The coronavirus pandemic has forced unprecedented changes for almost all businesses out there, and law firms are no exception. Lawyers and legal professionals are used to working round the clock to prepare for court, but as many high-stake trials are being put on hold, their legal assistance is much less needed now.
These times of uncertainty leaves lawyers with the need to rethink their approach and consider switching to a new area of practice. They may not get as many IPOs or M&A cases to work with, but the number of clients in need of assistance for labor and employment-related legal issues has grown quite significantly.
We wanted to understand the challenges, as well as the bright spots that legal professionals may encounter during these times, so we did our research and here’s what we found out.
Law students are dealing with a lot of uncertainty
The path to becoming a lawyer is, besides challenging, time-sensitive as well. There is if you want to call it so, an almost fixed schedule for students and law firms to abide by. Students need to work hard through both university and law school to catch the interest of law firms, which are hunting for new talent and offering job opportunities years in advance. If you want a chance to make it in the field, you need to stand out from year one of law school, which turns out to be very difficult right now.
The first challenge for law students right now is to keep up with their curriculum for the rest of the academic years. Switching to online teaching is the best approach, but sometimes it’s easier said than done. And even if online teaching worked like a charm, students still wonder how much time will pass until they will be able to take their exams and be handed their diplomas.
In the UK, for example, undergraduate students need to take several assessments for Foundation of Legal Knowledge (FLK) so that they can progress to the LPC (Legal Practice Course). Some universities are considering allowing students to pass the year and take the exams in the following academic years, but this is not a universal solution.
In the U.S., things are just as uncertain. The New York State bar exam that was supposed to take place on July 28-29 has been canceled and will be rescheduled for fall, but the dates are yet to be determined. And considering the New York legal market is the largest in the entire country, the cancellation of the exam is going to affect legal experts tremendously, especially those who are not looking to enter Big Law. Without a law firm hiring them as clerks or interns before they take the bar, many law students will not be able to make a living by working in the field.
Summer associate classes are either canceled or delayed
While some large firms have not made any announcements regarding changes in their summer associate classes, mid-size and small law firms have announced students that they are either canceling or delaying theirs.
Big law firms usually hire law students as clerks and give them two chances to pass the bar. They do so because they have a lot of work on their hands and clerks are much needed to help them out. Smaller firms, on the other hand, don’t have the means to do so and require students to pass the bar before they can hire them.
If small and medium firms are canceling their summer classes, very few options remain available for students. And because big law firms are losing business as well, one can only wonder how many clerks they are going to need in the following months.
You win some, you lose some
Companies delay expensive legal battles, mergers are on hold and courts are closed, which makes it hard for some law firms to find work. Those that specialize in labor and employment, however, are entitled to a bigger slice of the pie now. Some employees are being laid off, while others are starting to question the safety of their workplace, so they all start turning to lawyers for legal advice.
A car accident lawyer also stated they expect a spike in car accidents due to coronavirus panic. As people are getting anxious about what this lockdown will mean for them, they become careless with their driving and seem to forget basic safety rules. This results in cars being hit in parking lots, pedestrians crossing the streets recklessly and drivers stepping on the gas because traffic congestions have decreased.
Last, but not least, family lawyers expect to see a rise in divorces as couples are pushed to spend more time together at home. For families or couples were problems already exist, this self-isolation will do nothing but harm.
Law firms are weighing pay cuts, layoffs, and office needs
Big or small, law firms are doing whatever they can to financially survive this crisis. Some are implementing short-term solutions, while others are forced to make more than just a few changes. But even though each firm’s approaches may differ, the goal is the same for all: to build a financial war chest that will get them through the following months.
Several firms are slowing down pay distribution to partners, with some of them advising partners not to expect paychecks during the peak months of the crisis. And even though this may seem like a harsh approach, law firms are doing so to avoid layoffs.
Mid-sized firms, however, have not been able to avoid such unfortunate situations. To survive the crisis, many law firms throughout the U.S. were forced to lay off some of their staff, with promises to try and reinstate them once work levels increase.
The lawyers that have not been affected by these measures are starting to see how the coronavirus is reshaping the workplace. Many of them state that, upon discovering the perks of working from home, they can’t imagine going back to the office full time and will work remote whenever possible. This could mean some of them may not even need an exclusive office in the firm, which can lead to reduced operational costs.