No single profession, except, perhaps that of being a monk or hermit, has escaped the ravages and challenges of the current pandemic.
This is especially true in the legal industry.
While the scope of this article doesn’t allow for an exhaustive review of every single circumstance which has altered since last March, when the virus became a worldwide issue, we can take a reasonable amount of space to highlight some of the most pertinent ways that the practice of law in the United States has been affected -- and what lawyers and attorneys are doing to meet these challenges; usually by switching their base of operations to their own homes.
Institutions of higher learning are still struggling to achieve a consensus, based on recognized scientific, medical, and financial principles, that will allow students to continue with their education. Right now in many educational communities the decision has been made to use a mixture of in-class teaching, where students and teachers are at least six feet apart, and some kind of video conferencing/Zoom module where students and teachers never meet in person but instead interact strictly via the internet.
Students currently enrolled in law school are looking at a longer period of study required to get their law degree and a possible increase in tuition as colleges grapple with unexpected and unplanned-for cash shortages. Much of the grunt work that legal offices once offered law students as a way to help them finance their education has dried up, as regular offices close down and telecommuting becomes a way of life for many law firms.
These unique challenges mean that current law students will find that graduating is going to be more difficult -- and that even managing to take the bar exam in their state could be postponed for many months as the legal system grapples with how these exams are to be conducted under safe conditions for those taking the test and their proctors.
When a law student does manage to graduate and pass the bar, there is still the momentous question of how and where they are to find a foothold in a profession that is at once highly competitive and comparatively overcrowded already.
And this point in time, the best advice from experts in the law profession is that new attorneys should prudently invest in the latest and most advanced technology that will allow them to go to work for a law firm, or to practice on their own, while staying socially isolated in their own homes. In the not-too-distant future it may be that law firms will be looking more for technology and communication expertise and talent than for legal ability when hiring. New graduates should seriously take this into consideration as they begin their job search. Clients, too, are going to want to feel confident that their attorney is fully competent and knowledgeable concerning how to conduct a professional and productive Zoom conference. Or perhaps even represent them in court via teleconferencing with a judge and jury. That may sound like a science fiction narrative today -- but this pandemic is tearing apart the very fabric of how American justice is being conducted and safeguarded, and at the present time the judicial system is still in an uproar about the whole concept of exposing juries and courtroom staff to infection by jamming them all into a small stuffy courtroom.
Established law firms and solo attorneys suddenly find themselves without enough clients to reach their income goals
One obvious solution to this problem, of course, is to lower financial expectations. But that is hardly an appealing option for most hard-driving and ambitious law practitioners.
The other alternative is to bow to the inevitable and realize that current clients and prospective clients are no longer comfortable coming into the office to discuss their case. Just as doctors and dentists are experiencing a tremendous decrease in business from nervous clients who would rather postpone medical treatment than risk an infection, so those seeking legal advice are hesitant to visit a downtown office building or even a home office in order to conduct legal business with their attorney. This is especially true with older demographics -- baby boomers recognize their heightened risk of infection and consequently have severely limited their contact with the outside world. And older clients are usually the most well-off, the one who can afford hourly billing without flinching.
The answer is to educate and encourage clients to understand and utilize the advantages of the latest long distance communication technologies. Once clients get over their fear of new fangled technology, they will embrace its convenience and safety and start to come back to their lawyers in droves. After all, Americans do love to go to law. That’s what keeps attorneys living in their McMansions.
For lawyers who doubt their own ability to function efficiently and professionally from their own homes, here are some helpful tips from top legal professionals.
Be prepared for course corrections
There’s going to be very little call for the Perry Mason type of lawyer, who can swoop in and overawe the judge and jury to get his client off from a murder charge.
Instead the market for good legal writers, who can draw up a fool-proof contract or handle a divorce agreement that gains their client valuable advantages, is going to become one of the better paid legal professionals around. And that can just as easily be done from a home office as from an office in a building. Saves on rent, too. Much the same can be said for in-house lawyers; business firms of all types and sizes are being invigorated with federal funds on an unprecedented scale and are anxious to expand their brand and customer base -- and to do that they will need lawyers who know their way around business law and state and federal regulations concerning their specific business. An in-house attorney can do research and give consultations via teleconferencing just as easily as sitting in a company office.
The bottom line for all lawyers is that working from home is no longer a luxury, but a necessity that spells the difference between a successful legal career and a disappointing one.