Though we are still uncertain of when a return to “normal” will take place, vaccine availability is, at the very least, providing many of us with something that we have not had in nine months—hope. Hope in the ability to travel again, hug our friends, and enjoy socializing with loved ones without wearing masks. Though we do not know what our post-pandemic future looks like, one thing is for certain, it will not look the same as our lives before 2020. The world is different now, and lawyering is no exception.
Despite all the horrible ways our lives and industry have been forever impacted by this pandemic (financial uncertainty, industry instability, physical and mental health struggles, the list goes on and on), for young lawyers—particularly those engaged in civil litigation—the post-pandemic era could bring about some unique opportunities that were not available previously.
For starters, even as we slowly return to some pre-pandemic practices, court dockets will likely remain bogged down for months because of the hearings and trials that have been continued. This may lead to increased settlement pressure from parties, courts, and clients alike. This increased pressure could open up unique opportunities for young lawyers to develop creative strategies and solutions to approaching cases or settlement prospects that may have once seemed far-fetched because they were not in line with traditional principals.
Separately, even once it is safe and advisable to travel again, we may see a continued decrease in work travel. Now that clients, firms, and courts have invested in technology upgrades and become more comfortable with virtual environments, we may see more court hearings or conferences taking place in that space—particularly where out-of-state attorneys are involved. We may also see pressure from clients to continue some of our pandemic legal practices for cost-savings purposes. Why would a client want to spend $1,000 or more for a plane ticket, hotel stay, and meals for a half-day deposition, prep meeting, hearing, or settlement conference when the same results can be obtained virtually?
These potential increases in virtual lawyering open up several opportunities for young lawyers. First, even where a more senior lawyer is taking the lead on a case, clients may be more amenable to a younger lawyer participating for the sake of experience where no travel costs are included. Second, senior lawyers may be more willing to let associates or younger partners take the lead on virtual events because of their comfort level with technology. You can set yourself up for success in this arena by becoming an expert at utilizing technology in depositions, hearings, mediations, etc. Invest some of your non-billable time to learning the ins and outs of the various systems, getting comfortable using exhibits on virtual platforms, and become the “go-to lawyer” at your firm for virtual lawyering needs.
Young lawyers have also had an opportunity to showcase how adaptable they are at adjusting to meet current circumstances. Keep capitalizing on this! Even after the pandemic, we may see a dramatic shift in work environments. Firms that have seen cost-savings but maintained productivity while lawyers worked virtually may continue that system. Firms may also see more pressure to adapt to flexible work styles and schedules. Now that employees are equipped to work virtually, there may be higher demand for flexible work schedules. This could be a positive thing for diversity and inclusion efforts. For example, it could open up more opportunities for progression in the legal profession for women, those who are primary caretakers in their family, single parents, those responsible for taking care of older family members, etc., because travel schedules that would prove an obstacle to some qualified diverse attorneys may no longer be an impediment.
Overall, just as the post-pandemic world is going to alter the legal profession, it will also be altering the various industries of your clients. Find ways to be responsive and meet them where they are with creative solutions to billing, cost-savings measures, and of course top-notch service. Be forward thinking, creative, and adaptable, which will help position you to be a better lawyer on the other side of this pandemic.