Undoubtedly the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the course of our lives as we’ve known it. It’s imprinted an indelible mark in time, BC (before corona) and AC (after corona). Overnight it seems, the future of even the most stable industries now lie in the balance. With the morbid threat of COVID-19 currently looming so large over us, it is hard to focus on the long-term impacts on the legal industry. We’re already seeing salary cuts, benefit reductions, furloughs and layoffs in corporations and law firms everywhere. While some businesses are, so far, weathering the storm intact. There’s no denying, in the words of Bob Dylan, “the times, they are a changin’.”
COVID-19 Impacts on the Legal Industry
Pre-COVID-19, telecommuting seemed to be a bit of a tug-of-war between employees and employers. Employees desired the flexibility of working at home. While employers, such as Bank of America and Yahoo, started pulling employees back into the office as they recognized the very real challenges of managing large teams remotely. Still in 2018, 70% of the world’s population worked remotely at least once a week, and 53% for at least half the week.
The debate over how remote work affects productivity ended abruptly as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. Companies rushed to put systems in place to create an efficient and effective network for remote workers.
Now after a very, very long month has passed, we realize that businesses can survive working 100% remotely. It’s been an experiment none of us could have imagined. When we’re allowed to re-enter the workplace, the scales of favorability of working remotely may tip the other way. Employers may embrace the cost-savings of remote employees; while employees, suffering from the trauma of quarantine, may beg to return to the office.
Online Social Distancing
As the airline industry clings to life on the hope of a bailout, Zoom’s stock rose from $68.72 on January 1 to $164.60 today, proving that there is always opportunity. A few short months ago, employers valued in-person team meetings to build comradery. In-person client meetings that began with a strong handshake were preferable. Now, the handshake may be permanently replaced by the elbow bump.
All those lavish and plentiful board rooms are now empty as people social distance via online meetings. Co-workers get a new perception into the lives of their co-workers as we peer into the background of their kitchen, living room or home office. Back in the 60’s and 70’s afterwork cocktails were commonplace (not to mention the “liquid lunch”) until strict drinking and driving laws put a stop to that dangerous social behavior. Perhaps the virtual afterwork cocktail party will become the new thing?
There’s nothing new about Outsourcing. The economic downturn of the early 2000’s led to layoffs of thousands of highly-skilled attorneys. As devastating as it seemed at the time, it didn’t stop that fierce group. Those lawyers became the pioneers of the “outside counsel” sector of remote lawyers who forever changed the legal industry. In fact, I was on that bandwagon. I earned my Legal Rebel wings as an original “virtual paralegal”. The attorneys of that new sector needed the highly-skilled paralegal resources that they were accustomed to having in their law firms. I was fortunate to fill that void.
Over the past 16 or so years, outsourcing has become a widely-accepted option to control overhead costs, supplement staffing shortages or cost-effectively handle specific projects. In fact, we’ve seen the solid emergence of another new sector, Alternative Legal Service Providers (“ALSP”) who are niche companies specializing in providing cost-effective high-demand legal services. Velawcity Legal Support Services, is one such ALSP, that helps companies rescue their bottom line by cutting business filing costs and services. I expect that we’ll see an uptick in the use of ALSPs as businesses focus on rebounding from the COVID-19 financial hit.
Getting the Job Done on COVID Time
Every business and government sector has been hard hit while we, collectively, keep a sharp focus on “flattening the curve”. Who could have imagined businesses could be conducted 100% virtually? Or courthouses could be closed, indefinitely? Yet, here we are.
As business paralegals, we’re amazed to see how COVID-19 affected our secretaries of states. Some secretaries of states, like Delaware, have managed to keep processes moving as close to normal as possible. While others, like Illinois, were closed for weeks, being unable to process any filings. The IRS is virtually unavailable to issue EIN’s to new businesses if the online application is unacceptable for any reason. Not so long ago, such a delay would have been inconceivable and intolerable. But under today’s circumstances, we shrug it off as another casualty the times. We’re now working on COVID time.
Where Do We Go From Here?
History proves that we humans are an adaptive bunch. COVID-19 has forced all industries to pivot, nearly immediately into adapting remote processes to “flatten the curve”. During this crisis, we’ll learn all kinds of new things that we’ll take into the future. And, in the end, when the COVID-19 dust settles and the world starts spinning again, we’ll find that ingenuity has sprung to introduce new ways of doing business, making money and creating prosperity. In the meantime, my clients, colleagues, and friends, stay safe, stay well and stay strong.
Written by Denise Annunciata,
President of Velawcity Legal Support Services