Updated: July 1st, 2020

A survey of law firms, conducted at the beginning of the pandemic, revealed that legal industry change is afoot. It’s big news in a field famous for its aversion to structural adjustments, and coronavirus is credited for the shakeup.

As we careen into the fourth month of lockdowns and semi-lockdowns, if things continue on the same trajectory, the tweaks being made at America’s law firms could significantly impact the field in coming years and diminish the number of opportunities for new lawyers and those without the Midas sales touch.

Lay Offs Are on the Rise

COVID-19 ushered in a wave of layoffs and furloughs. Almost immediately, firms of all sizes offloaded under-performing lawyers from their rosters. Seventy percent of the respondents said they were eliminating attorneys who cost more than they were producing. In other words, attorneys who didn’t bring in new clients were more likely to get slapped with the proverbial pink slips.

In addition to letting employees go, many firms aren’t hiring first-year associates, a terrible blow for the 2020 graduating class. Students on a pre-law track may want to seriously reconsider changing direction to avoid the COVID legal crunch, especially ones who don’t truly love the law and are just in it for the potential money. Getting a legal career off the ground may take a lot more time than is traditional in this post-pandemic economy.

Work From Home May Be the Future

Like millions of other businesses across the world, legal employees are now working from home, and the output is better than expected at many law firms. In short, the myth of office productivity has been shattered.

As such, some analysts predict that telecommuting may become an industry norm, especially since firms are constantly searching for ways to cut costs and increase margins.

The Big Firms Upped Their Billing Rates

Remarkably, the survey shows that some of the larger law firms increased their billing rates during the pandemic, a move that mid- and small-sized practices could not match. Since the latter’s clientele has also been walloped by the economic slump, many are counting on flexibility from their legal representatives while everyone is learning to navigate the new normal. Raising prices amid this crisis could prove fatal for smaller firms who would likely lose lots of business with that tact.

In-House Legal Caseload Hike

In-house legal teams often outsource research and other tasks to firms with niche specialties. That type of professional exchange has decreased dramatically since the outbreak. And just like telecommuting has proved to be a boon, so has the shift to in-house legal support.

Expect this trend to stick.

Legal Relationship Building in the Time of COVID-19

Many respondents said they’re using this time for outreach and strengthening client relationships. Firms that kept enough money in the marketing fund are using some of it to assure partners that they’re on top of things and making adjustments to meet the current challenges.