July 28, 2020

Annual 2020: Life after COVID-19 for legal profession explored by task force

The coronavirus pandemic has rocked the world and thrust everyone into a so-called “new normal.” All facets of business and society have been affected — and the legal profession is no exception.

Lawyers and judges are conducting trials and other court proceedings via Zoom and other teleconferencing apps. Law firm staffs have swiftly adjusted to working remotely. Rules and guidelines for doing business in the legal arena are constantly changing. And an onslaught of lawsuits is on the horizon, stemming from everything from evictions and unemployment claims to contract issues and family law matters.

How will lawyers and others deal with the myriad legal and workplace issues left in the pandemic’s wake? To shed some light, “COVID-19: Legal Issues, Responses and Practice Going Forward” will be presented at the 2020 ABA Virtual Annual Meeting on Wednesday, July 29 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. CT. The CLE Showcase program, sponsored by the Coordinating Group on Practice Forward and Task Force on Legal Needs Arising Out of the 2020 Pandemic, will feature the following panelists:

  • Laura Farber, partner, Hahn & Hahn LLP, Pasadena, California; and co-chair of the ABA Coordinating Group on Practice Forward
  • Elizabeth Lang Miers, partner, Locke Lord LLP, Dallas; and chair of the ABA Judicial Division and member of the pandemic task force
  • James L. Sandman, chair of the pandemic task force
  • Jo-Ann Wallace, president and CEO, National Legal Aid & Defender Association; and a liaison to the pandemic task force

Last March, the ABA created a nationwide task force of volunteer lawyers and judges in response to the growing legal needs arising from the coronavirus pandemic. The group has been making recommendations to address those needs and helping to mobilize volunteer lawyers and legal professionals for people who want assistance. In May, the association also established the Coordinating Group on Practice Forward to coordinate pandemic-responsive resources throughout the ABA and to look beyond the COVID-10 crisis for innovations and new ways for legal professionals to provide their services and deliver justice.                   

Sandman, who will serve as the program’s moderator, said the session will identify the most pressing legal needs the pandemic has spawned. “We’ll also explain the challenges court systems have faced as well as describe how lawyers, legal services organizations, public defenders and courts have adapted and improved their services to respond to a radically different environment.”

Farber will highlight the work of the Coordinating Group on Practice Forward. She said COVID-19 has created challenges as well as opportunities for the legal profession.  “Most of the profession is learning to work remotely in a world that is undergoing tremendous restructuring — from the courts to firms, to law schools and bar examiners. All institutions will change, and some believe permanently as a result of this pandemic.” Farber said the challenges the profession faces include lack of access to technology and virtual tools for law practice; justice system backlogs; economic impact of losing business and legal jobs; language and disability access; discrimination at work; and ethics and cybersecurity issues.

To help legal professionals with those challenges and more, the ABA will launch a new website (ambar.org/practiceforward) on July 29. “Members and our legal profession will have a virtual one-stop space at their fingertips that will grow over time and be nimble and responsive to our members’ needs in this evolving environment,” Farber said.

Finally, the showcase program will provide an overview of best practices in pro bono mobilization to address the legal needs during and after a national emergency, Sandman said. Ultimately, the ABA wants to “help lawyers and courts function more efficiently and effectively going forward in light of the lessons of the pandemic,” he said.