COVID-19 is drastically influencing the demand for practice areas that will be able to assist in resolving issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Practices such as trusts and estates, bankruptcy, transactional work, internet law and health care law are expanding during the pandemic, while practice areas such as criminal law and corporate law are seeing a decline in demand. With an increase in cases, how are law firms adjusting to meet this demand? As other practice areas decline, how are firms coping with the downturn? Here is what our team has found throughout the industry as we watch and participate in the legal market’s reaction to an unprecedented situation.
How Practices are Changing Due to COVID-19
How COVID-19 affects Wills And Estates
Will and estates planning are often deferred until they are necessary but the COVID-19 health pandemic has forced people to think deeply about end-of-life issues.
- Firms in states with a higher public effort against COVID-19 are likely to see increased demand due to an increased awareness of pandemic and planning.
- Clients are increasingly more concerned about their powers of attorneys, their living wills, and their health care surrogates. The uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus health pandemic is forcing everyone to explore their options.
Legislation requires that two witnesses are physically present for the signing of a will. However, on April 7, 2020, an executive order was made to permit the virtual witnessing of wills and powers of attorney over audio-visual communication technology during the state of emergency in New York. Several other states have become more flexible to enable virtual legal changes and updates, allowing changes and updates to continue to be completed.
- Most will and estate planning attorneys understand that people wait far too long to explore will and estate options. Attorneys are receiving more clients who have begun to explore estate planning as people are focused on mortality and planning for their future.
How COVID-19 affects Transactional Work
As social distancing orders are extending, it is forcing individuals and families to change their lifestyles and their plans. Contracts with vendors and landlords are not prepared for these emergency situations and licensed attorneys are crucial to navigate how to proceed.
- Clients are seeking counsel on canceling contracts for gatherings that were set to occur in the next several months. Weddings, social gatherings, reunions, and parties that have been planned for months are not occurring as scheduled. Vendors that were hired for these events are not open and their services are unable to be delivered.
- Attorneys will need to be hired to review the contracts that were created for events and to create strategies on how to reschedule events or refund money. The contracts need to be reviewed to explore if a force majeure clause can be invoked to excuse the obligations of .
- Similar to social events, tenants and landlords are negotiating agreements to defer or reduce rent for a time because of COVID-19. Through the CARES act, mortgage forbearance is allowing homeowners to pause or reduce their payments for a limited period of time. While this does not reduce the total amount of the mortgage, it will allow homeowners to reorganize their spending priorities during this health pandemic.
- If clients are not a homeowner and they are in a rental agreement, you will need to explore a different course of action. Both homeowner and rental agreements require careful review by an attorney as a course of action for the future will need to be explored. There is no clear date that the coronavirus pandemic will end, creating a need to legally organize payment plans.
How COVID-19 affects Bankruptcy
Companies, businesses, and individuals are struggling to determine how to proceed financially during COVID-19. Companies and individuals that were struggling before the coronavirus pandemic have taken a deep hit as the entire financial industry is shifting.
- It is no secret that people are changing how they are spending their money and companies are laying off employees. People are not spending money on items that are not necessary. Small businesses are struggling to maintain a healthy financial future. Bankruptcy law firms will serve as an asset as companies and individuals explore if they need to file for bankruptcy to support their financial system.
- Forbes has compiled a list of companies that are reaching closer to filing for bankruptcy due to COVID-19. Their list details that large businesses are also taking a financial hit during the coronavirus pandemic in addition to expected small businesses. Retail stores are financially struggling as people are staying at home and not shopping for nonessential items. The coronavirus pandemic will likely force several store closures and permanently change the retail space in the future.
- Stimulus checks are assisting businesses that are struggling financially, but in this time of certainty, that may not be enough for a business to survive. Businesses will need counsel from their attorneys to understand how to properly file their business for stimulus checks. Not every business will qualify for government financial assistance, but attorney oversight is necessary for this process to be correctly navigated.
- Those who recently filed for bankruptcy and have a case pending will likely find the progression of their case slowed because of COVID-19.
- For now, you can still file for bankruptcy even though most courts are closed. Updates are being published almost daily. Even if your courthouse is closed to the public, the courts are still operating. Each court’s website will include information on how to proceed. Since many courts are closed to the public a pro se debtor can file by placing their forms in a dropbox at the court, or by emailing or faxing in their forms.
