthouses, attorneys, counsels are adopting new methods. From overcrowded courts to e-courts, from office client meetings to virtual client meetings, and many more. The COVID-19 situation has stopped cash flows and reduced the number of cases a law firm gets. It has been very difficult for attorneys and in-house counsels to adapt to work from home culture when the whole family is at home. It was very difficult for aged-attorneys to understand the digital world and to use hundreds’ of different apps for work on top of that slow internet connection makes it a lot more difficult. The zeal to work in any situation has helped law firms in passing such crises. Law firms and their employees with the help of technology have worked together to overcome such situations, firms have developed software to track working hours of employees, provided measures to curb cybercrime, and many more which you’ll further read in the paper. The paper gives an idea of how law firms have sustained this pandemic situation.
The world will be a better place after Covid-19 as firms and courts have adopted virtual hearings and meetings. The government has laid down certain policies looking into the pandemic situation, which the legal bodies need to follow. Firms have come up with certain healthcare facilities that will help employees deal with stress and anxiety.
COVID-19 has made the world stand still against it. Every day the number of cases is rising but slowly the public spaces, religious institutions, business, and other institutions are reopening with safety precautions because of the economic crisis. The pandemic has affected every aspect of business and society. The legal profession has suffered tremendously in this pandemic.
The courthouses across the country have been forced to adopt new technologies at every stage of proceedings. Before courts were overcrowded with lawyers, litigants, public and other staff but now it is replaced by virtual and e-court systems. The courtroom procedures, client meetings, work relations, etc. has undergone a drastic change during the lockdown. Coronavirus has affected the functioning of the Bar and the Bench has caused suffering to independent law practitioners, in-house counsels, law students, junior advocates, law clerks, etc. Yet it has brought in gradual transformation at various parts of the legal world.
IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON LAW FIRMS
1. Distribution of Cash Flow
Law firms are facing a significant impact on their cash flows because clients are looking for other investments, funds, and payments. In-house counsels that serve particular clients suffer more in such situations. Firms cannot reach out for new clients and the older ones are leaving so there is no way of cash flow.
2. Changes in case hearing dates
Covid-19 has put an end to the tenacity that operates the courtroom for Law firms. Legal operations have come to a halt. The cases are being dropped or are postponed which reduces the inquires which a law firm expects in a month.
3. Reduction of reporting of cases
Reduction in cases, clients, and postponed meetings results in the closing down of firm because of their inability to carry out legal operations and to pay attorneys and in-house counsels. Such situations affect the morale of the owners and attorneys.
PROBLEMS FACED BY ATTORNEYS AND IN-HOUSE LAWYERS
1. Improper work environment at home
As work from home has become the new normal for business houses but it comes with its own share of problems. An employee might be glad to carry out his duties at home; this type of informal environment will hinder his performance. For an attorney or in-house counsel to focus and work efficiently, there needs to be a silent atmosphere that could help him focus on work. They do not feel motivated and on top of that, family members distract them. In such tough situations, attorneys might face mental and physical health issues. Work from home comes with a huge risk of unprofessionalism and inefficiency at the end of the employee.
2. Lack of finding the right document at the right time
No matter how careful you become while storing relevant documents, some or other gets missed out either by you or your colleague. You may be good at storing documents properly but it does not mean that your peers can store as meticulously as you can. So, when it comes to needing a document urgently, you have to wait while the person whom you have asked for is going through his folders, inbox, shared drive location, etc.
3. Everything has become digitalized
Technology is a big issue for middle age and old age lawyers or whoever dealing in the field of law, they would rather prefer to consume more amount of time on doing something rather than learning new software that would make their work easier. Making lawyers work on an online platform that they were not habituated with and then entering the same data in different systems can be quite tedious.
4. Difficulty due to slow internet service
As the entire nation sits at home, it is very difficult for internet service providers to control traffic over the internet. The server drops very frequently. Virtual meetings and conferences on poor network servers is a nightmare for attorneys and clients as they struggle and waste their time in getting their voices across each other. In a country like India, where there are places with no Wi-Fi servers how are attorneys or in-house counselors going to work?
Cybercriminals are always keen to hack into servers and unlawfully gain an advantage by gaining personal or important information. Working from home makes it more difficult to maintain the attorney-client privilege as the work becomes prone to high-risk keeping cyber-attacks in mind.
6. Less physical interaction
The most basic problem that happens while working from home is very little-to-no physical interaction. A law firm generally follows a multi-faceted chain of command. The associates have to coordinate with senior associates who later on turn to coordinate with partners. The work from home policy weakens the interpersonal bonds between departments and chain of hierarchy too.
HOW LAW FIRMS ADAPTED TO THE COVID-19 SITUATION?
1. Communicating about business
In such difficult times, people assume that firms are closed and subsequently lack of outreach can spread a delusive effect on people that there are no services available– when there is. Law firms are using social media or email promotion that your firm is still open and ready for challenges.
2. Maintaining a connection with clients
Firms use a secure messaging app to keep clients and employees updated about upcoming meetings, document signing, trial dates, or any sudden business changes. This will show their client that whatever the situation is you are the firms’ top priority. After client meetings or events, collecting feedback from attorneys and in-house counsels whether your event or meeting was effective or not. Maintaining connection and transparency will build a relationship of trust that will be very important for future business.
3. Providing Protection against cybercrimes
Law firms are ensuring that attorneys and in-house counsels are using encrypted zip files to prevent their clients’ sensitive data from being exposed. They have also been advised not to use public Wi-Fi networks as they might be looking out for phishing attack emails to seek information such as passwords or codes or might contain some attachments.
4. Stay organized
Working from home can cause lots of distraction, especially when the whole family is at home. In such times, attorneys and in-house counsels are asked to establish a routine when they can completely focus on work and take breaks when they have to deal with personal matters. Attorneys and in-house counsels should create a working space so they do not get distracted during meetings or work.
5. Checking on your employees
Law firms are ensuring that employees feel connected to their firms by consistently communicating and checking their work and growth. Law firms are using apps to keep a check on their working hours and not overburdening them with tasks.
POST COVID-19 SCENARIO
These changes are directly going to affect the legal profession
1. Virtual Workforces
Normalization of remote work, which is the most obvious change for the legal as well as all kinds of professions. This could have fundamental impacts on commercial real estate but also has the potential for significantly affecting state-of-residency decisions for many professionals, cross-organization team building, and a wide variety of other organizational approaches. By extension, it could even have the potential to increase the working careers of many professionals.
2. Role of Government
The expectation from the government will change, so as the relationships between state, local, and federal entities. Government expenditure and demand will take place concerning the availability of resources.
3. Providing healthcare facilities
Every firm would try to make healthcare policies for their employees so that in times like this, employees would feel more secure. Covid-19 has mentally affected many people, so firms should hold a counseling sessions for employees.
The main question lies ‘Will the society be the same after COVID-19?’ People willing to go back to normal is going to take some time. It is too early to say how much will the society change after Covid-19 ends, but one thing can be said that Covid-19 has brought many changes in the legal industry, which could not have happened in so many years, Covid-19 made it possible. Changes like fundamental change in our culture, economy, and government can be seen. Moreover, the remaining parts will explore the potential changes to the industry.