With the current pandemic affecting businesses of all shapes and sizes across the world, lawyers have a need – now more than ever – to be able to communicate adequately with their clients, their professional colleagues, and the court system.
While many people and businesses are starting to venture out into the physical world again, face-to-face meetings still carry socially irresponsible risks of Coronavirus transmission. Lawyers, judges, and law professionals have had to learn various videoconferencing platforms in order to engage in interactions where voice-only communication isn’t efficient. There are times when documents must be mutually examined or signed with a witness, or when visual presentations are necessary. E-filing, while it existed before this pandemic, has become more prevalent in an effort to facilitate legal signatures.
Despite the uncertainties and inconveniences of 2020, we are quite fortunate that this crisis did not occur 20 years ago. That would have probably brought the legal system to a standstill for months. Technology, however, allows us to carry on, even in its modified way. Many people who thought they were too old or uneducated to handle modern technology have embraced the new normal, understanding that technology has become a prerequisite to the competent practice of law.
The Association of Legal Administrators conducted an audience poll during its “How to Plan and Manage When Change Is the Only Constant” webinar back in July, where most respondents (74%) agreed that COVID-19 had made staff more willing to change their working practices, a flexibility that encompasses workflows, the adoption of new technologies, and new collaboration techniques.
Some of the technological changes and adaptations that have become more prevalent include signing legal documents electronically, holding virtual court hearings, using online whiteboards, and accessing apps that allow lawyers to record time spent on work for different clients. Some limitations of being virtual and not able to physically be in the same room highlight the importance of body language, viewing of physical evidence, and simply the intimidation of a majestic court building.
Many law firms have beefed up their IT capabilities, using multi-party conferencing platforms, virtual whiteboards, and parallel chat rooms. While it’s not easily possible to determine whether a witness is telling the truth in court remotely, the quality of virtual court continues to improve to enable close scrutiny of a witness, including facial expressions and gestures, in addition to more enhanced ability to see the judge.
Some of the same issues of remote court hearings also come with advantages. Witnesses are less likely to feel intimidated, by the court buildings as well as by the commanding physical presence and body language of interrogating lawyers or facial expressions and quizzical looks of others in the court room.
There is ongoing competition from within the legal market to push firms to progress and allow tech-oriented businesses to play a bigger role in the legal process. With so many people working remotely these days, tech solutions have been geared towards helping their legal clients stay up-to-date on regulatory developments that are centered around changes that have come with the pandemic. As with so many other industries, the global pandemic is forcing new perspectives and changes about the next big steps in the law industry and in how they work, now and moving forward.