How COVID-19 affects Internet Law
As consumers are social distancing and staying at home, they are shifting their spending online. Criminals are using COVID-19 as an opportunity to more aggressively commit fraud. While consumers are desperate to find ways to stay healthy and protect their livelihoods, cybercriminals are profiting from this fear and increased activity in online shopping.
- Scammers are registering domain names to defraud consumers and sell them counterfeited or questionable products and services. They are capitalizing on consumers' desire for COVID-19 related answers and include the words coronavirus, pandemic, or covid19 in their domain name.
- As consumers continue to search for any means they have to avoid getting the coronavirus, online scammers are offering false means of safety. Scammers are price-gouging medical items such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizers as supplies are becoming more and more limited. Some scammers are even going as far as offering unapproved treatment options, fake cures, and additional products and services claiming to successfully prevent coronavirus infection. A major example is the lawsuit that 3M filed against a reseller for trademark and copyright infringement and price gouging necessary medical items.
- Internet pharmacies are falsely being created, tricking consumers into thinking that they can order pharmaceutical items online. They are selling items such as teas, antiviral medications, essential oils, colloidal silver, and even an “air-purifying necklace” that are falsely advertised as preventative measures from COVID-19.
- Internet law attorneys will be gaining more clients that have experienced internet fraud or counterfeit products. They will be able to not only prevent scammers and save their consumers money, but they will be able to save lives and increase the overall mental health of consumers.
- Attorneys are in a position to explore avenues of retribution and stop scammers before their efforts hurt more innocent consumers. Although many avenues of the legal industry are on hold, internet law will continue to strengthen as e-commerce has shifted to become an essential part of our lifestyles.
How COVID-19 affects Health Care Law
The health care system is undergoing drastic changes in their operations and regulations as COVID-19 is the focus of health professionals. Hospitals are receiving a surge in business while private medical practices are struggling as their offices are remaining closed.
- As laws and regulations are changing, health care providers need to retain an understanding of how their business and focus will be changing. The focus of healthcare providers has been forced to shift from their usual healthcare specialty to focus on the coronavirus pandemic.
- Congress enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act to provide financial assistance to businesses and individuals affected by COVID-19. One of the central goals of the new CARES Act is the delivery of support and relief for hospitals and health care providers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Health care attorneys will need to advise their clients on how to efficiently manage the shift in their business. While larger hospitals are experiencing an influx in patients, private medical and dental practices are struggling. Their offices have closed, staff has been furloughed, and they have lost significant revenue. Attorneys will be crucial in advising private healthcare businesses as they navigate through the coronavirus pandemic.
How COVID-19 affects Personal Injury & Insurance Law
While COVID-19 is currently the focus of every industry, people are continuing to suffer car crashes, slips, falls, and other injuries. While stay-at-home orders are restricting individuals to their homes, injuries are still occurring and pre-existing injuries still need to be confirmed and managed through a doctor.
- Unfortunately, coronavirus may increase the difficulty of filing a typical personal injury claim as lawsuits are essentially frozen in place and many personal injury cases will not be resolved anytime soon.
- Insurance coverage has shifted to assist individuals who are recovering from coronavirus, and while that is necessary, it is also delaying the insurance claim reviews of non-COVID-19 matters.
- Insurance companies have slowed settlement approvals and some may even be delaying payments of settlements that were previously negotiated. Accident victims may be even more eager now more than ever to get their settlements as most people are experiencing financial uncertainty due to lifestyle changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Insurance companies are aware of this and are intentionally offering settlements lower than normally acceptable. When this occurs, it is necessary to have an experienced personal injury attorney review your settlement before accepting.
- In addition to claims taking longer to process, it will also be slower to gather the information necessary to place a claim. Injured victims will need to meet with a doctor and get the appropriate medical documents to submit their claim. Several doctors' offices are not seeing patients that are not sick with COVID-19, and if they are, they may be limiting appointments to accommodate social distancing orders.
