from the perspective of a trainee solicitor in 2021
23 July 2021
The devastation which the coronavirus pandemic has caused Ireland and its people as a nation is likely to be felt for many years to come. Legal firms have been severely impacted and have had to show flexibility, ingenuity, and a great degree of resilience in overcoming the many challenges to date.
A report from the accountancy firm Smith & Williamson in its Annual Survey of Law Firms in Ireland, found that two thirds of law firms have had their revenues decline in the last year, some experiencing losses of up to 20%.
The normal flow of business has naturally been affected by the pandemic, with limited access to courts and workers forced to work remotely. However, this has presented newfound opportunities for firms in areas such as cost savings and increased technological awareness.
The legal system has always strived to evolve with changes in society and this has never been more evident than during this pandemic. The key questions facing firms now is how they manage the safety of employees returning to work and their demand for greater flexibility around time needed in the office. The latter is sure to be ever more important for a firm’s attractiveness as an employer in the future.
On 1 April 2021, the Code of Practice on the right to disconnect was signed into law. This legislation is still in its infancy, however at the heart of its design are certain rights for employees such as the right not to work outside normal business hours, not to be penalised for refusing to work outside normal business hours, and a duty to respect another’s right to disconnect.
These changes and others such as the extension of parental leave, all have the aim of changing the way we worked in the past and creating a more productive work-life balance.
Covid-19 has forced all law firms to adapt and rely on technology more than ever. Clients now expect to be engaged in a digital and highly responsive timeframe. Gone are the days of slow mail and frustrating delays.
The pandemic has broadened our technological awareness and reinforced the need for continued and significant investment in this area. For a firm to survive and overcome the potential challenges that lie ahead, it is imperative to have a sound technology infrastructure. High speed broadband, reliable client management systems, cloud-based technology and up to date cyber security systems are crucial.
We all have experienced Zoom/Teams fatigue, however it could actually be very valuable to continue offering these services as a way of communicating with your firm in the long term.
As public health restrictions ease, some clients may still want to limit their exposure to an office environment for an extended period of time and especially in urban areas with heavy footfall. Furthermore, people may just have grown accustomed to the convenience and travel free means of communicating with their legal team virtually, so continuing to offer a virtual service could give a firm an edge over others returning to face to face meetings and phone calls only.
People have never spent as much time on social media platforms as they do today. We find ourselves reading news online to learn about updates on the virus, public health advice, or simply to watch the latest series on Netflix.
All this creates great opportunities for firms to publicise themselves in places where their clients are spending more and more time and to build awareness of your practice. By writing blogs, news updates, and maintaining an active social media presence, firms can stand out in the minds of potential clients.
This pandemic will end and for now the most important thing a law firm can do is to maintain its success by taking advantage of this time to build up their brand, maintain client relationships and to ensure maximum efficiency in the workplace. Certainly, challenges lie ahead but with focus and determination we will see the Irish legal system as a whole continue to meet these challenges and excel.
This article contains general information based on Irish law and does not constitute legal advice nor is it intended to provide a comprehensive or detailed statement of the law.
 RTE News: 80% of law firms see deteriorating outlook for sector- survey, 30 November 2020. https://www.rte.ie/news/business/2020/1130/1181337-smith-williamson-law-firm-survey/
 Gov.ie: Tánaiste signs Code of Practice on Right to Disconnect, 1 April 2021. https://www.gov.ie/en/press-release/6b64a-tanaiste-signs-code-of-practice-on-right-to-disconnect/#