At the time of writing, global cases of COVID-19 have surpassed 13 million globally and 3.5 million in the US. Over the past few weeks, the number of new coronavirus cases has surged significantly in many regions within the US and in many countries around the world. Yet, as virus cases rise, lawyers and their clients continue to adapt to the challenges posed by COVID-19, which has shown a more positive outlook for many businesses in June.
As part of the ongoing industry analysis featured in the Legal Trends Report, this is the third briefing in a series of in-depth research initiatives undertaken by Clio to learn more about the challenges US legal professionals currently face due to the global pandemic, and how the industry can best adapt.
Included below is an update on key business metrics for law firms, which have also been published at Clio’s COVID-19 research hub, which provides further details on individual states and practice areas. Additionally, recent survey results have shown overwhelming evidence that technology has been essential to managing industry challenges posed by COVID-19.
Detailed source information
This briefing includes analysis from aggregated and anonymized data from tens of thousands of legal professionals using Clio’s legal practice management software. It also includes survey data collected between April 3 and June 22, 2020.
Clio’s app data
- Aggregated and anonymized data from tens of thousands of legal professionals
Surveys of US legal professionals
- April 3 to 9: 485 respondents
- April 20 to 24: 654 respondents
- May 4 to 14: 609 respondents
- May 18 to 29: 783 respondents
- June 15 to 22: 566 respondents
Surveys of US consumers (general population)
- April 14: 1,042 respondents
- May 4 and 5: 1,019 respondents
- May 18 and 19: 1,055 respondents
- June 16 to 18: 1,004 respondents
New casework continues to recover, monthly billings see a bounce back
Following the significant dropoff in new legal matters in April and May, the jump in new casework at the beginning of June has sustained throughout the month, staying above –10% compared to baseline. Casework again took a sharp decline at the beginning of July. This drop coincides both with the week of 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 have a negative effect on business for law firms.
Law firms also saw a significant recovery in their monthly billings. Compared to the previous year, the average law firm billed 23% less in May. In June, firms billed 13% less compared to the previous year. As a lagging indicator for firm revenues compared to new matter creation, the relative increase in billing volume compared to the previous month indicates that firm revenues are recovering along with new casework.
While monthly billings may be recovering for firms, many are still concerned about their clients’ ability to pay their legal fees. In June, 28% of law firms reported having to forfeit more revenue due to clients being unable to pay their fees compared to before the pandemic. This number has increased slightly from previous months.
Firms are back to work even in states hit by new surges in coronavirus
New York law firms continue to see a steady increase in new matters after significantly reducing the number of new coronavirus cases across the state. New York provides an example of how a dramatic spike in new coronavirus cases can have a devastating effect on law firm business, but its substantial recovery also demonstrates how firms can recover when the virus remains largely under control.
States such as California, Texas, and Florida have continued to see an increase in new coronavirus cases, with numbers that rival the peak of the virus situation in New York. However, law firms in these states continue to see an increase in new caseloads. While death rates have remained relatively low compared to the high number of new virus cases, many have speculated that this could change in the coming weeks. A surge in deaths may have a more meaningful impact on statewide activity, and could result in the reintroduction of social restrictions.
As more firms adapt to working remotely, however, they may be less affected by any social restrictions if both lawyers and clients are better able to cope with distancing requirements.
Signs of recovery are reflected across all practice areas
Virtually all practice areas tracked in Clio’s analysis of new matter creation show a steady increase in caseloads. Practice areas that had been hit especially hard with a slowdown in business have seen notable increases through June. Traffic cases, which dropped to –71% compared to baseline in early April have steadily increased to a high of –26% compared to baseline in late June.
Intellectual property matters continue to show strong representation among new matter creation. Real estate matters have also shown strong recovery, staying 10% above baseline for most of June, reflecting a high volume of property purchases in the beginning of June. This means that both of these practice areas are seeing more activity compared to the months prior to the pandemic earlier this year.
Firms are optimistic about conducting business amid surges of coronavirus cases
While many states in the US experience significant surges in the number of coronavirus cases, survey data from the middle of June indicated that 68% of law firms were more prepared to deal with the challenges of maintaining firm operations, even in the event of future waves of coronavirus outbreaks.
Specifically, legal professionals have attributed the use of technology to improving both their personal lives and their service to clients: 58% say that technology has significantly improved their work-life balance over the past three months, and 68% say that technology has significantly helped their firm deliver better client experiences.
Potential clients may be less likely to put off their legal issues
An ongoing trend among consumer survey data has been the preference for potential clients to put off dealing with a legal issue until circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic subsided—approximately half of respondents have consistently said they would put off their legal problems.
However, for the first time since Clio has undertaken its research into the impacts of COVID-19 on the legal profession, fewer consumers said that they would put off their legal issue—and upwards of 60% of consumers consistently say they would hire a lawyer to get help for their legal problems. This may be an early indicator that clients are more prepared to conduct business despite fears surrounding coronavirus, especially when given the option to communicate remotely.
In June, we saw a drop in the number of consumers who expect to have to deal with a legal issue in the near future, including issues specific to coronavirus. Approximately half of consumers consistently say they wouldn’t be able to afford the cost of dealing with a legal problem.
Anxieties surrounding COVID-19 may be easing, but challenges are ongoing
Overall, fewer legal professionals said they were worried about their law practice or their ability to make a living. While a significant proportion of respondents still report concern, the trend may indicate that firms are learning to cope with the long-term realities of the pandemic. This is reflected by the fact that the vast majority of respondents believe the social impact of the coronavirus will be ongoing, yet confidence in the economy has shown some signs of positivity.
Employment remains uncertain among law firms
Employment concerns remain high among survey respondents, as 24% say at least one person from their firm or practice has been laid off since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, and 27% say they expect to see more layoffs in the next three to six months. However, as of mid-June 22% of respondents said that their firm has either hired or rehired lawyers or staff in the past month.