This year has been unprecedented—and challenging—in a number of ways, both personally and professionally. Because this year has been difficult for many, it can be difficult to recognize all the reasons to be thankful during this holiday season. But, as can happen in periods of extreme change, there are some silver linings. As we approach a Thanksgiving that may look different than it has in years past, here are four ways the legal profession has changed for the better this year.
Virtual appearances and closings
Lawyers, clients, judges and witnesses over the past year have participated in virtual depositions, mediations, corporate closings and other events. For many, use of virtual platforms has become a commonplace way to move cases forward, whether litigation, internal investigations or corporate deals. Although some were concerned that virtual proceedings would not work as well as in-person appearances, lawyers have become more comfortable with using these platforms over the past year. Indeed, it is expected that some events will continue to be conducted virtually in the future.
Lawyers can be thankful for the logistical benefits presented by virtual appearances. Virtual depositions, closings, interviews and mediations provide more scheduling flexibility and can be quite cost-effective. Clients may appreciate the reduced fees because there will be no need to foot the bill for transportation or lodging expenses. In addition, attorneys and clients may have more flexibility to schedule multiple events within a few days without consideration of travel schedules.
In the future, it is possible that lawyers will continue to hold virtual events in professional settings (i.e., office spaces or conference rooms) without any disturbances. Having more options for performing work can be a benefit to the legal industry.
Recognition of Diversity & Inclusion issues
The pandemic and other news events this summer shed light on disparity issues that have plagued the nation, including the legal field. Law firms have made dedicated strides this year to make the practice of law a more inclusive profession. Firms have recognized diversity and inclusion issues that need to be addressed, particularly as it concerns gender and racial diversity. Lawyers can be thankful that firms are working to address and rectify inequities.
As it pertains to women and the law, the pandemic has highlighted the challenges of the “working mom.” Prior to the pandemic, studies indicated that a disproportionately large number of women would leave private practice because law firm practices and policies were sometimes unable to accommodate the personal demands that can burden female lawyers. The pandemic has presented an opportunity to address this issue and devise new strategies to retain and advance female lawyers. Such strategies may involve flexible hours, child care support and other parental resources.
In addition, racial diversity issues have also been placed in the spotlight. As a result of the civil rights protests that occurred throughout the summer, law firms have shown a renewed focus on racial diversity initiatives. Many firms are recognizing the steps that need to be taken to support diversity and inclusion. Law firms are prioritizing diversity in recruiting new talent and are discouraging harassment in all forms. Mandatory anti-racism and bias training programs have been implemented at many firms with the intention of creating a better workplace environment. In addition, firm-sponsored mentorship programs have been established to support minority lawyers and show a path to professional advancement.
Notwithstanding the difficult events that led to this time, lawyers can be grateful that the pandemic has brought these diversity issues to the forefront and presented an opportunity to devise new initiatives to retain and advance female and racially diverse lawyers.
Genuine interest in mental wellness
Some Americans have been able to adjust to our “new normal,” while others have struggled with the limits on travel, social experiences and social services. Now that summer has ended and we are experiencing shorter daylight hours and colder temperatures (not to mention an upward trend in the number and severity of COVID-19 cases), there is a risk of increased isolation or other stressors. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that the increased stress levels from the pandemic can cause myriad health problems, including increased use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs. Notably, separate from current events, lawyers are even more vulnerable to substance abuse, anxiety, and depression, which occur at higher rates than in the general population.
However, throughout the pandemic, many firms have demonstrated an interest (or renewed interest) in mental wellness issues. Law firms have promoted or enhanced available mental health resources and programs, such as providing meditation and counseling services via third-party applications or platforms. Lawyers can be thankful for the interest in such an important issue, which provides real-time help to lawyers. Such services can continue in the future given that lawyers may regularly find themselves overwhelmed and vulnerable to mental health issues.
Regular integration of video-conference platforms for communication
Prior to the pandemic, many firms already had videoconferencing platforms to encourage face-to-face communications across offices. However, such platforms were not often used on a regular basis. Although some lawyers of late have been experiencing “Zoom fatigue,” the use of videoconference platforms has increased the quality of communications among lawyers and colleagues. Videoconferencing has brought a sense of community to nationwide and global law firms, whether for formal meetings or for informal “check-ins.” Video calls are the next best thing, in lieu of face-to-face conversations.
Video sessions provide important opportunities for “face time” and mentoring. In addition, video calls are more engaging than phone calls, can simplify collaboration among several individuals and often improve efficiency. The regular use of video calls can be integrated into daily life when things finally return to “normal.” Lawyers can be thankful for this new tool that helps lawyers stay connected.
It is certainly understandable that, given the irregularities of this year, it can be difficult to experience gratitude. However, by focusing on those developments that have reduced the burdens of the practice of law this year, lawyers can head into 2021 with some new tools.