Legal profession changes adopted during COVID likely to stay

Some of the practices the legal profession adopted to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 may continue to be common after the pandemic is over, attorneys say. 

Efficiencies realized by shifting online meetings that pre-pandemic were held in person could save money for everyone involved. 

“These types of things are huge for the legal community, because we are usually well behind the curve of the business community on things like technology,” says Randy Cangelosi, a partner in Kean Miller’s litigation group. 

The merits of meeting electronically versus in person vary depending on the meeting. When speaking with a client or expert you already know, there’s no great advantage to meeting in person, Cangelosi says. 

He also says he was able to get virtual face time with a court in Pennsylvania without having to fly out-of-state for a short conference. The meeting took only an hour of his day, rather than two days counting travel time. 

On the other hand, in depositions, it can be helpful to be there in person where you can pick up on body language, and sharing documents electronically can take longer than it would in person. Cangelosi says he recently took seven hours to complete an online deposition that otherwise could have been done in three. 

Ironically, online meetings allow him to chat more often with out-of-state counsel than he would have without them, while there have been fewer opportunities for camaraderie with local attorneys who are on the other side. 

“You lose that aspect of softening hard litigation when you’re not meeting in person with the other side,” he says. “I have seen aggressive advocacy go up since the pandemic started.”

Druit Gremillion Jr., a partner with Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, says the courts were starting to get back to the pre-pandemic “normal” before the delta variant upended those plans. He says he is definitely seeing a return to normal in terms of the pace of his practice.

“So much was put on hold for so long,” he says. 

For procedural elements, such as status and scheduling conferences, he expects electronic meetings to be the norm for the foreseeable future. And for large multiparty depositions, using Zoom or a similar platform is more convenient. 

But he says he’s still seeing one-on-one depositions in person. Most judges are willing to hold in-person hearings when witness testimony is involved, sometimes scheduling them on days when the courthouse won’t be very busy, and he thinks that will be the standard post-pandemic. 

“[Meeting electronically] definitely has its disadvantages for hearings and trials that require testimony,” Gremillion says.