Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has changed the world. As I write this, I have been living in a lockdown for more than 45 days. The work, as usual, has changed and so is the normal way of conducting business. While nobody knows the exact extent of the impact of COVID- 19 across industries but the general sense is that it is bad. The world as I see has been divided into two ages one is Before COVID-19 (BC) and another is After COVID-19 (AC).
However, there is a silver lining, at least for the legal industry. The worst has become the touchstone of a revolution long resisted by the wisdom of convention and it will impact the legal industry in a long way. This change will be based on three questions.
The COVID -19 scare has got everyone locked up in his or her house. The legal business, as usual, has been severely affected. The courtrooms are deserted, the majority of cases being adjourned, clients and lawyers have been severely impacted, and resultantly a considerable number of litigation lawyers are living on their savings. However, even when the lockdown goes, and in the absence of any vaccination, the courts being crowded place will remain an ideal setting for everything except social distancing. Similarily, the activities of networking, meeting clients and colleagues, case conferences, and arbitration proceedings everything is on a stand-still and cannot run as usual post lockdown. This has resulted in a severe financial concern for the legal fraternity and a delivery issue for the clients and litigants as the required or expected legal services are not being delivered.
Another dimension to this issue is the severe economic shock that has arrived along with COVID-19. Although, the world was looking at a global recession for some time but the accelerator in COVID-19 has truly made things beyond reasonable imagination. With news of layoffs, and unpaid leaves coming in every day from across the globe, unemployment rates already aiming for the sky, the paying capacity of the clients have been severely impacted and is calling for the rules of the game to change.
With ‘Social Distancing’ coming off as a new normal for our life until the near future, maintaining ‘Social Distancing’ will be a critical aspect for the legal industry as well. The long resisted digitalization will see a boom in the legal industry. Adopting new modes of communication and conducting business which has been a necessity for a very long time has become indispensable now. Be it courtrooms, tribunals, or client conferences, everything will have to adopt the technology.
While the consultancy business was already transitioning to digital platforms, now virtual meetings and video conferences will become part of the majority of practitioners’ office conduct. But a very drastic change would have to be adopted by the judicial system as courtrooms now feel unsafe to everyone from judges, lawyers to litigants.
With the paying capacity of clients changing, the legal services have to become efficient. The client, be it an individual or an MNC, will expect value for money from legal services. They might look towards smart and efficient players who are willing to accept the change early and provide services with some level of client experience much like other industries.
While premium services still exist in the market, now is the time for a revolution of the scale of what WhatsApp video calls brought in for a regular person. Not every lawyer is tech-literate so affordable and simplified virtual services platform customized for the legal industry would be required. Such platforms have to work efficiently for a lawyer as well as clients.
Similarly, the courtrooms have to be brought online by setting up an integrated and organized system of virtual hearing and case filing, wherein lawyers can do everything from filing the case, etc. to arguing virtually before the bench and clients can participate in legal proceedings from their offices and/or homes. This way, the business of litigation can continue in a very efficient manner. Although, their would-be some technical and ethical issues to it which I will try to address in my next write-ups.
Whatever may be the case, the legal industry AC will be different from what it was in BC.