July 2020Volume 108Number 7Page 10

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Silver Linings in Cloudy Times

Pandemic-related data from legal technology usage and consumer surveys point to shifting expectations in the legal market.

As the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic became undeniable in late February, financial markets throughout the world plummeted and the global economy came to a crushing halt.

By mid-March, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 Index had shed nearly 70 percent of their worth; meanwhile, millions of people were losing their jobs. As of mid-June, signs of recovery were visible yet distant and unclear as governments and businesses cautiously reopened their doors.

The legal tech company Clio saw the crash’s ripple effects hit the legal sector in real time. According to its own numbers, as global and U.S. COVID-19 infections began to skyrocket in early March, the pace of legal matters started by Clio’s lawyer-customers began to drop in similar proportions. By early April, new case matters created in Clio’s practice management system were down by more than 30 percent below pre-pandemic levels.

Clio began analyzing its data from its users and from surveys of lawyers and consumers to gain insights into the conditions of the legal sector during the pandemic. The company also shared its findings with bar association leaders via webcasts. While Clio has posted some of its findings online, the webinars, which featured such speakers as legal scholars and economists Richard and Daniel Susskind, are not yet publicly available. The Illinois Bar Journal attended the webinars and has summarized several of their more practical findings below.

Consumers believe you are essential. Nearly 80 percent of consumers surveyed by Clio said lawyers are “an essential service,” with only 6 percent disagreeing. In fact, 20 percent of consumers surveyed said lawyers are more relevant now than they were before the pandemic. More than 10 percent of consumers predict that they will need legal assistance for a COVID-19-related matter.

Some consumers assume you’re closed. Nearly 50 percent of consumers agreed that they were planning to “put off” legal issues during the pandemic; slightly more stated they wouldn’t be able to currently afford legal help. But 22 percent of consumers also assumed lawyers’ offices were closed during the pandemic and were not offering services, suggesting a “hidden market” of consumers who are waiting to hear from lawyers in their area that they are open for business.

The pandemic has changed how consumers and lawyers view technology. Nearly 60 percent of consumers have been willing to connect in ways other than face-to-face during the pandemic and nearly half of all consumers are finding themselves using technology more now than they were before the pandemic. Likewise, more than 80 percent of lawyers told Clio that technology is necessary for survival and 69 percent stated technology is more important now than ever.

Still, some of the technology-related data collected by Clio is nuanced. While consumers may be more willing to work with lawyers remotely, nearly 40 percent of consumers believed that when it comes to trial work, a remote trial would negatively impact their case. But nearly 70 percent of consumers surveyed would prefer working with a lawyer who uses a website or online portal to share documents and nearly 60 percent would prefer to meet with a lawyer by videoconference during the pandemic than in person.

The new normal will include more tech and more of a human touch. Webinar panelists suggested that one positive effect of the pandemic has been the public’s opportunity to see a more personable side to lawyers, as clients engaged with them over videoconferencing calls that featured children, pets, and pizza boxes in the background of dining-room offices. Attorneys, the panelists added, should expect that a post-pandemic world will inherit the flexibility and empathy many workers and employers developed during the pandemic.

Panelists also challenged lawyers with two phrases that served as a theme for Clio’s webinars and data insights: “Lawyers have a green light to grow their technology” and “the market may be more ready than we are” to innovate.

Pete Sherman is Managing Editor of the Illinois Bar Journal.


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