COVID-19 Can Change The Legal Industry For The Better


(Image via CDC/Dr. Fred Murphy/Public domain)

Everyone within the legal industry has been profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, many law firm offices have been shut down due to public health concerns, and numerous courthouses are also closed for business. This situation is dramatically affecting the way that many lawyers provide legal services and how courts administer justice. Although it is easy to think primarily of all the negative impacts of COVID-19 on the legal profession, it is possible that the legal industry may improve because it had to change for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Greater Flexibility With Working From Home

As mentioned in a few prior articles, allowing employees to work from home is advisable in a number of circumstances. Giving workers the flexibility to work from home can make it easier for employees to deal with childcare issues, car problems, healthcare appointments, or any number of matters all of us need to contend with in our daily lives. In addition, working from home can save time on commuting and might be much more enjoyable to people than trekking to an office where they have to see their bosses every workday. In addition, working from home can help law firms reduce real estate costs, often one of the biggest and most rigid expense law firms face.

Despite these benefits, before COVID-19, many old-school attorneys were unwilling to promote working from home. Indeed, prior to starting my own shop, I worked at a firm that spent a considerable amount of resources to build what they deemed to be the “office of the future.” On my way out the door, I told firm management that the office of the future was not to have an office, and the firm should look to expand work-from-home programs and cut real estate costs. However, I was told that in-person collaboration was best, and the firm needed to have a strong physical presence to operate.

Nevertheless, a variety of law firms are now required by regulations to have their employees work from home, and many firms have not missed a beat. Attorneys and staff have been collaborating over the phone, WhatsApp, Gchat, and through other methods, and many meetings are being held through videoconferencing apps. It is altogether possible that even after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, law firm managers may be convinced that people can collaborate and complete tasks remotely, such that work-from-home programs will be expanded. In this way, employees might finally realize greater flexibility while law firms see significant savings on real estate costs.

Remote Court Appearances

As mentioned in a prior article, many smaller law firms make a significant amount of money on court appearances. Indeed, attorneys usually bill not only for the time they spend in court, but the time they spend traveling to and from court. However, some court appearances are not worth the travel time it takes to make it to court. For instance, prior to starting my own firm, I worked at a shop that regularly made my colleagues and myself travel hundreds of miles to attend some court conferences. Oftentimes, we would have to fly to these conferences and spend almost an entire day just to write notes on what happened during a five-minute court appearance. Some days, because of travel delays and infrequent flights, I would bill 14 hours or more and spend nearly a thousand dollars of the client’s money on travel costs for a pretty unnecessary court appearance. I always wondered why such appearances couldn’t be done through the telephone or other remote means to save time and out-of-pocket expenses.

Now because of COVID-19, many judges are holding conferences through telephone, Skype, and other methods. The results have been mixed, but as people get more experienced with operating this way, the conferences have been running much smoother. Of course, sometimes there is no substitute to getting parties together so that they can talk about a case and work out issues. However, for some minor court appearances when substantial traveling is not worth the benefits, courts will hopefully learn from their experiences holding conferences remotely and be more open to teleconferences under normal circumstances.

Courtesy In The Profession

It is also worth mentioning that COVID-19 is requiring attorneys to cooperate with one another and be courteous in ways that I have never before seen while practicing law. Pretty much all of the attorneys I am working with have been sending courtesy copies through email because they know that few people are in offices to receive mail. In addition, attorneys are freely sharing information about adjournments, updated procedures, and other news related to the current situation. Furthermore, attorneys are coming to agreements and making deals in ways never before seen, since it is difficult to obtain any kind of judicial relief right now. It can only be hoped that such a cooperative and courteous sentiment in the legal profession continues after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.

In the end, COVID-19 has negatively impacted the legal profession. Indeed, the pandemic has interrupted the operations of many firms and has already led to numerous layoffs and pay cuts within the legal industry. However, it is also worth mentioning that COVID-19 can have a lasting and positive impact on the way many law firms and courts operate.


Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at jordan@rothmanlawyer.com.



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