- Law firms should still be assisting clients filing claims and submitting the necessary paperwork. If an insurance claim is wrongfully denied, it is important to begin the filing process as soon as possible. Complete as much of your claim as possible and do not delay during this time of uncertainty.
How COVID-19 affects Corporate Transactional Law
Companies and firms will be seeking guidance relating to private equity and venture capital changes as a result of COVID-19.
- Private equity companies will have their underlying companies looking for guidance during this time and it is crucial to continue communication.
- Private equity companies may be able to invest in and oversee companies that are selling due to losses from the coronavirus. Large investors who have the funds to invest will be faced with an abundance of investment opportunities as companies begin closing or seeking investors.
- Attorneys need to work with private equity firms to create an action plan for the short term and long term. We are currently in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis and although there is speculation that it will end within a few months, there is no guaranteed timeline. If private equity firms use this time to legally strategize for the future, they will come out of the coronavirus pandemic more successfully than they went in.
- The venture capital industry has been strong and reliable but COVID-19 is forcing startups and venture capital companies to enter a time of transition. Federal regulations are updating tax credits, loan opportunities, and sick leave to accommodate venture-backed companies as they struggle to sustain financial stability. The National Venture Capital Association, or NVCA, has been acting as a resource by providing regular updates for firms and portfolio companies.
- Corporate transactional businesses need guidance from their attorneys to transition their efforts for a practical future. Contracts will need additional review and
How COVID-19 affects Criminal Law
Criminal activities are expected to decrease because of COVID-19 but the types of crime people are committing are shifting. People who do not take social distancing mandates seriously are being aggressively fined and are facing harsher penalties.
- Police and supplementary forces are shifting their focus to ensure that residents do not violate stay-at-home ordinances. As many people are staying at home, there is less opportunity for the typical criminal activity. Criminal activity will always be present, but the type of criminal activity is shifting.
- Courts are closing or shifting their operations creating a decrease in criminal activity to be reviewed in a timely manner. There will be a backlog in these cases that need to be evaluated once the coronavirus pandemic begins to resolve itself.
- Attorneys need to remain updated as regulations and laws are changing to ensure they are bringing reliable information to their clients. Understanding how to navigate
How COVID-19 affects Technology in Law
Regardless of if your practice is in high or low demand because of COVID-19, a silver lining with this health pandemic is that it’s forcing the legal profession to realize that attorneys and business owners alike don’t always have to structure their companies the old fashioned way.
- Post-virus, more staff will telecommute and work remotely. Firms are experimenting with more streamlined processes with clients, courts and government agencies because of COVID-19 and it will create a permanent shift in operations.
- The power of the internet is allowing firms and companies to recognize that not only their operations can shift to allow for an increase in remote work, but also that their marketing efforts can shift to utilize the internet more.
- Court closures and numerous court conferences have either been adjourned or are being conducted through remote meetings. Several states have prohibited most nonessential filings and it is delaying closings. They are switching to virtual meetings and online submissions. Instead of oral arguments, teleconference platforms are being used by several court divisions to move cases along. As there was a delay to shifting communications and regulations, there has been a delay in pushing cases to close.
Whether your practice is expanding or struggling, your firm is changing as a result of COVID-19 and it requires a shift in focus. To sustain through the second quarter and prepare for a successful third quarter, you will need to re-evaluate your strategies for success.
If your firm had a plan in place for a health crisis or not, you need to plan for post-crisis. As people are spending more time at home on the internet now, law firms are in a position to transition their marketing efforts to acquire a more targeted clientele. Use this time working remotely to explore your marketing options and how you will capture the influx of new potential clients.
If you only practice in areas of law that are negatively affected by the pandemic, take this time to reorganize your firm’s finances and operations. Do your partners have available financial information to make crucial decisions for your firm? If one of your intake staff left tomorrow, would your firm’s processes be able to be passed to new intake staff? Take advantage of the lower case load to prepare your firm to be as profitable as possible when business returns.
Contact our law firm business professionals at Practice Alchemy for a free assessment with your law firm and explore how you can expand your marketing presence, improve your financial insight into your firm, and ultimately generate more profit.
Agree or disagree with what we’ve said above? Want to share your opinion on the effects of the pandemic on the legal industry or your practice area? Your insight is important to us. Leave a comment on this blog or email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.