GetLegal Attorney-Clients Talk about the Changes, Now and in the Future
The coronavirus pandemic has caused massive changes in the worldwide economy and how business is conducted. The practice of law is no exception. Face-to-face interactions have traditionally been an integral component of attorney-client relationships, and crowded courthouses are the landscape for many. But dramatic shifts are underway, as practitioners adapt to social distancing and shelter-in-place restrictions. We spoke to a number of our customers, all practicing attorneys, and asked them a few questions about how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted the way they respond to client needs and what other changes they foresee moving forward.
The Immediate Impact of the Pandemic
Though some attorneys are still offering to meet clients in the office—while strictly following sanitation and social distancing recommendations—they’ve generally found clients reluctant to do so. Attorney Carrie Weir, in Rockwall, Texas, noted that “COVID-19 has made it very difficult to meet with clients directly,” saying she’s been using e-mail a lot more to send documents back and forth. Attorney Howard Sobel, in Voorhees, New Jersey, concurred, saying most client communication has been online or by phone.
As a consequence, all the attorneys we spoke with have replaced in-person meetings with teleconferences or Internet-based video conferences, using a variety of platforms, including Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, RingCentral, and GoToMeetings.
Most have maintained staff, though employees are generally working remotely. There’s also been a move away from hard copies of documents to the sharing of digital files, as well as an increase in the digital filing of complaints, motions, and other documents with the courts. Sobel noted that his office has been minimally staffed, with employees coming in only for essential tasks, like gathering mail. At least one attorney—Elliot Schlissel of Schlissel DeCorpo, in Lynnbrook, New York, said he has been forced to furlough some employees.
Those lawyers who regularly go to court have found that, where possible, they’re using online video conference and teleconference technology for hearings, particularly in critical legal matters. Attorney David Lipshutz, a lawyer in Stratford, New Jersey, told GetLegal that all court proceedings are either by teleconference or online video conference, with clients patched in. In courts without such technology, motions, trials, and depositions are being postponed, with the expectation that they’ll be rescheduled when the public perceives that it’s safe to congregate again.
The Long-Term Changes Anticipated as a Result of COVID-19
There’s a consensus among the attorneys interviewed that many of the technological shifts necessitated by the coronavirus will be adopted permanently. Sobel says that the experience has demonstrated the feasibility of working remotely, for both staff and lawyers. Lipshutz said he prefers in-person meetings with clients, and plans to offer them whenever practicable, but recognizes that clients may have concerns about coming to his offices.
GetLegal’s attorney-clients all anticipate that they will make much greater use of online filing and that video conferencing will become more widely accepted and practiced. As the courts reopen, most expect criminal and family law matters to be given priority. Accordingly, they believe that it may be some time before civil trials are scheduled. Because of that, they anticipate that more clients will be willing to consider settlement options.
Some attorneys have had challenges obtaining the tools needed to effectively conduct their practice, particularly technological requirements, such as webcams. Attorney Schlissel noted a specific challenge with getting documents scanned and posted online, opining that the pandemic had clearly made his office “less efficient.” Most said they intend to be more proactive about understanding and integrating new technologies into their practice.
The Silver Linings
Most attorneys interviewed see some benefits—immediate and long-term—from the way they’ve had to respond to the pandemic. Many said that incorporating digital technology into their practice has made them more efficient. Lipshutz finds that he is encountering less stress, and feels more productive, as the absence of courtroom proceedings eliminates most of his need to travel and sit in courthouses waiting for his case to be called. Lipshutz also enjoys the ability to work in his own office until contacted by the court clerk for a video or telephone conference. Weir said the pandemic has boosted her confidence in her ability to creatively meet the needs of her clients.