Both solicitors and members of the public have been asking how Covid-19 has affected solicitors? The legal sector continues to face different issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these challenges are common to all types of businesses, while others are incredibly unique. In the recent survey conducted by The Law Society’s Law Management Section, most law firms have anticipated a drop of 10 to 20 per cent in revenue for this year.
Aside from that, increased lockup days are also observed during these unprecedented times. From an average lockup cycle at 155 days, most firms have added 15 to 25 days more on the lockup cycles.
Indeed, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is quite astronomical across all sectors. Today, let us expound on the effects of COVID-19 and the changes most law practitioners adapted to course through this profoundly new and unique situation.
The Long-Term Effects: A New Style of Working
Different firms have welcomed the idea of going virtual. This means that law students waiting to become full-fledged lawyers and new lawyers won’t have to experience the traditional ways of working. Instead, they will be part of a new culture that significantly contributes to a positive and radical change in the profession.
Social distancing and remote working have become a new norm to ensure everyone’s safety in the workplace. A lot of lawyers continue to work at home with their pets and partners. While this has addressed the issue of safety from coronavirus, it has also blurred the lines between personal and work life.
As the pandemic ceases, this shift in the work set-up and dynamics might be adapted in the future. Law firm hierarchies will be more flexible, providing more focus on emotional intelligence and customer focus. You can also expect more firms endorsing flexible working arrangement to foster a better work-life balance.
Adapting to Technological Advancements
Ushering into a post-pandemic world, most businesses heavily rely on technology. Therefore, lawyers need to demonstrate their ability in working with multiple software and computer systems.
This only means that many firms will be geared towards training their employees to be flexible towards new technological changes. Their staff should show their digital expertise and overcome potential challenges that may arise. The firm needs to develop new strategies in maintaining its brand profile and finding new ways to attract clients without using traditional networking methods.
Like other industries, the legal sector was incredibly affected by the changes brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. Most firms do not know the right response to the situation. That is why the Law Society developed a framework for law firms on how to safely return to the offices.
At the start of the pandemic, everyone was advised to shelter in place. According to the Law Society, it is highly likely that in the next two years a skeleton workforce where a portion of the staff works at home while other employees continue to work on site.
During your finances and workflow review, you should also consider the oversupply of people working in the firm. Despite the extension of the JRS, it is still essential that discussions with some staff will be required, whether that is coming back from furlough, reduction in hours, part-time working or an organisational restructuring of the firm.
Unfortunately, it will be quite inevitable to see job cuts and losses in some areas of the legal sector. Most firms find it difficult to decide on these resourcing decisions. If you are having a hard time too, you can start reviewing your staff timesheets on a daily basis. By doing so, you can monitor everyone’s productivity and assess the next steps you need to do.
Logistics and Management Issues
While the restrictions ease out, a lot of law firms continue to observe social distancing measures as a precaution against the virus. This only signifies that firms need to change the way they work and how tasks are managed. However, these key decisions should be taken collectively.
Because of the hardening of the PII market, pressure on law firm finances is at an all-time high. Some firms can’t simply obtain coverage at the cost they can afford.
Most clients are extremely concerned about their case confidentiality. Since different law firms and institutions turn to virtual and digital platforms, security and data breaches are becoming a growing problem in the sector.
That’s why considerations should be made in this remote setup. Law practitioners should still have measures in place to protect a client’s confidentiality. This is required by the SRA and law.
As you continue to operate in this new normal, you should always ensure that your data policies and procedure are up to date, where clear details of the arrangements are being agreed upon by you and your clients.
Compliance with Professional Obligations
It is expected that due to the changes brought about by the pandemic, you can no longer provide the services your clients need. Whenever this happens, you must notify your client as soon as possible. Ideally, you should also provide them with the names of other solicitors to take over the case from you.
Unfortunately, various firms can provide services to their clients. If you’re among the law firms having a hard time providing services, you need to ensure that clients are fully aware of the situation and should not suffer because of miscommunication, or lack thereof.
Going Digital: Virtual Meeting and Approval of Documents
Some clients want to meet with their lawyers face to face. While virtual meetings are possible, some meetings require a physical visit. In this case, you need to choose personnel who are not a risk to the client and doesn’t fall in the high-risk category.
