Within weeks of the shutdowns in March last year, those of us following the trends in legal technology were cautiously watching lawyers evicted from their stationary offices out of necessity start using cloud-based software. Apparently overnight, the attorneys focused intensely on learning as much as possible about the remote working tools that would enable them to get their work done on short notice, at least until things “returned to normal”. At the time, it was to be expected that the orders for the stay at home would take a few weeks at most.
I described this developing situation in my article on the Law of March 19 last year:
(D) The focus in online discussion groups for lawyers changed overnight, with lawyers sharing their concerns about whether their law firms would survive the mandatory closings. Others sought advice on the remote working tools required to set up a remote law firm, such as: B. Video conferencing platforms, VOIP telephone systems and software for law firm management. Unsurprisingly, the same phenomenon occurred offline.
Now, almost a year after I wrote this column, we are a long way from what we once defined as “normal” and there is no imminent end to the pandemic. A lot has changed in the past year, and the ongoing unpredictability caused by the pandemic has led to a newfound mindset about technology that no one could have predicted before the pandemic. Lawyers are now turning to and relying on some types of technology to stabilize and monetize their law firms in the long run.
But don’t take my word for it. After all, my literal job title is “Legal Technology Evangelist”. Perhaps I have too much skin in the game to draw such a comprehensive conclusion. Instead, let’s look at some statistics and conclusions from the Thomson Reuters 2021 report on the state of the legal market. This is an annual report published by the Center for Ethics and Legal Professions at Georgetown University Law Center and the Thomson Reuters Institute that reviews and analyzes last year’s data and legal market trends to provide predictions and insights into anticipated future.
A crucial moment for the legal industry
This year’s report opened with a fitting analogy that offers a really interesting perspective to look at the impact of the pandemic on legal technology adoption. The authors stated that the pressures of the pandemic reduced the legal profession’s historical resistance to fundamental change, ushering in a phase of accelerated technology adoption that will ultimately lead to a major reshaping of the way legal services are provided. In other words, the pandemic was a “turning point” for our profession, as Malcolm Gladwell defined in his book “The Turning Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”:
Gladwell notes that the process of change begins with “clear examples of contagious behavior” – that is, a collection of ideas and activities that appear to be moving in a certain direction. Once the build reaches a certain level, the acceleration of these behaviors can be influenced by small changes that have a big impact. And at this point a change can be made very quickly. “The name for that one dramatic moment in an epidemic, when everything can change at once, is the turning point …”
I believe that anecdotal evidence, combined with the results of this survey and other recent surveys, clearly indicates that our profession has indeed reached a turning point and that many aspects of legal practice, from the manner and place of work, to all As for the footprint, ranging from law firms to the other side of the pandemic, will look very different.
Remote work can work
The most obvious and certainly long-lasting effect of the pandemic is the increased acceptance of remote work. Before the pandemic, remote working was viewed with suspicion and even ridicule. Most lawyers did not believe that work could be done from home effectively, and the value of face time was paramount.
It’s strange, but not surprising, how that perception changed when there was no other way to get the job done. This newly discovered acceptance of working from home was all the more reinforced by the fact that everyone with typical disruptions at work from home, such as barking dogs or screaming children, worked remotely and therefore on an equal footing.
In other words, as explained in the report, attitudes have changed and the working from home phenomenon will persist in one form or another:
Most businesses now recognize that remote working, although very different from in-person operations, can work. In fact, the disruption from work-at-home arrangements was less severe than most organizations expected. Interestingly, Acritas reports that the proportion of US attorneys who now want to work remotely for at least one day a week has doubled from before the pandemic. While 37 percent of attorneys expressed an interest in remote working prior to the pandemic, 76 percent are now in favor of remote working.
Newly discovered acceptance and appreciation of tech
For more than a decade, I’ve been shouting from the rooftops (and writing in the airwaves) that lawyers need to both understand and use technology in their daily practice. Some lawyers listened – many didn’t – and most of the time it was slow progress, although the rate of technical adoption and adoption began to increase somewhat from around 2015.
Even so, it was far too slow for my tastes, and I often struggled figuring out how to get to lawyers at the local and national levels and encourage them to appreciate and use the many benefits that technology can bring. Little did I know that all it would take was a global pandemic.
Following the outbreak of the pandemic, during a meeting of the technology committee that I chaired at our local bar association, one of the members commented on the unexpected and rapid adoption of technologies such as zoom and efiling tools and jokingly accused me of causing the pandemic in the world, with the sole purpose of getting lawyers to use technology.
I wish it hadn’t lasted for a catastrophic event like a pandemic, but I can’t deny the bottom line COVID-19 had on the adaptability of the legal profession. Not surprisingly, the report’s authors also recognized this phenomenon:
Partners in most organizations are likely to have a wider acceptance of the role of technology in effectively delivering legal services than they did before the pandemic began. In fact, 84 percent of Acritas partners surveyed expected their companies to increase their investments in technology. … This does not mean that resistance to future change will disappear, but the experience of adapting to radically changed market conditions in 2020 could well lead to more openness to experimentation with other forms of service delivery.
Rethink work and workspaces
Last but not least, work rooms. Real estate has always been a major cost to law firms. Expensive, impressive offices were seen as a necessary part of doing business and attracting customers. The pandemic has completely turned this narrative on its head. Law firm executives realized that working from home (see above) was still profitable regardless of where the work was done, and that expensive office space and work time requirements were simply a waste of resources.
As explained in the report, this realization will undoubtedly lead to an entirely different concept of “office space” for law firms once social distancing requirements are a thing of the past:
Almost all companies have significantly reduced their costs through fundamental changes in the way they do business. These include:
Adapting to more efficient use of office and administrative space, reconsidering changes in staffing and work patterns, changing secretarial support, reducing expectations for face-to-face meetings, increasing the efficiency of digital connections and reducing business travel.
And many of these changes are likely to continue after the pandemic ends.
Have we reached the turning point?
I believe all the signs point to “yes”. A turning point has actually been reached. Lawyers are not suddenly going to bring all kinds of technology into their practice. But attitudes – even of die-hard Curmudgeons – have changed, and the rate of technology adoption has increased tenfold. The vast majority of attorneys are no longer afraid of the idea of ”technology” and are even beginning to appreciate the convenience and flexibility that cloud-based tools offer them.
The report’s authors do not fully agree with me on this, but they are definitely cautiously optimistic that we are on the brink of the elusive “turning point”:
It remains to be seen whether the catastrophic events surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic will actually prove to be a turning point for the legal industry once the reshaping of the model for providing legal services (for both law firms and others) is in place. However, it seems pretty clear that the 2020 and 2021 experience – whether or not it is a tipping point – will accelerate important changes in the way law firms operate and relate to their clients, attorneys and employees . Companies that take these changes seriously and react proactively to them will undoubtedly emerge as market leaders in the “new” post-pandemic normal.
So what do you think Have we reached a turning point? And if so, what will legal practice be like on the other side of the pandemic?
Nicole Black is a lawyer in Rochester, New York and Director of Business and Community Relations at My case, web-based management software for law firms. she has been to blog since 2005 one has written weekly column for the Daily Record since 2007 is the author of Cloud computing for lawyers, Co-authors Social media for lawyers: the next frontierand co-authors Criminal Law in New York. She is easily distracted from the potential of bright and shiny tech, good food and wine. You can follow her on Twitter at @ Nikiblack and she can be reached at [email protected].