As mentioned in previous articles, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has substantially impacted the legal profession. Economic issues have affected the need for legal services, which has forced law firms to reduce headcount, lower salaries, and take other efforts to weather the storm. However, based on my own experience, some practice areas seem to be expanding in the current environment, and other practice areas are struggling because of COVID-19.
Wills And Estates
It might sound macabre, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has compelled numerous people to consider wills and estate planning. Indeed, my firm does not focus on wills and related issues, and we usually only handle a few wills a month. However, we received five inquiries for wills over a 48-hour period recently, which is very unusual for our firm. Wills are the classic thing that people put off. No one wants to think about their own demise, and it requires some effort to get the witnesses together to execute a will. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced all of us to think deeply about end-of-life issues, and this is compelling people to seek wills and estate planning advice. Of course, it has been tricky to organize will executions due to social distancing guidelines, but many clients have been approaching lawyers about estate issues due to the present environment.
As many people might surmise, litigation is one of the practice areas that has been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The traditional wisdom is that litigation is somewhat recession-proof, since economic downturns usually spur the types of disputes that need to be litigated. However, many litigators have substantially less work now due to so many court closures, and numerous court conferences have either been adjourned or are being conducted through remote means. Furthermore, some states have even prohibited most nonessential filings. A few weeks ago, I needed to file some documents by a certain date, but was prevented from doing so because of filing restrictions. I was forced to just email the documents to counsel with the understanding that it would be filed when prohibitions were restricted, and everyone understood the situation. However, the lack of filing capacity has reduced litigation work on all but the most essential matters, and depending on their clients, many litigators are being hit hard because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A practice area that is expanding (at least in the short term) because of COVID-19 is transactional work. As mentioned in a prior article, many clients are seeking advice on canceling contracts for gatherings that were set to occur in the next several months. Some of these contracts include impossibility or force majeure clauses, and a variety of common law defenses can be used to cancel such agreements even if the explicit terms of a contract don’t relate to the ongoing pandemic. Nevertheless, there are issues about how much deposit money should be paid back that was advanced for these events and whether gatherings can be postponed rather than canceled. Furthermore, a number of tenants and landlords are negotiating agreements to defer or reduce rent for a time because of COVID-19, and this requires careful negotiation by an attorney.
Furthermore, some demand for legal work on completely new deals is occurring despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Some clients understand that they can get huge concessions and very favorable terms due to the crisis, and this is compelling some to pursue completely new deals. Of course, only a focused set of clients who have a strong economic base can pursue such a strategy, but discussing new deals may be desirable to many clients in this environment. Even though transactional work typically suffers during economic downturns because of the lack of business activity, it seems that at least temporarily, many clients have a substantial need for transactional legal work.
Plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyers have also been negatively impacted by COVID-19. Since many court conferences have been adjourned, and numerous lawsuits are essentially frozen in place, many personal injury cases will not be resolved anytime soon. In addition, many insurance companies have slowed settlement talks, and some may even be delaying payments of settlements that were previously negotiated. This is likely because many companies want to hold onto their money for as long as possible in the current environment. It is also difficult, if not impossible, to put new personal injury cases into suit in many states due to filing prohibitions and other limitations. Since it often takes years for a personal injury cases to settle, plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyers may not only experience a shortfall in the near term due to COVID-19, but may also see income interruptions in the future as well.
Of course, a number of other practice areas are being impacted by COVID-19. For instance, I have heard that matrimonial lawyers are anticipating more business because of the stress involved in the current situation and because spouses are cooped up at home. In addition, the traditional countercyclical practice areas, including bankruptcy law, are expanding because of the current situation. If attorneys have a good sense of the expanding and contracting practice areas in the current environment, they can best weather the storm of COVID-19.
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 email@example.com.
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