Has COVID-19 Changed the Practice of Law Forever?

October 16, 2020  |  Legal Technology

For a period of time during the pandemic quarantine, many of us considered the disruption a temporary inconvenience, and looked to the future when we’d all get back to ‘business as usual.’

But we have now realized that going back to ‘business as usual’ means an intimidating array of protective measures are being adopted by many retail stores, schools and public buildings in order to safely reopen. Facial mask requirements. Temperature checks. Plexiglass partitions. Crowd-controlled elevator access. The list goes on…

In fact, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration has issued ‘Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19’, including 35 pages of instruction for employers, from HVAC systems to safe work practices, sanitation, and PPE. While some firms are taking this path to re-open traditional offices, many firms that shifted to remote work during the pandemic are realizing the best path may be to remain virtual in the future, and improve remote operations by upgrading technology.

Prior to the onset of the pandemic, just 58% of law firms responding to a 2019 ABA Cloud Computing Survey reported regular use of cloud applications. Solos, small firms, and medium-sized firms reported higher cloud usage than large firms.

According to a new survey conducted by Above the Law and AbacusNext, entitled Industry Report: Survival or Evolution – Law Firms Navigate a Digital Metamorphosis, ‘business as usual’ going forward will rely more than ever on technology.

Increasing Importance of Technology

Nearly 60% of respondents in the Above the Law survey reported that technology was extremely important to their firm, with time tracking, billing, document management and legal compliance of greatest concern. Firms that were already using cloud applications and virtual technology have had an easier time with the recent transition to digital practice, while more traditional, paper-based firms have struggled. The need to adopt more cloud-based technologies for communication, collaboration, and security is widely recognized.

When it comes to the actual technologies that are making a difference during the pandemic, 80% of respondents identified calendar software, 79% cited time tracking and billing software, and 75% identified document management tools as their most relied-on type of technology. Sixty percent of firms reported using electronic payment processors to handle payments during the pandemic. (A condensed version of the report titled Technology Transformation: Law Practices Building a Remote Legal Firm in the New Normal is also available.)

Remote Collaboration Tools

Going suddenly virtual gave us all the opportunity to become more comfortable with remote conferencing applications that put us – and sometimes our kids and dogs – on camera with clients and colleagues. The survey identified the top three remote or distributed working arrangements as video conferencing (91% of firms), teleconferencing (79% of firms), and remote desktop systems for local document management (59% of firms).

CCPA Compliance Concerns

In addition to technology, the other most significant set of findings from the survey identified concerns about understanding and compliance with CCPA and other similar legislation. Many of the lawyers surveyed showed little knowledge of either how their firm was complying with the CCPA or of the CCPA itself.

When it comes to attempting compliance, some firms are struggling. Nearly 30% of firms identified the complexity of the legal requirements as their biggest challenge to compliance, while 20% cited the expense or a lack of budget for compliance. Larger firms were more likely to see complexity as their greatest compliance challenge, while smaller firms struggled more with expense and a lack of organizational commitment.

Law Firms Navigate a Digital Metamorphosis

COVID-19 has unquestionably changed the way law firms conduct business, from supporting remote work to ensuring compliance with privacy regulations, and it will likely to continue to do so in the months to come.

AbacusNext offers SaaS, remote desktop, and virtual application support for law firms of all sizes – no IT team required. Learn more about cloud options for your firm.

Do you share the CCPA confusion and concerns outlined in the survey? Learn more in our blog post on How to make data privacy a priority at your firm.

Read the Full Survey Report: For a more in-depth look at how firms are evolving and surviving, including data broken down by specific practice area and firm size, you can download the full report: Industry Report: Survival or Evolution.

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