How Does the Legal Profession Move Forward Post-Pandemic?
Despite 25 years of widespread changes to the profession of law brought on by an increasingly diverse bench and bar, natural disasters and economic challenges, unrest relating to racial justice and unthinkable technological advances, the changes that began on March 13, 2020, when much of the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have been the mostexponential and consequential to the members of the Maryland State Bar Association.
At the beginning of 2020, when things were still “normal,” attorneys throughout the state and nation were able to focus on preparing for trials with in-person depositions and in-office trial preparations. When courts shut down in March, a system that had cautiously trickled out electronic filing over a six-year period suddenly had to pivot to online, real-time virtual trials, hearings, mediations, and conferences. Law firms that had held on to paper trails and required formal business dress instantly had to grapple with staff and attorneys working from their homes, often while juggling childcare and educating their families.
Reflecting on the uninvited changes brought about by the novel coronavirus, David J. Shuster, Managing Partner at Kramon & Graham, P.A., saw some benefits to the profession. “Through the disruption, loss, and grief that we all felt during the pandemic, there were definite positives. Our work colleagues came together in remarkable and moving ways. They were asked to do new and different things and to work in new and different ways. Above all, they supported each other and rallied together. That same spirit took hold among area law firms. Firms collaborated with each other to find solutions to common challenges. Likewise, the bench and the bar worked together in concrete ways to address the challenges and pressures that the pandemic imposed on the justice system. While we all wished that the pandemic had never happened in the first place, I believe the true lasting effect of the pandemic will be that relationships within law firms, among law firms, and between the bench and bar have strengthened.”
As of this writing, the COVID pandemic is emerging from yet another wave that disrupted widespread plans for employers to bring their employees back into physical offices, often despite groans from employees who have enjoyed the flexibility of not having to commute every day. MSBA has covered countless news stories about the “new normal,” how law firms can operate in a hybrid manner, and how to maximize productivity when your staff is spread across the state and even beyond. Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum, Managing Partner at Brown Goldstein & Levy and co-organizer of MSBA’s informal managing partners group stated that “I am fairly certain that in post pandemic times, many law firms will be moving to some type of hybrid working environment as we continue to focus our efforts on the needs of our clients as well as the needs of our talented employees, while working hard to maintain the unique cultures of our respective firms.”
Despite the din of many voices expressing a desire to continue some of this brave new virtual world, there were signs mid-2021 that this may not be a long-term reality for lawyers
and law firms. In late July, 2021, the chief legal officer at Morgan Stanley sent a memo to law firms and legal service providers, encouraging them to improve client service by having lawyers and employees return to the office, according to a Morgan Stanley official. The memo went beyond gentle suggestion, hinting that “those continuing to operate remotely risk their relationship with the financial services giant.”
Within the court system, it remains to be seen whether the technological advances that allow for remote proceedings will lead to permanent changes in the way the judiciary operates. In a discussion with Thompson Reuters, several judges indicated that discretion would be important going forward, as some judges and attorneys would prefer all in-person proceedings while others would opt for remote. The discussion also touched on the idea of whether artificial intelligence could ever decide cases; one judge did not foresee that, because “algorithms making decisions in the judicial realm because there are too many ways that bias or inappropriate data or inappropriate analysis can be built into an algorithm.”