It’s been little more than a bleeding edge topic for a while, but the coronavirus crisis has very quickly forced radical changes to the practice of law, across broad swathes of the American legal landscape. With many states under stay-at-home orders and courts across the country closed for normal operations, lawyers have had to rapidly readjust their thinking when it comes to managing their practices.
For many, the answer lies in new approaches to practice or case management. Legal technology has come a long way from the days of the paper calendar and address book, and today there are a multitude of options for the legal office looking to streamline a practice and allow for work from virtually anywhere in the world. We recently covered some of these options in a Brown Bag session for the ABA Section of Family Law. Many of these software packages provide options for cloud storage of client files, automated time tracking, online task management, and streamlined accounting and electronic payment methods.
There is certainly no one-size-fits-all solution, but the point of such software is to decentralize the practice and to allow for attention to a client matter from any location in which you’ve got access to the internet – your office, your home, your local park bench, and so on. Using the cloud has become less of a luxury and more of a necessity. While the legal profession has been slower to adopt cloud computing than the business world, largely because of concerns over security, its usefulness in the present circumstances can’t be overstated.
Communicating in the 21st Century was already largely electronic, as email steadily supplants paper sent via “snail mail.” There’s no difference to the client between an email sent from your physical office and an email sent from your home office. Phone calls and conferences can be made from cell phones just as easily as hard lines, and for those lawyers who value the privacy of their cell phone number, softphone systems that use VoIP (voice over internet protocol) to replicate the office phone system anywhere there’s an internet connection can allow those calls to be made “from the office”. And as many of us are quickly discovering these days, face-to-face contact in the age of social distancing is still available via videoconferencing, such as through Skype, Facetime or Zoom.
And despite the massive upheaval created by the national response to COVID-19, courts are learning new tricks, too. While many are choosing to eliminate in-person hearings in all but the most egregious emergency cases, some courts are trying to conduct business as usual via telephone or video conferencing. Every state and court is different, but it’s clear that even while life as usual might be curtailed, the issues that family law clients regularly face aren’t, and courts are rising to the challenge of dealing with those matters remotely.
The shift to a work-from-home model for the practice of law may seem like it’s an emergency, short-term solution, but as the pandemic abates it’ll be interesting to see how many of these changes become the rule rather than the exception. Many of these tools and solutions can be implemented long-term even in the absence of a public health crisis, to allow for a more balanced, flexible and responsive practice.