For the legal sector, COVID-19 has been a huge catalyst for change globally. Overnight, almost all legal advisors decamped en masse from their expensive mid-town and city offices to their homes to work. Personal meetings suddenly disappeared to be replaced by virtual meetings on Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
As the UK went into Lockdown only 2% of lawyers admitted they worked from home, according to a recent survey by RollOnFriday. com. Those attitudes have now changed radically as countries and territories around the world have gone into Lockdown and the vast majority of people have become home workers. Now almost 75% of legal advisors admit they would happily work from home three days a week and – amazingly – only 7% said they wanted to return to the office full time.
Above all, working remotely may have broken the longstanding links between office and work. Some 44% of respondents said in the long term they only wanted to return to the office for two days a week at the most. Many lawyers also believe working from home is good for their work / life balance. Elsewhere, many have said working remotely significantly improves efficiency, with less commuting time and disturbances around the office. In this virtual series legal members of IR Global gave a fascinating insight into this new world of working and how each jurisdiction has been handling their operations during Lockdown and the post-COVID-19 period.
For Katherine Evans, partner at Mirkwood Evans Vincent, her boutique law firm had a head start with technology. Indeed, when she set up her virtual legal model in 2008 it was considered years ahead of its time. By the time of COVID-19, she already had a number of clients she’d not actually met face to face. For this innovative approach, Mirkwood Evans Vincent was shortlisted for the most innovative law firm award in 2008, just a year after establishment.
Although Zoom and Microsoft Teams have been the solution when it comes to arranging meetings with fellow team members and clients alike, almost all the legal advisors admitted that nothing could replace meeting people or being in court. But as the pandemic spread across the world even small jurisdictions such as the Turks and Caicos Islands started to use technology for virtual meetings, carrying out video hearings and e-filings at the court.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong as the pandemic eased the lawyers returning to work decided to split into teams – taking it in turns to work in the office. As a result, half the workforce have been working from home while the other half have been office based. Dominic Wai, partner at ONC Lawyers, said most civil cases can now be done remotely via audio or video conferencing, although criminal courts require people to go to court in person. His firm has even started using Zoom for the in-house team for their continuing professional development.
Over in the US, Doreen Hartwell, partner at Hartwell Thalacker said civil trials are starting to back up and lawyers are now playing catch up by undertaking them remotely. American lawyers are also doing depositions remotely using Zoom, with the witness in one location while the lawyer is in another with the documents that are being steered electronically.
In Mexico, León Felipe Aguilar Jiménez, partner at Camya Abogados, said the legal sector had been forced to implement new technologies to ensure the continuation of the services – although legal service providers in the country have been skeptical about the convenience of using new technologies.
Despite reservations, technology is now considered to be a significant asset for law firms as they look forward, post COVID-19. In the US, a recent survey by MyCase reported that 70% of the lawyers considered technology as paramount for their firm’s financial future. Many see technology adoption as key to the success of their firms and for the legal sector generally. Rather surprisingly, the majority of lawyers said this change was positive, with 52% agreeing technology used within law firms was good, while 54% said the same was true of courts. It’s never easy to predict the future, but after talking to IR Global members and looking at the wider legal world, technology adoption will no doubt continue to rise as a result of the unpredictability caused by COVID-19.
In the following pages, IR Global members give their insights around working with technology and technology disputes in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic.