Awful Impact’: The Long-Lasting Effects of COVID-19 on the Practice of Law

Posted on December 07, 2020
Daily Business Review

The legal profession often seems more comfortable with the quill-pen era than artificial intelligence, but the COVID-19 crisis shook up the practice of law, and technology stood out as a domain for change.

South Florida attorneys recognized by the Daily Business Review as Most Effective Lawyers this year were asked what long-lasting effects they see from the coronavirus pandemic on litigation and transactions.

Frequent fliers were grounded, and masks became the norm. A few sense something is missing when face-to-face contact is eliminated from both friendly and adversarial encounters, but time keeps marching on.

A profession seen as a haven for the last tech adopters had no choice but to join Zoom video conferences and otherwise figure out how to accomplish everything remotely. Many are enthusiastic about the changes and hope some adjustments become permanent.

Here’s what the attorneys think about living and working through the worst pandemic in a century.

Alan I. Annex, Greenberg Traurig global corporate practice co-chair:

Businesses have found video conference calls to be an acceptable alternative, and in fact a time efficient way, to negotiate a deal. In the old days (2019) we would often all get in one room and stay there together until we hashed out the remaining issues on a deal. Unfortunately what we have gained in efficiency we have lost in the personal interaction that would take place during the breaks in negotiating sessions where you really got to better know the people on the other side and even your own client.

Ardith Bronson, DLA Piper partner:

Despite the pandemic’s devastating impact on human life, the use of technology in its wake has improved access to justice for people who are in need of pro bono services. Historically, sourcing pro bono lawyers for cases came with a host of challenges, including attorney time and geographic limitations. The rise of video conferencing during the pandemic has necessitated judicial recognition of the benefits of using technology as a fast and efficient means to conduct court hearings and other court business, greatly increasing access to pro bono services for individuals who previously were hard pressed to find an attorney willing to take their cases. I believe this will continue in the years to come.

Matthew Dietz, Disability Independence Group litigation director:

As a disability rights lawyer, I see a greater flexibility to allowing work accommodations such as telecommuting; however, I expect to see many more issues involving the mental health and long-term effects of COVID-19 in employment-related and fair housing-related litigation.

Paul Geller, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd managing partner:

In our practice, we often traveled a ton pre-COVID, and it was not uncommon to jump on a plane for a two-hour meeting in California or New York, then fly back to South Florida after. Though I do think face-to-face meetings can be important, we’ve learned that Zoom meetings are a pretty good alternative. I believe we’re going to travel a bit less even after the pandemic.

Robert C. Gilbert, Kopelowitz Ostrow Ferguson Weiselberg Gilbert partner:

I see continued flexibility among attorneys in the way they practice. One year ago, no one took depositions by video even though the rules permitted it. Now, I’d imagine that the majority of less important depositions will be by video even in a post-COVID world. I also believe that state court motion calendar hearings will (should) continue to be remotely held.

Steven Mark Greenberg, Shutts & Bowen partner:

The virus coupled with the 2020 election cycle and the resulting uncertainty has had an awful impact on the availability of venture capital to support early stage and emerging tech, and therefore IP transactions. But as with all things, I expect that this condition is short lived. 2021 should be a recovery year for entrepreneurship.

Jordi Guso, Berger Singerman managing partner:

If there is one positive that has come from this experience is how quickly professionals embraced and leveraged technology. Our experiences before the federal and state courts and in the “virtual conference rooms” have demonstrated that we can continue to provide exceptional client service even in the most challenging of times. The technology, and our reliance upon it, are here to stay. Even older colleagues have embraced it and discovered how technology creates efficiencies.

Steven Hadjilogiou, McDermott Will & Emery international tax partner:

COVID-19 influences the way in which we work. It is much more difficult for all parties to meet in one room to discuss strategy or resolve issues. However, the virtual meeting room platforms have made the transition quite smooth. With cross-border deals, most discussions were between parties in different time zones. Therefore, we were accustomed to discussions by conference call. It has been a pleasant upgrade to also see the faces of those who we work with.

Adam Hall, The Hall Law Firm president:

The court system has been and will continue to be dramatically transformed to become much more technologically sophisticated. Virtual hearings have made a trial lawyer’s practice much more efficient. For example, Uniform Motion Calendar, where dozens of lawyers spend more than an hour in court to argue a minor five-minute motion, will likely never return to an in-person activity. The ability to remain in one’s office and work on various matters while waiting for your case to be called has greatly increased an attorney’s productivity and reduces billing to clients. While I strongly believe that trials should be conducted in-person, most routine hearings can be handled much more efficiently through a virtual hearing platform. I doubt that this would have occurred without the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rory Eric Jurman, Hinshaw & Culbertson partner:

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a notable impact upon litigation. Social-distancing guidelines required that the legal industry, known for being somewhat slow to embrace technology, shift to remote working quickly and use tools needed to do so effectively. Courts and legal firms rapidly adopted videoconferencing and other electronic solutions to keep providing forums for litigants to resolve disputes amid courthouse closures and the suspension of jury trials. The demands that remote working is placing on the legal profession might initiate a permanent change on how legal work is performed, and the many technological changes being adopted may persist beyond COVID-19. In fact, the new adoption of technology is fostering an efficient vehicle and pathway to increase productivity and save costs. While many practitioners continue to be reluctant on the use of anything other than face-to-face depositions, as many believe that the elements of persuasion and pressure of the witness may be somewhat affected, social-distancing requirements has provided a growing familiarity with applications that support holding depositions in that fashion, which may cause such resistance to dissipate. At the same time, familiarity is also growing in holding arbitrations, mediation and hearings in a remote fashion, with a more wider acceptance across the legal profession.

Brad Kaufman, Greenberg Traurig co-president:

The obvious — more reliance on virtual meetings, depositions, etc. Also some reconfiguration of the workplace and workforce.

Etan Mark, Mark Migdal & Hayden partner:

I see continued flexibility among attorneys in the way they practice. One year ago, no one took depositions by video even though the rules permitted it. Now, I’d imagine that the majority of less important depositions will be by video even in a post-COVID world. I also believe that state court motion calendar hearings will (*should*) continue to be remotely held.

Steven Marks, Podhurst Orseck managing partner:

The coronavirus pandemic has taught everyone about some of the benefits of technology; however, the biggest takeaway has been seeing the ways in which technology can help achieve results more efficiently. We have found that depositions, hearings on certain motions, and even mediations can be accomplished through platforms such as Zoom, and that has helped save travel time and costs. Many of us had to learn to use that sort of technology for the first time during the pandemic, and because of that, we now live in a world where attorneys and judges have grown accustomed to using technology. In the future, I see a world where we rely on technology more often in ways that allow us to handle cases and resolve issues more efficiently.

Sigrid McCawley, Boies Schiller Flexner partner:

I think one of the lasting effects of COVID will be the ability to handle less significant issues without the need for extensive travel. Pre-COVID I was on an airplane regularly for even ministerial hearings. Now we see judges gaining comfort and even preferring the ability to handle status conferences and other scheduling conferences via Zoom. I think judges and parties will continue to be more open to allow Zoom-related conferences and saving on the expense of unnecessary travel. The arbitration space is even further ahead in this regard and many arbitral forums are presently holding very significant arbitration hearings all by Zoom or a similar technology.

David Miller, Bryant Miller Olive shareholder:

Everyone has long since realized that there is going to be a lot less emphasis on brick-and-mortar offices and a lot more work done remotely. What I don’t see anyone addressing is how to replace the intangible but very real benefits that law firms, other businesses and people get from the everyday, face-to-face interactions that occur in shared physical space. Talking to a “Brady Bunch” panel on a computer screen is no substitute for sitting in your colleague’s office to discuss a case or just to solve the world’s problems together over coffee.

James Sammataro, Pryor Cashman co-chair of media and entertainment:

The last bastions holding off the immersion of technology have washed away. Videotaped hearings and depositions are the new norm.

Michael Silva and Gregory Weigand, McDermott Will & Emery tax partners:

Negotiating and structuring deals through increased usage of virtual meeting technology. The pandemic has forced us to remain connected through virtual meetings and given the technology is relatively easy to use, we have found it easier to meet with our clients and other deal parties without the need to travel for in-person meetings. Moreover, given the cross-border nature of some of our transactions, the technology has positively impacted our ability to counsel international clients who are unable to travel for in-person meetings.

John Uustal, Kelley | Uustal partner:

I think COVID will be with us for a couple more years. That will further accelerate the trends to remote work and remote litigation. Some of that is great. But we must find a way to protect the jury trial, which must be in person. It is a constitutional right that is fundamental to our freedom.

Peter F. Valori, Damian & Valori| Culmo Trial Attorneys managing partner:

I feel that we will see permanent adaptation of remote attendance at hearings and other court proceedings, especially as to matters which are routine, which will result in more efficiency and greater access to the courts.

Scott Wagner, Bilzin Sumberg partner:

I believe that remote depositions and hearings are here to stay. While not appropriate in all–or even most — circumstances, lawyers and judges have come to appreciate the efficiencies that can be gained by allowing for remote appearances. I think that judges that were reticent to allow for any remote appearances before the pandemic and lawyers that always had to be “there” for depositions will have a new outlook when we return to “normal.”

Matthew Weinshall, Podhurst Orseck partner:

It has demonstrated how much work can be done effectively outside of a formal office setting, which may lead firms to be more amenable to, or even encouraging of, remote-working arrangements. It also has forced litigators to use technology, which they previously may not have been eager to utilize, to conduct remote depositions and share exhibits. Generally positive experiences with such technology may lead to more remote depositions and less travel in the future.

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