Embracing new technology
Understandably—and related to concerns about both client management and court operations—technology was on a lot of survey respondents’ minds. Several respondents to the Tennessee Bar Association survey noted some frustrations with remote work, such as missing the scanners and printers at their regular office, cumbersome security procedures (and glitches) in using their home computers and webcams, and burdensome new processes for things that used to be simple—such as having documents notarized.
Several in Tennessee said that they were already accustomed to some amount of remote work but that other factors have made this more difficult during the pandemic. For example, one said that remote work was not the issue, but a dramatic reduction in clients was; another said their work was going reasonably well from a functional standpoint but that they missed interaction with other lawyers, clients, and court personnel; and another indicated that a tornado around the same time as the start of the pandemic shutdown badly affected their infrastructure, including internet reliability, for several days.
When asked what type of training and educational topics would be most useful to themselves and their teams, many respondents to the State Bar of Michigan survey selected options (they were allowed up to five) that involve technology. For example:
- Virtual courtroom practice, 58.36 percent;
- new technology tools like Zoom and WebEx (usage of and privacy concerns), 48.61 percent;
- how to effectively practice law remotely, 48.09 percent;
- how to engage virtually with new clients, 38.34 percent; and
- switching to a paperless office, 28.23 percent.
A consistent theme both in and outside of the legal profession in recent months has been that, after a forced experiment with new technologies, some of these new procedures and tools were likely to remain indefinitely. The Florida Bar asked its survey respondents to consider that idea in more detail. Seventy-five percent of respondents said they thought some changes brought about by the pandemic would be permanent. For example:
- 85 percent (of the 75 percent) said remote working policies would likely see permanent change;
- 84 percent cited technological resources used by the courts;
- 81 percent expected permanent change to technological resources used by firms or legal offices; and
- 60 percent expected there will be an increased requirement for technology skills on hiring.
In a survey that focused mostly on what members need during the pandemic and how well the bar has provided it, members of the Maryland State Bar Association echoed the idea that the future will involve a hybrid of virtual and in-person opportunities. Online MSBA meetings and events had been attended by 60 percent of respondents. More than 62 percent of all respondents selected this statement: “Virtual meetings and virtual learning are critical and should not be diminished even when in-person meetings are possible.” Only about 23 percent indicated a preference for in-person meetings and learning whenever possible, with others saying they had no format preference as long as the content was compelling, and a much smaller percentage (less than 3 percent) saying they would attend in person if the MSBA had more events near them.
Responses to open-ended questions about the MSBA’s virtual programming during the pandemic convey a positive tone that might sound familiar to other bars, too:
- “Made the impossible possible, and the possible more convenient.”
- “Virtual learning is essential to the adaptive environment attorneys are in now and will be in the future.”
- “I don’t attend MSBA events except for CLE offerings, as travel time is prohibitive. Virtual offerings save me an incredible amount of time and make attending more events possible.”