Before the meeting, both the client and your employee will need to agree to the potential risks the physical meeting can bring. Proper personal protective equipment, such as face masks, should be worn as it is required by the law.
More so, holding virtual meetings must be highly considered, especially if anyone requiring legal services is classed as particularly high risk to coronavirus.
Impact of COVID-19 Across Different Industries
While the coronavirus pandemic continues to plague different businesses, law firms and solicitors have varied experiences. Some sectors saw growth, especially firms focusing on property and conveyancing. While other specialisations were greatly affected by the abrupt changes due to the global crisis. Here’s an analysis of how different sectors performed during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Family law remains integral amid the outbreak of the pandemic. With increasing family tensions, the work completion has staggered at a slower rate. This has been expected since obtaining a court hearing and seeking financial options have been difficult due to several factors – including the impact of housing, pensions, and the stock market.
As the pandemic ushers in a new channel of communication due to the social distancing requirements, access to family justice turn to the virtual landscape, where clients make conferences via video calls and remote hearings. However, most parties feel that these do not adequately state their case. Aside from that, negotiations have to be more structured resulting in judges having to make tougher decisions.
As the housing market re-opens, a lot of firms focusing on property and conveyancing have seen significant growth in workload and client base.
Contributing to this growth is the stamp duty holiday and the pent-up demand on people’s lifestyle changes. In fact, the sales were reported to be up by 52% in October last year. As the property market continues to boom, the recruitment market eyes more open jobs and positions for conveyancers.
While the situation for the property and conveyancing sector is deemed positive, it is also riddled with issues. People are still reporting problems when it comes to obtaining mortgages and delays with lenders. All these problems can inadvertently lengthen transaction for over two months. This creates a risk of missing the completion before the end of the stamp duty holiday.
Last year, it was reported that over 400,000 transactions will be completed. However, half of those transactions could miss out on the stamp duty holidays due to the delays.
Labour and Employment
At the height of the pandemic, many businesses are greatly affected which led them to either close down temporarily or permanently. With all the confusion surrounding the new situation, employment lawyers saw a significant surge in enquiries and consultations from both employers and employees. However, not all the work performed was chargeable in fee income terms.
The rise in demand for employment law services is not unusual. A lot of employees and employers want to know how to position themselves on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).
Commercial and corporate law was among the worst-hit practices during the pandemic. Many firms have reported a considerable drop in new inquires as businesses pause operations due to a lot of factors. Among these are incomplete current transactions and a lack of new instructions because of the uncertainty the future holds.
Unsurprisingly, this is among the practices that thrived during the pandemic. In fact, some firms reported a four-fold increase in inquiries and instructions. Many people are seeking advice on wills, power of attorney, trusts and tax planning. While this might be a short-lived upturn, this emphasizes the value of solicitors in the pandemic era.
Implications of Future Lawyers
Before the lockdown, law firms want to explore the concept of resiliency on how future lawyers adapt to these ever-changing times. The silver lining in this whole situation is how students of this generation can utilise the time to develop strategies to be more adaptable than ever before.
Gaining work experience and networking has proven to be difficult now only for full-fledged lawyers, most especially for students. In these unprecedented times, law students should go above and beyond to show their future employers how they can add value to the firm.
Moving Forward to the Future
No one is certain how long the coronavirus pandemic will last. While vaccination rollouts are conducted, many are still quite sceptical about the long-term effects of the pandemic. However, one thing is clear: the way we work and operate has completely changed forever.
As everyone moves forward to the future in the new normal, life begins to re-start and as such, so do businesses and legal services.
There is a bright side to all of this; several operations and resolutions have been made for law firms to cooperate with throughout this pandemic. As the crisis unfolded, many of the firms have shown to be agile to the adaptation of a new normal. Those that will still be functioning and operating after the whole fiasco will be much more efficient and prepared to handle clients from anywhere in a profitable way.
Yet sadly, we can likely observe within the industry the loss of several firms that do not make it through these difficult moments. However, because of this, we can also observe a much stronger and more diversified marketplace like establishments aiming to lessen their need to rely on work types, causing them to become less susceptible to future risks.
In these hard times, we can only hope for the best that we can come back in full health as soon as possible. Unfortunately, as of the moment, all of us must monitor and prepare countermeasures for the worst-case scenario.
Get Legal Advice Amidst the Crisis with Hayman’s Solicitors
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