What happens when a lawyer’s expected ways and means of meeting with clients, going to court, and getting the job done all change? A lawyer who has been in their career for a while tends to keep a certain rhythm and balance to their work and life. This makes it possible for them to meet the often intense and competing demands of both clients and their personal lives. But the unexpected changes caused by the virus pandemic have hit the legal industry hard.
Once afraid of any change, the legal industry has been forced to change quite suddenly. Not all of the changes have been bad, though. Fifty years of innovation happened within a few weeks. For example, lawyers who were concerned about signing a document online were suddenly participating in online hearings. It has been an adjustment for many attorneys, but some could say it’s ultimately for the better.
How the Daily Work Has Changed
Many lawyers continue to take on clients, albeit in a limited capacity. For things like trials and hearings, the legal work from clients is mostly nonexistent. However, for things like mortgage refinancing, corporate bankruptcy, and for employment law disputes, the amount of people needing an attorney has greatly increased.
I predict that lawsuits over contracts and rental agreements will greatly increase once the courts reopen. Many people and companies walked away from their contractual obligations because they had no choice. The courts will have a hard time making a decision on these types of cases. If the courts force a company to pay back rent, it will likely push the company into bankruptcy.
The same is true for employment disputes. Yes, many companies laid off their staff without following proper employment laws. But had they not done this, they would have been insolvent. The courts will need to establish a precedent quickly which will apply to all the cases.
Areas like family law are normally stable. There have been memes going around the internet saying that family lawyers are going to be the big winners from the coronavirus outbreak. I do not agree. I find that during good and bad times, divorce rates are on average around 50%.
On our website, we have seen an increase in people searching for separation agreements and filing for divorce. However, we have also seen a decrease in people filling out the forms. This could mean that people are interested in filing for divorce, but they’re just not ready to deal with it right now.
Unique Challenges in the New Normal of COVID-19
The pandemic has brought about some unique challenges, all at once. Open courts are important as a means to ensure that judges are ruling in a way that is fair. The general public should be able to walk into a court and see how justice works.
This is especially helpful for those who do not have an attorney. It’s much better to watch other hearings before your own. You do not want to learn-as-you-go while speaking in front of a judge. It’s much better to learn from other people’s mistakes instead. Without open courts, the access to justice problem would be even worse.
So how do the courts ensure transparency during the coronavirus outbreak? Some courts have started posting the entire video of the video hearing! I personally have learned a lot by watching other court cases. Just the other day I viewed a five-hour appeal hearing. I had never seen or done an appeal, so it was a great learning experience.
A lot of lawyers have actually been able to use this time to relax — at least more than they used to. Except for a two-week period during Christmas, lawyers work hard pretty much seven days a week for the rest of the year. Even during Christmas break, attorneys are often preparing for hearings and trials that start around January 6 in the new year. Having any downtime at all can be unusual for many lawyers, but it provides an opportunity for much needed recuperation.
Some lawyers have finally signed up for Netflix. Of particular interest has been Tiger King and Trial By Media for the unique legal situations that they depict. I’ve even had some attorneys message me, asking for my “position” on the shows.
For example, Tiger King describes the many lawsuits and claims made against the featured person, Joe Exotic. But with Mr. Exotic going to prison and a massive cash flow stress on the zoo, how could any plaintiff ever hope to recover any awarded damages? Sometimes the guilty party doesn’t have the funds or assets to compensate those who suffer damages.
Tiger King also covers the topic of Power of Attorney. In one suspicious situation, the power of attorney and a Will And Last Testament was changed right before someone died in a strange way.
The show Trial By Media demonstrates how the media can influence the jury. In the first episode, the media seem to influence the decision of the jury. However, after the jury returned their verdict, the appellate court reversed the decision. This begs the question: What’s the point of a jury if the appeal court judges can easily throw out the decision? Juries are not professional lawyers.
Of the many different industries that have experienced recent adjustments in the ways and processes of approaching work, the legal industry may come out ahead. Forcing a larger dependency on technology for some processes may provide long term improvement. This could create efficiencies where there were none before. It’s possible that what is being practiced in the industry now will ultimately help lawyers better manage their workloads in the future. And if they can free up some time, they might even be able to keep using their Netflix subscription.
About the Author
Alistair Vigier is the CEO of ClearWay Law, an online platform that connects people who need a law firm with attorneys who can provide legal advice.