The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have an extensive and devastating impact on the world, and the legal industry is no exception. To better understand the near and long term impact of the crisis on the practice of law, we have been analyzing data from thousands of US consumers, as well as tens of thousands of legal professionals. Unsurprisingly, the findings from Clio’s third briefing indicate that, as the pandemic continues to spike, there’s a growing demand for legal services. Encouragingly, the industry is beginning to adopt new processes and technologies to meet the evolving needs of today’s struggling consumers.
With many states experiencing a resurgence of COVID-19, we must all continue to adapt our behaviors—both professionally and personally—to manage the pandemic while ensuring access to legal services for the foreseeable future.
Whether we like it or not, the world as we know it is changing. The legal industry must accommodate these changes. We won’t be returning to the pre-COVID “normal” (and as I’ve written previously, we shouldn’t want to)—the pandemic has completely altered consumer expectations of working with lawyers. The pandemic has also accelerated change the industry would have otherwise undergone over the coming years.
The good news is that most law firms recognize this. As of June, as many as 75% of law firms predict that circumstances around COVID-19 will have longer-term impacts on their businesses even after the pandemic ends. The best and most productive option now is for legal teams to use this opportunity to find innovative solutions to better engage with clients moving forward. It’s no question that the legal industry will have to digitize.
Many law firms have already adopted virtual technologies that enable remote work and accommodate the evolving needs of clients. This includes the 74% of professionals that report they’re using electronic document sharing and e-signature technologies and 77% of professionals that are using video conferencing software (as of June). These law firms are looking closely at what their clients need and adapting to those needs.
And the benefits of adapting and adopting new tech reach beyond just affecting clients relations—our latest round of research found that legal professionals are reporting that the use of technology has improved their personal lives, with 58% of respondents saying that adopting new technologies has significantly improved their work-life-balance over the past three months. This need for both a client-centered and personal, firm-focused approach is key to being able to continually and effectively adapt as our world continues to change.
Yes, the unpredictability of the pandemic is unsettling—but lawyers who can adapt and define their own new normal will see their businesses not just survive, but thrive. Many legal issues can’t be put off indefinitely, and an industry shift towards digital transformation will ensure that law firms get clients, and clients get the legal services they need.
This is particularly important, given that many experts project that there will be a flood of demand, specifically around COVID-19 related employment issues (especially as consumers begin to pursue legal matters they’ve put off since the start of the pandemic). We saw a significant rise in new matters. As of the first week of June, matters jumped from—26 to 14%—compared to baseline, the largest increase we’ve seen since early March. However, casework again declined at the beginning of July (potentially due to the Fourth of July celebrations, as well as a steep increase in the number of new daily coronavirus cases). While we would expect to see caseloads recover in the week following the holiday, it is unclear whether the steady increase in virus cases will harm business for law firms.
At the same time, it’s important to note that in July, 40% of consumers surveyed said they would put off addressing legal issues until circumstances surrounding the pandemic returned to normal. This is a gradual improvement from last month, where half of consumers said the same. This suggests that the legal industry must be proactive in changing consumer perceptions around the availability of digital legal services, and in lowering the barriers for consumers to access those services—you may have adapted to your client’s needs, but you need to make sure your clients know that new, virtual options are available. Communication, as well as lowering barriers by trying new business models, updating processes and procedures and implementing the right technology, will be key.
A major factor that must also be considered is the current unemployment rates across the country. As of late May, 15% of consumers we surveyed lost their primary source of income due to COVID-19 related circumstances, and 25% experienced a significant decrease in income. This contributes to ongoing concerns that consumers won’t be able to afford the cost of dealing with a legal issue, with 71% of legal professionals expressing concern that their clients’ won’t be able to pay their legal fees (as of late April), and 28% reporting having to forfeit more revenue due to their clients’ inability to pay their bills (as of June).
Against this backdrop, law firms may need to look at options to accommodate those who can’t afford legal fees—whether this means offering discounted services, payment plans or temporarily reduced rates. In fact, 72% of Americans prefer to pay their legal fees on some sort of payment plan. This is a tremendous opportunity and a prime example of how a shift to an adaptable mindset can bring outsized benefits for your firm.
What works for your firm and every law firm will be different. To learn more about how the legal industry is adapting to the new normal, addressing COVID-19 related challenges, as well as the different approaches individual lawyers are taking to running their firms, I encourage you to tune into a few of the recent conversations I’ve had with industry insiders on our Daily Matters podcast:
- Episode 71: President of the American Bar Association, Judy Perry Martinez; Principal of Law21, Jordan Furlong; Founder of Roche Legal, Rachel Roche and others provide insights into how the COVID-19 crisis is changing the practice of law, for good.
- Episode 69: Co-founders and Lawyer-Humans at LayRoots, Shreya and Colin Ley discuss the challenges COVID-19 poses for law firms and how LayRoots has responded, as well as how client expectations are changing in light of the pandemic.
- Episode 67: Founder of MyVirtual.Lawyer, Brooke Moore shares how MVL delivers legal services differently as a virtual firm, and the advantages of doing so.
The path ahead may seem daunting. But it also presents opportunities for the legal industry to leverage technology and better serve clients. Adaptability is your superpower because the future of law lies in your ability to keep adapting to what the world needs. I believe that together, we’ll be successful, and we’ll build a better normal than before.
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