Survey: The Impact of COVID-19 on Litigation

Survey: The Impact of COVID-19 on Litigation

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COVID-19 forced courtrooms into near stasis, shutting down litigation and freezing ongoing cases where they stood. Eventually, some litigation transferred to virtual procedures, but the inherent challenge of arguing a case within a digital platform presents its own challenges. To help understand the impact that COVID-19 has had on litigation, the challenges of the virtual courtroom, and what the legal life what might look like as we enter the new normal, GLG conducted a survey of lawyers from U.S.-based law firms. This survey was sent to tens of thousands of litigators from practices of all sizes across the U.S.

About the Survey

For the most part, the lawyers who took our survey have a great deal of experience, with 74% of our respondents citing their title as “Practice Leader/Managing Partner” or “Partner.” The majority (63%) have been practicing law for more than 21 years, with half saying they have been with their current firm for more than nine years.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Litigation

While most litigators who took GLG’s survey said that COVID-19 had a significant impact on their compensation (87%), the pandemic seems to have had a lesser-than-might-be-expected immediate impact on either their firms or on the legal process itself. Just over 60% of our respondents said their ongoing litigation cases are moving forward.

However, COVID-19 has changed the way in which those cases are being litigated. The survey found that with 42% of firms fully practicing online, and 40% transitioning to virtual practice, most attorneys (74%) have participated in and support virtual hearings.

Most (87%) of our respondents are eager to return to in-person litigation, which they feel is necessary to truly practice the art of law. When asked how they felt about the virtual experience, one respondent answered:

The rapport between counsel and the court and the non-verbal cues from all parties who are attending the proceeding are both crucial for successfully arguing before a court and cannot be adequately replicated through a virtual hearing.

Another respondent agreed that virtual practice is a temporary alternative to work through cases, but still not as effective as in-person:

I support it as a temporary measure to get through the crisis because we can keep cases moving forward to a degree, rather than keep them all on hold.  Virtual hearings/depositions/meetings are definitely not as effective as in-person.

Impact of COVID-19 on Law Firms

When asked about how they feel their firm handled COVID-19 challenges, the overwhelming majority (83%) feel positive about their firm’s performance; only 2% felt their firms had mismanaged the crisis.

This could be because law firms have treated their staff fairly during the crisis. Only 24% of those we surveyed said their firms had to furlough employees, and 31% said that salaries had been modified during this time.

The Post-COVID-19 Litigation World

The litigators we surveyed largely believe that their world will change post-COVID-19. Nearly half of those we spoke to expect their office space to physically change, with 56% of those saying they expected less office space and 83% expecting more remote workforce.

Further, 63% of those we surveyed expect there will be an increase in litigation as courtrooms reopen, likely due to the pressure building up behind a backlog of cases. The practice areas our respondents thought were likely to see the largest uptick unsurprisingly included bankruptcy (52%), insurance (54%), and labor and employment (56%).

With COVID-19 cases resurging, and states taking a cautious approach to reopening, the backlog is likely to be litigated both virtually and in-person. This seems fine for a smaller percentage (38%) of our respondents who advocated for making virtual litigation permanent. One respondent said:

Litigation is something of an in-person art. Oral argument and things like that are not as effective when you’re purely virtual.  I don’t mind if I’m clearly winning/losing a case, but if it’s up for grabs, then the performance art of law that’s done in person is important.

According to the survey, part of the uptick in cases will be driven by COVID-19 itself, with 54% of our respondents telling us that their clients were speaking to them about pandemic-related litigation.

The Future Looks Legal

Different states are at different places in their reopening. And as some states shut down their courtrooms due to early openings, the way in which cases will be litigated promises to be different depending on unique circumstances. But cases will continue to come in front of the courts. As one of our respondents told us in this survey, “We need to keep cases moving. Justice delayed is justice denied.”

To download the complete results of GLG’s Impact of COVID-19 on Litigation Survey, click here. 

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