The pandemic is not, nor will it likely ever be, completely eradicated. However, as a global community, we are at a juncture where society is opening up again. From packed sports stadiums to students returning for in-person classes, there are echoes of a pre-pandemic world cropping up all around us. The haunting images of empty Italian streets seem a far cry from our current reality, but the heyday of COVID-19 is still in recent memory. The first outbreaks shocked the world into survival mode and we were barraged by tragedy, coupled with countless moments of heroism. Emerging from that high-octane state, we have an opportunity to take stock of what changes resulted from the pandemic, and which of those are worth keeping in a post-crisis society.
Out of necessity, some changes came abruptly to maintain a semi-functioning world. The health care industry was put under the greatest strain, but all professions felt their own pandemic pains to some extent. Prior to COVID-19, a generational shift in traditional “9 to 5” workdays was already gaining momentum. Examples included parents looking for more flexible work schedules or employees pushing for remote work options. These two examples came into sharp focus when the pandemic hit. Changes that may have taken years to actualize were thrust onto employers as entire workforces were forced into home isolation. Suddenly, children popping up in the background of Zoom calls became a frequent occurrence. Parents working from home was the only option available to most. As so many families found themselves in similar scenarios, there was a collective appreciation and understanding of the day-to-day challenges inherent with being a working parent.
With massive legal libraries and the ceremony of court, the legal profession is, in many ways, a very tactile field. Remote work scenarios might come to mind more easily for a tech start-up in Silicon Valley than an established law firm. To keep the court system moving, virtual court proceedings were a necessity across all jurisdictions. Logistical planning for a virtual trial presented new complexities to an established system, but the COVID-era showed that these challenges were not insurmountable. Pre-trial conferences, for example, now include a technology section to cover items like which virtual platform will be used. Other planning, such as witness scheduling, eased as individuals could be summoned in real-time from anywhere in the world with a reliable internet connection.
Changes also came within law firms. The mentality of burning the midnight oil at the office as a badge of honour still has many subscribers in the legal community. However, the pandemic challenged the notion that physical presence in an office was necessary for successful firm operations. While working from home is not every lawyer’s preference, the flexibility the pandemic offered out of necessity is a change with long term benefits. Working from home worked brilliantly for some lawyers while others still preferred a traditional brick and mortar firm environment. In a post-pandemic era, acknowledging and accommodating for differing work styles empowers lawyers to do their best work. Lawyers who feel supported by their firm’s policy are more likely to stay in those positions. Flexible work options also hold benefits for clients as overhead costs of line items such as travel expenses are lessened or eliminated from billing statements.
All industries and professions should seize the opportunity to assess the positive and negative impacts of the pandemic on their businesses. Lawyers tend to be natural leaders and may be more hesitant to turn inward and ask the question of how the pandemic affected them on a personal level. This self-reflection, combined with the organizational reflection by the firm or larger business, will coalesce into meaningful feedback for this new working landscape.