When a pandemic brought the legal industry to a standstill it exposed just how much the industry needed to change; those wishing to return to pre-pandemic norms risk the success of their business.
Law never stops, a global pandemic just brought it to a brief standstill.
When I worked in a law firm, I always took solace in starting my day early, being the first to open the firm. It was like waking the environment to what was sure to be a hectic day. From the simplest tasks of turning on the lights and putting music on, to opening the blinds and ensuring everything was visually pleasing. The office would soon buzz with people and activity in no time, which was the way of working in law. I have always had the mindset that when one enters a law firm, the space should be warm and welcoming. Wherein anyone would feel calm and be able to release whatever was weighing on them to have a moment of peace in a safe space, a place of hope.
Then the pandemic hit; with offices instantly becoming empty, quiet, and void of people, courts closed with activity coming to a complete halt. The legal industry immediately scrambled to keep their employees, clients, and themselves safe and meet clients' legal needs and matters. At the same time, the entire legal field was attempting to devise a way for an already archaic industry to continue operating safely while a global catastrophe was occurring. Pre-covid, the system was already on the verge of busting at the seams due to backlog and delays caused by the sheer volume of cases in the system - if not addressed quickly, the situation was primed to get even worse.
Both seasoned and new legal workers had to pivot, learn, and adjust to a new way of business in the legal world; from working remotely, learning new ways to operate, and working within a lack of security and stability with their software and even the internet itself. Decorum within the firms, courts, colleagues and industry people also fell by the wayside; lost to people dressed appropriately from the waist up while the bottom half was sweatpants. People forgot to turn off their mics or webcams, or there was an unintended cat filter on. Situations that would never have occurred within a courtroom or office started happening and will never be forgotten, etched in memories, or on the internet for eternity.
The effects of the pandemic took a toll on everyone, individuals suffered from being overworked; loss of work and pay; and emotional, physical, and mental health decline. Software providers were also scrambling to improve software capabilities for clients that were no longer working at their brick-and-mortar locations. Looking back, its a wonder we made it through.
Working closely with the legal community and firms that host law clerks or paralegal students, I have seen first-hand how it affected business and the business environment during the pandemic. Watching the way navigating legal, logistical, personnel, and business implications of rapid change placed pressure on a firm's leadership as well as employees. The pandemic was forcing them to change, however the decisions they made had to benefit a post-pandemic future as well.
Fast forward to two and a half years post-pandemic, and the legal environment has been changed forever. Firms and courts are finding a new balance in how operations internally and externally occur. Many offices are operating with a new hybrid approach where not everyone is in the office simultaneously. IT departments and software companies continually work to implement the best security software that protects their business and clients. Even the legal software industry leaped forward in order to properly serve their customers. For example, cloud-based software before the pandemic was a nice-to-have for most law firms. Now it is essential for securely running a business and remaining competitive.
Those who were successful in the transition have found new ways to reach their clients and even a better balance between home and work life.
With so much changing so quickly, firms had to make decisions instantaneously and continually to remain competitive in the market while meeting customers' needs. Those who were successful in the transition have found new ways to reach their clients and even a better balance between home and work life.
While some firms implemented change rapidly, not wanting to return to the pre-pandemic norm, others were, and still are struggling with embracing the change brought upon by the pandemic. I will never forget the day one of my friends within a large, well-known local firm told me that the senior lawyers were still going into the firm at the start of the pandemic and never stopped. The reason is that they did not know how to use certain programs and technology to work from home, and the bosses constantly called their clerks and assistants to help them.
The trouble is that firms who do not adapt to the post-pandemic world will only face more and more difficulty over time. Hybrid structures for working have opened up a lot of opportunities within firms like employees having less commute time, or a more flexible schedule to balance work and life. It also gives law firms a brand new opportunity to reach and provide better service to their clients. Firms who are able to offer more flexible options for their staff stand a better chance at finding and retaining top talent. Clients will work with whoever will serve them best and at their own convenience. As a result, those who hold firm to pre-pandemic norms will lose out over time.
Those who hold firm to pre-pandemic norms will lose out over time.
As the legal field and community is returning to a sense of normalcy, changes are continually happening in the industry, from an individual's commitment or loyalty to their job, technology, and the skills the industry is currently looking for in new hires were never a requirement. Law never stops, but a global pandemic brought it to a brief standstill and opened everyone's eyes to just how much one of the oldest industries needed to change.
Angelina R. Asturi is a professor in the Paralegal and Law Clerk programs at Georgian College. In her role as Field Placement Coordinator for the program, she has assisted hundreds of students in launching their careers. She is a former Senior Law Clerk, with over 30 years of experience in the legal field. Angelina is currently completing a master’s degree in Business Innovation Leadership at the University of Fredericton, as well as completing the requirements to become an accredited Family Law Mediator in the Province of Ontario. As a contributor to Soluno's blog, Angelina covers topics on legal education, accounting technology, and the Canadian legal industry.
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