The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the legal industry, forcing attorneys to adjust their priorities and practices to stay competitive. In this Q&A, Robb Steinberg, Trialworks Founder and Cloud Migration Lead at Assembly, discusses the key ways the pandemic has impacted the legal industry and how law firms have had to adapt to the new normal.
Q: What are some of the key ways the pandemic has impacted the legal industry, and how have law firms had to adapt?
A: I have seen the legal industry evolve both as a practicing attorney and as a technology provider to law firms. During that time, nothing has transformed it more than the pandemic. Before the pandemic, law firms were mainly slow to adopt technology or change of any type. Do you know how many lawyers still use WordPerfect? This includes the courts being slow to change policies that had been in play for decades.
Overnight, law firms were forced to embrace technology, shedding unnecessary processes. The result became a more efficient industry where client interest overrides the old ways. At first, it was working from home, online client meetings, and virtual court sessions. Quickly, law firms needed cloud-based case management software like Neos that allowed easy remote access to the entire matter file online. Courts and attorneys who had never heard of Zoom or Microsoft Teams quickly started utilizing these tools. Before the pandemic, it was rare that an attorney could attend a hearing; even by phone, it had to be in person; post-pandemic video attendance is the norm.
Q: One of the most significant changes has been the shift towards remote work and virtual communication.
How has this changed how law firms conduct business and interact with clients? Do you think it has had a negative impact?
A: Client meetings, depositions, etc., no longer require travel time in most instances and are done on video using Zoom or Teams or even things as simple as Facetime. Clients expect quick responses to questions and better service. Initial client meetings don’t need to be scheduled for days or weeks later; they happen quickly via Facetime or other virtual tools. This was unheard of before Covid.
Overall, I know this is a positive for the client and the law firms. Clients get better service, and lawyers have new digital tools that make their jobs easier and, in the end, provide a better customer experience.
Q: How has the pandemic changed the legal industry's approach to digital marketing?
Did the client's behavior change during the pandemic? And if so, how has this affected how law firms market their services?
A: Of course, that depends on the type of firm. But for large firms, AMLAW 100 firms, or even small firms, law firm digital marketing is key. Word of mouth and networking became less critical during the pandemic. There are very few search terms that are more expensive than those related to legal services on Google. Firms had to learn how to navigate law firm SEO and spend their marketing dollars in a new and efficient way.
Potential clients relied on social media and Google to learn about anything and everything, and that includes legal services. Clients like to know everything about the lawyers and law firms they contact, and most importantly, they read the reviews posted by prior clients.
This is an entirely new ballgame for law firms. A bad review on Google has a negative impact on every potential client; unlike before, a single upset client was just upset but had minimal means of telling the world. Now everyone knows. Law firms are much more worried about reviews than they are, let’s say, an upset client suing them for malpractice. The paradigm has shifted.
Q: What are some best practices for law firms looking to stay competitive and continue serving clients effectively post-pandemic?
A: I believe law firms must embrace and invest in legal tech to reduce costs, improve productivity, stay competitive, and ultimately better serve their clients. Let me explain:
Legal tech increases productivity & reduces costs
Despite economic uncertainty, law firm technology continues to be in high demand as many firms look for ways to streamline administrative tasks, take document storage online, meet productivity demands, and embrace emerging technologies and remote work. As we look ahead, legal technology will remain an essential part of the legal industry, and law firms will continue to spend money on tech that improves productivity and efficiency. Doing so will allow law firms to find new ways to save time, automate documents and reduce their reliance on physical paperwork, which can reduce admin costs and improve efficiency.
The cloud offers hybrid and remote work opportunities
Besides decreasing workloads and improving overall efficiency, cloud legal technology's most apparent benefit to firms is hybrid and remote work opportunities. Workplace flexibility is becoming a competitive advantage and is quickly broadening the pool of job candidates nationally. Firms are rapidly adopting cloud technology to promote healthy work-life balance and to retain their valued employees.
Client expectations are changing
Firms need 24/7 access to case-related information via client portals. They want to communicate and collaborate via their preferred channel – email, phone, text – fast responses and communication is expected and expected in their preferred way.
Q: How do you see the legal industry evolving in the long-term post-pandemic?
A: One rule is still true and always will be true even post-pandemic: a law firm is only as good as its attorneys and employees. So, with that in mind, this post-pandemic remote digital world will require law firms to look for new employees, not necessarily those that live in the city where they practice. If the job can be 100% remote, they should look for the best people who can do the job for the appropriate compensation. Maybe if the firm is in New York City, the job can be filled by someone who lives in a place with a lower cost of living. Law firms need to hire like most businesses do post-pandemic as well.
Likewise, to keep their talent, law firms must be flexible with their employees. The trend that started much prior to the pandemic of people jumping from one employee to the next has only accelerated, I believe, post-pandemic. With that in mind, when a law firm has a valuable attorney or employee, they retain that talent.
On another point, the law office will evolve into a shared, multi-purpose space for gatherings, meetings, and events.
Rather than private offices assigned to specific lawyers, I imagine we will see shared workspaces, conference rooms, and even shared offices that are simply used by whoever needs them at a given moment.
While there will undoubtedly be some in-person interaction between clients and counsel, I expect it will be less for formal purposes (signing documents and so forth, since that can be done digitally) and more for the purpose of moral support, encouragement, and the type of counsel that best comes from a face-to-face conversation.
Q: Will trials ever go virtual?
A: One thing that will not change is trials. In-person testimony in front of a jury will always continue to happen. Jurors need to be able to judge the character of a witness in person, and almost as critical is the attorneys' need to judge the juror’s reactions to witnesses. That is almost impossible to do remotely.
The pandemic that forced the legal profession to pivot quickly is just the start and rapid change in the legal profession. As technology and AI advance, it will impact the speed at which legal professional delivers their services to their clients.
So be ready for it. Embrace it. Adopt it.