The prevailing discussions in the discourse surrounding COVID’s impact on the legal industry is becoming a question of how the pandemic is “disrupting” the legal world. The word “disruption” is being used as a way to indicate the changes that the industry has ostensibly experienced as a result of the pandemic; but are these disruptions really the result of a global pandemic, or are they the tell tale signs of a paradigm shift that was brewing within the industry for years? Is COVID really the catalyst for the overhaul of legal industry norms, or did it simply shine a light on pre-existing legal trends?
It’s no doubt that the pandemic has affected businesses across the globe, and as such, it has put a magnifying glass on the consumer’s choice. Now, more than ever, the client’s opinion is being dissected by businesses, in an effort to identify why consumers choose to put their money in one area versus another in the midst of such trying times. It appears that the defining factor of the winning legal competitor is how modern their views and interactions are in relation to societal/global issues. Novartis, a Swiss pharmaceutical company, recently announced it would be withholding 15% of billed time payments if its advisers fail to comply with its diversity and inclusion requirements. In February, A well known international law firm, Allen & Overy, worked among a group of 63 firms that launched new model contracts with the aim of helping businesses fight climate change. In 2019, 5 well known law firms (including the likes of Eversheds Sutherland, and Nixon Peabody) assembled to launch a $5 million fund to help improve diversity in the legal industry.
“ALSPs are not only usually diverse in terms of experienced legal talent, but also by societal standards.”
Companies championing diversity and other poignant societal issues is not only a sign of the times, but the result of legal businesses having to be increasingly multi-faceted. As Paul Hodkinson aptly points out in his recent article, “it is becoming essential to turn up to pitches with more than just evidence of expertise”. There’s comfort in having options, so it’s no wonder why clients seem to be gravitating towards ALSPs in the pandemic. ALSPs are not only usually diverse in terms of experienced legal talent, but also by societal standards. Additionally, they have the added advantage of offering flexible legal talent, sometimes even offering said talent on a “tele-lawyering” basis, meaning said lawyers can work remotely–slashing overhead fees.
It isn’t just the client’s standards that have changed, it’s the lawyers themselves who are changing with the turn of the legal tide. According to a report by the American Bar Association, 63% of attorneys were working as solo practitioners or in small firms in 2019. Working as a freelance attorney is becoming more of an appealing option for young lawyers, especially those fresh out of law school who see the advantage of gaining a variety of experience while having the added benefit of flexible working hours. The fact is, COVID has simply emphasized what was already brewing in the legal-sphere; the norms of the industry have changed. While some firms may have been thrown into utter chaos during the pandemic, other more innovative law companies have quickly adapted, continuing their work online with the assistance of an artillery of legal-tech and already solidified virtual team dynamics.
That’s not to undermine the inherent difficulties in dealing with such an unprecedented pandemic–over 50% of associates surveyed in the US, UK and Asia expressed that they were concerned about job security. The sudden onslaught of job security issues has also undoubtedly affected the mental health of many attorneys, 10% reporting mental health as a primary concern. But while 39% of survey respondents report reduced workloads, 94% of respondents report that their billable hour targets remain unchanged. The demand for lawyers has not lessened, according to data collected by Clio, 78% say they consider lawyers to be an essential service. 20% say they consider lawyers to be more relevant now than before the pandemic. Again, let me reiterate, the demand for lawyers has not lessened, it is the demand for a particular type of lawyer that has changed. Clients are looking for a lawyer who is adaptive, someone who is familiar with how to provide their services virtually, and someone who truly reflects the diverse world we live in today. According to the same industry report by Clio, 69% of respondents expressed their preference for hiring a lawyer who had the ability to share documents electronically. Lawyers’ thoughts are aligned closely with that of their clients, with 83% of legal professionals reporting the necessity of cloud technology for their business’s survival.
“ I want to refrain from drawing the conclusion that the pandemic catalyzed the era of New Law.”
The new-age lawyer is perhaps not as “new” as we thought, and I’m hesitant to surmise that this “new” lawyer was born out of the depths of a pandemic. Rather, we should think of the current changes in the legal industry as a shift that was in the works for quite some time. COVID simply drew emphasis to the changes, but again, I want to refrain from drawing the conclusion that the pandemic catalyzed the era of New Law. Tech enabled lawyers are not new. And I’d be remiss if I said flexible legal work or diverse legal teams are novel ideas; nevertheless, COVID has undoubtedly validated and solidified the poignancy of New Law. In a study conducted by Major Lindsey & Africa (MLA), 95% of survey respondents stated that they believed the pandemic has changed remote working practices at their firms for good–so one thing is certain; there’s no turning back now.
Shany Raitsin is LawFlex’s Head of Marketing. She can be reached by email: email@example.com