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February 16, 2021

Midyear 2021: ABA helps profession move forward amid COVID-19

Nearly a year after COVID-19 swept across the country and the world, the legal profession is still reeling from the effects of the global pandemic. Lawyers and the judicial system continue to try to find new ways to do business and stay afloat.

Last May, the American Bar Association formed the Coordinating Group on Practice Forward to coordinate pandemic-responsive resources throughout the ABA and to look beyond the COVID-19 crisis for new ways for legal professionals to provide their services and deliver justice. The group will give an update on its work and progress at its CLE program, Practice Forward – State-of-the-Art Best Practices for a Profession Impacted by the Pandemic,” co-sponsored by the Law Practice Division, Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division and Diversity and Inclusion Center. The program will be held during the 2021 ABA Virtual Midyear Meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 17 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. CT.

The featured panelists are:

  • William R. Bay, partner, Thompson Coburn LLP, St. Louis; and co-chair of the ABA Practice Forward Coordinating Group
  •  Laura V. Farber, partner, Hahn & Hahn LLP, Pasadena, California; and co-chair of Practice Forward
  • Roberta Liebenberg, senior partner, Fine, Kaplan and Black, Philadelphia
  • Judy Perry Martinez, immediate past president of the ABA and of Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn, New Orleans
  • Patricia Lee Refo, ABA president and partner, Snell & Wilmer, Phoenix
  • Stephanie A. Scharf, founding partner, Scharf Banks Marmor LLC, Chicago

The ABA commissioned the largest survey of ABA members ever taken to understand how the pandemic has prompted legal employers to revise their policies and procedures; how diversity, equity and inclusion programs have been affected; and what resources are needed by attorneys as they continue to work. Scharf and Liebenberg will present survey results and recommendations for best practices and strategies for legal professionals going forward.

“The near-universal transition to remote work has had a profound impact on all lawyers, regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, area of practice or practice setting, and will surely lead to many fundamental changes in the practice of law even after the pandemic eventually ends,” Liebenberg said.

For example, the pandemic has mostly eliminated the stigma of working from home for lawyers and many would like to regularly work remotely, Scharf said. But remote work also has presented challenges, especially for women lawyers with children. “Emerging from the pandemic will not eliminate the competing demands of work and home, and the stresses that result, especially for lawyers in law firms with onerous billable-hour requirements,” Scharf said.  

The program also will include discussion about best practices for long-term remote work, how the pandemic has impacted lawyer well-being, and changes that will help legal employers and their lawyers deal with the new normal, regardless of their experience or practice settings.