Legal Glimpse: Lessons from COVID-19

March 25, 2020

Beyond the urgent question of what to expect with COVID-19, we must wonder about the future of humanity and the outlook of innovation. We’ve seen companies working remotely, baby boomers using technology to thrive in adverse circumstances, and the funny “memes” or Tik Tok videos that remind us that we will overcome this crisis.

Image of Apple Airpods captioned Flexing in March 2019 and image of portable hand sanitizer captioned Flexing in March 2020

There is no doubt that a crisis causes many problems, but it also creates opportunities for innovation. In fact, we can take some lessons from the COVID-19 crisis. Rather than focusing on the negative, we can focus on how creativity, collaboration, and innovation are vital for us to become better human beings. These are essential tools for the legal industry.

How Legal Service Providers Can Adapt to COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic is not affecting all countries to the same extent, and recovery processes will be very unequal. The intensity of the shock and the differences in countries’ innovation systems will produce different results. However, to accelerate the process of recovery, creativity will be key.

1: Creativity

Creativity does not mean using enhanced technologies for everything, even if the use of those technologies comes at a greater cost than doing it manually. Creativity comes down to having an open mind. Just like Frank Zappa once said: “A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open”.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we can see small examples of human creativity everywhere. For example, creativity can be as simple as creating a Google Chrome extension to have Netflix parties while in self-isolation.

That doesn’t mean that creativity comes only with the use of technology. For instance, human creativity was magnificently embodied in Spain, where a gym instructor gave free workout sessions from his roof to all the neighboring apartments in quarantine. Finally, creativity can be exhibited in something as simple as artists creating informative illustrations to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Image below from Oliver Jeffers.

A drawing of the Earth wearing a face mask. The image says Now More Than Ever Think "We" Not "Me". Image credit to Oliver Jeffers.
Image from Oliver Jeffers.

Creativity has never been more important. Not only to get past the COVID-19 crisis, but also for the evolution and survival of the legal industry. Creativity comes down to having an open mind and exploring new opportunities in the face of adversity. If you see opportunities to enhance and better the legal profession, you should do it. Don’t be afraid of the critics or the status quo. A creative process requires brave men and women that will bring people together and create new and better opportunities.

Many attorneys embrace the traditional approach to the profession. However, in the legal industry, there is room for both tradition and creativity. An attorney is not only an advisor but a creative problem solver to legal issues. After the coronavirus pandemic, which we will overcome, new legal problems will arise. To solve those problems, creativity will be imperative for the legal industry. However, creativity is not an action that happens overnight. Creativity requires collaboration.

2: Collaboration

A cartoon of a guard standing in front of a window display of toilet paper in a Tiffany jewelry store while a crowd of people, some wearing masks, admire the display. Image credit Mark Knight
Image from Mark Knight

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of global systems and, sometimes, the selfishness of human beings. For example, panic buying and stockpiling toilet paper can be selfish. If we don’t exercise empathy, we may not notice that other people will struggle to find toilet paper (and they might need it). You don’t need 100 rolls of toilet paper to prevent a virus. You just need to take reasonable precautions. Wash your hands and keep social distancing. The overstocking of one product goes a long way into showing how we should not act in a crisis.

Collaboration can flourish during a time of crisis. For instance, just this week it was announced that China was sending medical experts to Italy to fight the pandemic. Another example is the donation from Jack Ma, co-founder of the Chinese tech giant Alibaba. Jack Ma recently pledged a donation to the United States, providing 500,000 COVID-19 testing kits and over 1 million protective face masks. As Jack Ma made the donation, he published a statement on Twitter that said: “(…) we need to combat the virus by working hand-in-hand. At this moment, we can’t beat this virus unless we eliminate boundaries to resources and share our know-how and hard-earned lessons.”

Under the header of The Jack Ma Foundation, the statement reads: Over the past few weeks, Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation collaborated to source and donate much-needed materials to combat COVID-19 to afflicted areas in Japan, Korea, Italy, Iran and Spain. Now, we have sourced and readied for shipment 500,000 testing kits and 1 million masks to be donated to the United States. Drawing from my own country's experience, speedy and accurate testing and adequate personal protective equipment for medical professionals are most effective in preventing the spread of the virus. We hope that our donation can help Americans fight against the pandemic! This crisis presents a huge challenge to all humankind in a globalized world. The pandemic we face today can no longer be resolved by any individual country. Rather, we need to combat the virus by working hand-in-hand. At this moment, we can't beat this virus unless we eliminate boundaries to resources and share our know-how and hard-earned lessons. United we stand, divided we fall! Jack Ma
Image from Jack Ma Foundation

I truly believe that collaboration is essential in times of crisis. Collaboration requires empathy and spaces to work with other professionals for creativity to bloom. Legal professionals need to establish improbable partnerships and be multidisciplinary to find solutions. Legal professionals must work with software developers, economists, mathematicians, and other professionals in order to implement successful ideas in a digital ecosystem.

After this crisis, similar to the 2008 financial crisis, the legal industry will take a hit. Clients will be conscious about their spending and, maybe, will demote basic legal needs as a priority. However, if we exercise creativity and collaboration with our clients, we can find solutions without compromising their need for basic legal services. If we couple together creativity and collaboration, we can find innovative solutions and new business models.

3: Innovation

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown fragilities in the health, economic and judicial sectors. For instance, judicial courts in Maryland, Los Angeles, Sydney, and London closed and restricted access to justice for a big part of their population. We can all probably agree that it was the best decision to close judicial courts to avoid the spread of the virus - that is not in question. However, we must wonder why we keep insisting on solving disputes using exclusively the physical infrastructure of the judiciary. Couldn’t technology help to solve disputes during the coronavirus outbreak? What about virtual courtrooms? Why haven’t we come up with better solutions to close the gap in basic access to justice? Maybe it is time for lawyers to be more innovative.

I can’t help but stop and wonder how the legal industry will be affected by the coronavirus pandemic. To solve this question, we can draw comparisons for the 2008 financial crisis. How was the legal industry affected by the events of 2008 and its aftermath? Well, in the words of John S. Dzieńkowski:

The economic crises of the past ten to fifteen years that resulted from various corporate financial scandals and failures, the bursting of the housing bubble and related problems in the banking and mortgage loan industries, the dot-com boom and its subsequent crash, and the losses in unregulated derivatives markets have all contributed to a likely reduction in the need for high-dollar legal work. In the last five years, many of the top 100 law firms have suffered significant declines in their gross revenues and have taken measures to reduce their reliance upon a leveraged model of the associate-partner pyramid.

As a result of the 2008 financial crisis, several innovative legal services models began to offer alternatives to traditional lawyers. Clearspire, Axiom, and VLP Law Group were just a few results from the financial collapse. In other words, innovation came after a time of crisis.

Obviously not every idea is going to be successful, but by making it clear that all ideas are worth exploring, you may lay a foundation for creative chaos. Set a culture where people can speak up, execute projects and, most importantly, empower them. Innovation can come in all shapes and sizes. For example, during the coronavirus pandemic, Antonelli’s Cheese Shop implemented technology to promote delivery and curbside pickup. They even offer a virtual cheesemonger experience!

A cartoon of two men and two women sitting in a wrecked, messy office. The caption says "We've got the disruptive part down, now we just need to innovate."

Too often lawyers tend to equate innovation, collaboration, and creativity in law with legal tech. However, they are not the same. In a legal market where clients are demanding increased efficiency, lower costs, process optimization, and accessible services, innovation can be implemented without the use of legal tech. Legal tech can certainly help to innovate, but some of the most impactful innovations in law are the result of a change in mindset. In my experience, innovation is not possible without creativity and collaboration. Use these three tools and you can become a pioneer in shaping the future of the legal industry.

Conclusion: Lawyers Will Recover from Coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has not produced “the end of lawyers”. However, this crisis will be an opportunity for the legal industry to innovate in an emerging digital marketplace. Law is no longer about billable hours.

Please, do not panic! In the face of adversity, humans can thrive. In the past, similar crises have ignited disruptive transformations. Innovation is necessary for the progress of the legal system, and this progress is an essential ingredient for economic growth. The challenge is to devise solutions while ensuring a proper balance between private and social incentives

COVID-19 will cause many difficulties for people, but it will also create opportunities for innovation across the legal industry. This is time for you to take more risks, focus on the future and embrace the opportunity to become a pioneer. You can find innovation, collaboration, and creativity almost anywhere. Take me for example; I have recently joined A2J Tech Store in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. However, the unusual circumstances will not be an impediment to work with a brilliant team that is looking to innovate in law by creating new tools to enhance access to justice.

Legal innovation has such a profound impact on the future of society. Rather than ignoring the future, start improving the outlook of the legal industry. Bet on yourself and don’t let this crisis go to waste.

Post provided by Mauricio Duarte

Follow Mauricio on Twitter @mauduartel

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