The $64,000 question as we head into the postpandemic world is whether the increased use of remote-working technologies by lawyers will continue in the “new normal.” Or at least that’s the question that keeps me and my legaltech colleagues up at night.
If nothing else, the pandemic has shown that law firms can successfully operate remotely. In fact, not only can the work get done — law firms can even be profitable when work is conducted remotely.
The results of a recently released study confirm that fact, with nearly half of survey respondents sharing that their firms profited in 2020 despite the challenges of the pandemic. One attorney commented that the “feared drop in productivity never materialized … By June [of 2020], we realized that we had not slowed down as much as I thought, and by September or October, we realized that we were actually having a pretty good year …”
The report in question, “The Future of Litigation Workflow: Reimagining Technology and Process in the Next Decade,” was released last week by Ari Kaplan Advisors, LLC and American LegalNet, Inc. The report is based on interviews of 33 partners at large law firms conducted by Ari Kaplan from January 21 through March 7, 2021.
The report focuses on the impact of the pandemic on remote litigation processes and offers insight into how law firm leaders expect to use technology in their law firms in a postpandemic reality. The bottom line: law firm leaders acknowledge that the legal work of litigators can be efficiently and profitably conducted with a dispersed workforce, but most don’t foresee that the full-time remote working trend will be a permanent one.
Some Challenges When Transitioning To A Remote Workforce
Moving to remote work overnight was not an ideal situation, so it’s not surprising that 52% of respondents indicated that the most significant challenge that their firm faced at the start of the pandemic was transitioning litigation staff to a remote working environment. Other notable challenges faced by litigators included court closures and administrative changes (49%) and driving technological change within their firms (36%).
Litigation teams also had to undergo significant shifts in their work processes after the transition to remote work. The majority of respondents (79%) cited changes in the way that they used technology to adapt to a remote environment as the top shift. Another 48% reported that using video conferencing for court proceedings and for personal and professional meetings was the most significant change.
Notably, many respondents also believed that the use of video conferencing technologies for some types of litigation proceedings would continue postpandemic. However, as discussed below, many also welcomed the return of in-person trials and hearings since virtual proceedings are less than ideal when questioning witnesses or interacting with juries.
Investment In Cloud-based Technology Significantly Increased
Because cloud-based software enables the ability to work from anywhere, more than half of the lawyers interviewed (55%) reported that their firms had transitioned their litigation management to the cloud. Of those, 67% explained that the effects of the pandemic were the primary driver behind that change.
Notably, 64% of law firm leaders shared that their firms were considering upgrading their law firm’s technology postpandemic based on learning gained from practicing law remotely during the pandemic. Similarly, 52% of those interviewed reported that their firms had allocated a higher budget to technology purchases in 2021. The areas of technology that firms planned to invest in included collaboration tools (33%), security (18%), and risk management (15%).
Some Changes Likely To Be Permanent
Despite their firms’ plans to invest in cloud-based legal software that would enable remote work, many of the lawyers interviewed remained unconvinced that the effects of pandemic would dramatically change the way that litigation was conducted. In fact, some shared that they were looking forward to returning to “business as usual” — at least when it came to litigation: “The fact that we are remote is preventing us from trying cases and by the time we master the remote system, we are all hoping we will be vaccinated and back to normal.” As explained by another respondent, in-person trials continue to be preferable: “The idea of virtual jury trials is doable, but fraught with challenges, including constitutional issues.”
That being said, now that attorneys realize that many aspects of litigation can be managed remotely, working remotely will no longer be taboo, and will likely increase in frequency. As one attorney explained, partial remote work will become more commonplace postpandemic: “I expect most lawyers will not go back to the office full-time; many will have a partially remote schedule because they have realized that it can work.”
So, will the pandemic have a permanent impact on litigation work? All signs point to yes. Litigation practices will never be quite the same. That being said, the specific long-term impact remains to be seen, and for now we can only predict what may happen. Certainly all signs point to the very real possibility of change, but only time will tell how significant that change will actually be.
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and Director of Business and Community Relations at MyCase, web-based law practice management software. She’s been blogging since 2005, has written a weekly column for the Daily Record since 2007, is the author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York. She’s easily distracted by the potential of bright and shiny tech gadgets, along with good food and wine. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.