Legal Needs Evolve in Economic Downturn

by Gary Jaburg

“As with any economic downturn, what clients need legal help with evolves. There is already an uptick in bankruptcy, workouts and divorces.”

Like many businesses, law has been affected by COVID. We were fortunate not to need to furlough or lay off employees, as many law firms did. There are some employees in the office, but most are working remotely. We learned that we could function and be productive with most employees working remotely. Within the legal business sector, there have been salary reductions and job reductions. Some law firms have closed offices or dissolved. Summer clerkship programs were suspended. The Courts remain primarily virtual, which has caused disruptions for both clients and their cases. Currently, juries are being selected only for criminal cases, not civil. Although unrelated to the pandemic, effective January 1st, non-lawyers can be owners of law firms as well as qualified paraprofessionals can provide certain legal services without having a lawyer supervise them. 

The adoption rate of technology accelerated dramatically and was pivotal in allowing many people to work remotely both safely and successfully. There have been unexpected productivity gains. At the same time, meeting with clients either virtually or telephonically has limitations. As with any economic downturn, what clients need legal help with evolves. There is already an uptick in bankruptcy, workouts and divorces. Because people are driving fewer miles, there are fewer auto accidents. This has a trickle-down impact on both insurance companies and law firms.

The challenge for many businesses will be learning to adjust to the “new normal” and keeping their culture. This will be especially difficult for businesses that have traditionally expected their employees to work in the office but will have a hybrid workforce in 2021. Maintaining profitability, innovation, connection, transparency, trust, and culture will be a priority. Successful businesses will place great importance on the mental health and well-being of their employees. For Arizona, people lost their jobs in sectors that are not going to quickly recover. Some will need reskilling and new opportunities. The business community can help by providing training and upskilling opportunities.

I grew up and went to school on the East Coast. I moved to Phoenix and founded Jaburg Wilk, a Phoenix-based law firm, 36 years ago and have been the managing partner ever since. I am actively involved in Phoenix’s nonprofit community and served on a number of boards of directors, including Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center.

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