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Two Areas In Which The Covid Pandemic Has Changed Law Practice In The United States

William Blum

Solomon Blum Heymann LLP

21.04.23


There are several changes in law firm and court operations in the United States that many believe will become permanent.  These include frequency of attendance at the office (and the concomitant changes in the type of space law firms are likely to occupy), including both by attorneys and staff, and the methods of making court appearances and filings.

Shifting Legal Work: Unchanged Tasks, Changing Locations

Remote work became the norm during the height of the pandemic, but as the pandemic has receded, may attorneys and law firm staff have returned to the office at least part time.  To the extent that the trend of working, at least part time, from home or other remote locations has continued, and most expect that this will be a permanent change, the need for office space has been changing as well.  With fewer attorneys in attendance on a full time basis, smaller space requirements have become the trend and will likely continue.  While some attendance at the office will be required in many firms in order to foster collaboration on projects, and to allow for some in-person client meetings or transactions, the need and expectations for such attendance have been generally reduced.  

In addition to the need for less office space, firms also are focusing on how to best utilize staff and on which staff functions can be shifted to working from home and which can not.  This, in turn, of course determines what type of staff needs to be employed and how office functions may continue while maintaining a consistently high quality of legal output in terms of document production and otherwise.

Firms that will succeed in this environment are likely those which can transform the above factors into appropriate cost-cutting measures and policies to continue to attract and keep high quality legal talent.  This will require flexibility in office attendance policies and the creation of office environments and technology attuned these trends.

Courts Embrace Technology for Online Operations Especially in Civil Cases

While U.S. courts, both state and federal, have long had in place systems for making some court filings electronically, and while many state and federal courts actually require online electronic filing in civil matters as the sole acceptable method in many instances for filing pleadings and other documents, the courts had almost no history before the pandemic of conducting court proceedings remotely.  But beginning in March 2020 every state and the District of Columbia initiated online hearings at record rates to resolve many types of cases.  For example, the Texas court system, which had never held a civil hearing via video before the pandemic, conducted 1.1 million remote proceedings across its civil and criminal divisions between March 2020 and February 2021. Similarly, Michigan courts held more than 35,000 video hearings totaling nearly 200,000 hours between April 1 and June 1, 2020, compared with no such hearings during the same two months in 2019.  Other states have similar figures.

Other procedural aspects of many U.S. court systems were upgraded at the same time including expanding the use of online filing, online discovery, electronic notarization methods, and the like.  The result is that the pandemic effectively accelerated the upgrading of the procedural systems in many U.S. courts.

But due in part to the fact that the U.S. Constitution provides that criminal defendants are entitled to legal representation regardless of ability to pay, utilizing electronic appearances and hearings in the criminal law context is substantially less practical than on the civil side, so the use of remote proceedings is more limited in the criminal context.

In any event, however, it is evident that these improvements are here to stay and we can credit the pandemic for a positive result in terms of modernizing court administration in the United States.

Solomon Blum Heymann LLP

New York, NY and 

St. Thomas, USVI

info@solblum.com

www.solblum.com

1-212-267-7600

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