Because of the unprecedented health crisis created by the coronavirus, the legal industry has been forced to adapt to changing conditions and new ways of doing business as states decide whether or not it is safe to reopen. Indeed, technological changes that many law firms were reluctant to adopt have become widely accepted as a result of social distancing measures and the likelihood that stay-at-home orders can be reinstituted at any time.
Shifting to Remote Work
Most law firms have kept their offices closed and have shifted over to remote work as much as possible. The key has been to establish protocols for attorneys and staff to work remotely with access to firm files and resources while still ensuring privacy.
Generally, firms are sticking with telephone, email, and videoconferencing for client communications. Business travel has also suffered the same fate unless hearings or meetings require physical attendance. Fortunately, modern technology has allowed firms to conduct their internal and external meetings without the possibility of further exposure to the virus.
Indeed, many firms are finding the transition to remote work less difficult than they imagined. Consequently, some law practices are in no hurry to reopen their offices once the country gets back to something resembling normalcy.
Employment law firms have had to confront the double-edged sword of adopting CDC guidelines for themselves while advising many of their clients on how to reopen their businesses safely. For example, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed by congress in March included an emergency expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act and a new federal paid sick leave law.
As a result, some law firms have put together task forces to address labor law issues facing businesses regarding Covid-19. In addition, some attorney websites have dedicated FAQs pages to update both businesses and employees regarding employment rights and protections. Their main objective is for employers to have a plan in place in the event employees are exposed to or diagnosed with coronavirus.
Bankruptcy lawyers are bound to stay busy as the pandemic forces more and more businesses to file for chapter 11 while homeowners are asking for help from their lenders. Fortunately, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act has provided some relief to consumers in bankruptcy.
Nevertheless, bankruptcy attorneys should expect an increase in both companies and individuals needing help deciding whether to liquidate their holdings or to restructure their debt to keep from shutting their doors permanently.
As earnings reports from the past quarter reveal the toll the coronavirus has taken on the economy, they also reflect a new level of uncertainty within the business world. For this reason, lawyers that handle business disputes are already hearing from companies unsure of their contractual obligations during a global pandemic. If you need help settling a dispute resulting from changes wrought by Covid-19, you should contact a knowledgeable business attorney.
Because most family court proceedings are now virtual, lawyers and their clients should expect to negotiate via Zoom or Skype instead of in person. For the time being, child support negotiations or alimony hearings will likely take place via telephone or videoconference rather than at a courthouse. Moreover, the onus will be on family law attorneys to update their clients on how things like job losses during the coronavirus pandemic affects client obligations to pay child support and alimony.
One of the most important things for lawyers to keep in mind during the times of Covid-19 is that ethical obligations do not change regardless of whether a lawyer is ill, or their client is sick, or the courthouse is closed. A qualified ethics lawyer can assist legal professionals who have concerns about adhering to their ethical duties throughout the pandemic and its aftermath.
While social distancing and working remotely have completely reimagined the workplace dynamic, the legal system may have benefited in some ways by embracing technology sooner than many traditionalists had planned. Zoom and other platforms have enabled not only law firms but the courts themselves to minimize in-person contact while continuing to function during the outbreak. The upside is that people who need legal assistance should continue to have access to it regardless of our country’s progress against Covid-19.