How has COVID-19 changed the legal sector?

The coronavirus pandemic has changed every aspect of our world indefinitely. Everything is online, many have gone months without being able to see friends and family and we’ve all had to adapt to the unknown.

But, specifically, how has COVID-19 changed the legal sector, and what might this mean for the future?

The jury-less court room

At the beginning of the outbreak, despite the Government urging full trials and tribunals to keep going, the Crown Courts believed that this was too much risk for all of those in attendance of the court room.

With a revision, it is now stated that no new trials will be allowed to begin unless they are thought to be in session for three days or less, all others must be adjourned to a later date. However, this change was not applicable to the jury. None of them are able to return to the court, even for shorter trials, instead all cases are now only to be given a verdict by the judge via remote hearings.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, in 2010 the first jury-less trial took place in a London-based court for a serious criminal case and, countries such as Russia and Indonesia rarely use juries instead, opting for Civil Law.

But, if a jury-less was here to stay post pandemic, what would that mean for the legal system as a whole?

  • The system has less risk of juror prejudice. Whilst measures and rules are put strongly into place for all cases that require a jury, in this day and age a non-biased jury is hard to find, especially with the swarm of readily available information our smartphones and laptops.
  • Some cases, such as rape and sexual misconduct, reports have been made by prosecution that their clients feel uneasy with the jury having so much of their personal information and history
  • However, it is the right of the defendant to have a trial by jury, and those rights can’t just be simply bypassed.
  • Also, as stated by Brie Lee in The Guardian:

Getting rid of juries may be a shortcut to justice for complainants. It provides temporary relief, but really, we need to get to a point where instead of just bypassing juries, we help these members of the public actually do justice. There are huge advantages to having members of the public coming into courts, interacting with our justice system, and then taking what they’ve learned and experienced back out into the community.”

It’s not as simple to just say yes, we should have juries or no, we shouldn’t; the judicial system is too complex. However, what we might expect after the pandemic subsides is smaller groups of jurors when needed and a much higher number of judge-only, remote cases taking place – the courtroom only taking precedence in the most serious of crimes.

A paperless world?

The legal profession is still one of the very few that still deals heavily in paper. From needing to keep a strict and accurate record of everything from case files to contracts to claims, preferring to use hard copy documents in the courtroom as well as many still preferring to sign in pen and ink.

COVID-19 has meant that this love of paper has become even more time consuming than usual; with the inability for clients to be present in the office, it’s almost impossible to allow this system to work efficiently

So, it is currently the case that many firms are transitioning to a paperless way of working; from electronic signatures to portable technology, it’s most certainly doable and a lot more environmentally friendly.

Here at Lysander, we went paperless a few years ago and have never looked back. But for some, a paperless legal world may create a lot of short-term issues. Court rooms would need to heavily invest in technology to allow jurors and judges to have virtual copies of all required documents, a shift in attitude across the industry would need to be implemented, as many still enjoy and prefer working from paper, and time would need be set aside for firms to transfer all paper copies of documentation online – a potentially arduous task.

Remote working and data compliance

COVID-19 has meant that most lawyers are now working from home, taking with them huge numbers of case files and sensitive information. If this were to become the norm, there’s never been a better argument for the shift to online.

As virtual documents and electronic signatures are now accepted widely by all courts, transferring to online means a higher level of due diligence when it comes to protection of privacy and sensitive information. Creation and storage of these documents must be done in such a way where they are encrypted, stored for the correct amount of time and destroyed properly when needed.

However, being online when working remotely is potentially much safer than having files that are not stored securely and may be at risk of breaching the Data Protection Act.

Coronavirus has certainly changed the legal world for the time being, and it has also opened many conversations about what it might look like in a years’ time. Juries may be smaller, they may not exist at all; courtrooms may become havens of technology, paper may continue to rule for many. It will certainly interesting to see what changes stay and which do not and how will that change the profession for all the newly appointed lawyers and solicitors to come.