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The Legal Landscape One Year into the Pandemic

Posted March 16, 2021

Rolling Over to 2021

Most years are filled with celebrations – birthdays, holidays, anniversaries and other milestone events. For the last year, we’ve had to come up with new ways to mark these milestones –  without traditional celebrations, without loved ones, with masks and from a distance.

Now, we are at another significant juncture – one year into the most pervasive global pandemic in recent times. It’s been one turn around the sun since COVID-19 arrived in America. More than 500,000 of us have succumbed and 20 million Americans have been vaccinated.

As we move into the thirteenth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, the legal landscape continues to mirror the U.S. economy in some ways and outshine it in others. Service industries, such as restaurants, bars and hotels, were hit hard with unemployment rising nationwide. The same result is seen on the legal front where recent law school graduates seem to be impacted the most.

Freshly minted attorneys who had just passed the bar faced rescinded job offers and those lucky enough to keep their offers were met with delayed start dates from the fall to the first of the year. Established attorneys who survived layoffs faced changes in compensation.

Those on the periphery of the legal market suffered as well when the demand for new and additional legal office cratered and existing leases were renegotiated. In fact, the trend towards smaller-footprint law offices has been fast-forwarded by as much as ten years.

However, other services firms focused on the legal market are expecting to see an ongoing increase in demand – information technology companies. At first, newly remote lawyers and staff members needed help to set up connected home offices. By now, the technology-related cost of equipping the at-home workforce has passed. What’s coming, however, could be more daunting and certainly more expensive as legal firms put advanced cybersecurity in place to protect against breaches of confidential information. Additionally, the makeshift video legal proceeding, first thought to be a temporary inconvenience, has become ubiquitous. Socially distanced lawyers are managing through these new virtual legal proceedings, sometimes with ease and sometimes as cats.

Despite the negatives, the remote legal workforce kicked into high gear in the past year, generating record revenues for some firms. The nation’s top 50 firms increased revenues by 7.6% in the first nine months of 2020. However, smaller firms posted more sluggish financial results.

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