COVID silver linings emerge for the legal profession

While the pandemic’s negative impacts are clear, writes Tim Wilbur, some positives have emerged

As the dust has settled from the early days of the pandemic, the world settled into the realization of the longer-term challenges ahead.

While the negative impacts of the pandemic have become clear, though, so have the silver linings.

For legal technology companies, the immediate impact was negative. Lawyers were in crises mode and uninterested in new processes and products. But a cultural change has also occurred, and with that change comes opportunity for legal tech entrepreneurs.

“A weird spell has been broken,” says Brent Arnold, a litigator at Gowling WLG, in our feature story on legal tech during the pandemic. “People are now like, ‘Oh, OK, there's technology and technology can help us,’ and it's no longer cool to be the person who says, ‘I don't have to know that, I've got people to do that.’”

Sean Bernstein, co-founder of a company that helps firms digitize corporate documents, says he now no longer talks about hypothetical situations where lawyers may not be able to access the physical documents. Now he can talk about how to fix their actual problem of getting to them remotely.

For most litigators, breaking the spell of requiring in-person proceedings is also great news.

By forcing lawyers and other parties to a legal dispute to operate through videoconferencing, the COVID-19 pandemic meant files have been completed faster and more efficiently, says personal injury lawyer Ryan Naimark.

E-filing and the adoption of virtual hearing software by the courts and government has also been on overdrive, allowing matters to proceed more efficiently as the courts ramp back up.

For women who bear a disproportionate share of child-care responsibilities, working from home has also had its benefits.

“I’ve found that the pandemic has also allowed female lawyers, and lawyers with kids, to support and commiserate with each other in a way we didn’t before,” says Tina Lie at Paliare Roland Rosenberg in our feature story on how the pandemic has changed litigation for women.

While there are many silver linings, the downsides are immense. Mentoring junior lawyers is a real challenge from afar. Feelings of isolation are widespread.

For lawyers, though, some of the silver linings are now clear. Here’s hoping they become even brighter soon and outshine the storm clouds we all still see.

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