Demand for legal services decreases amidst COVID-19 pandemic

Business

Demand for legal services decreases amidst COVID-19 pandemic

President of Jamaican Bar Association says digital initiatives could reshape industry

BY ABBION ROBINSON
Business reporter
robinsona@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Print this page Email A Friend!


With the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) disease inducing the decline of the global economy, president of the Jamaican Bar Association Emile Leiba says members of the legal profession have expressed concerns about the effects of the pandemic on their practices.

In an interview with the Jamaica Observer, Leiba indicated that the concerns centred on the decrease in the demand for their services.

“Attorneys' practices cannot be separated from the economy, so if the economic system slows down so does the legal activity. [While] there are a lot of transactions that would have started prior to COVID-19 that may be continuing, certainly when you forecast it, it would result in an immediate decrease,” he told Sunday Finance.

“In the particular situation of litigators, I have seen that the courts have taken certain steps to protect members of the public, court staff, and court users, and that has resulted in, for example, the closure of the parish courts [except] for emergency hearings. We are working out how phone hearings and video hearings can work in some instances but there are other matters that are simply just being vacated,” he continued.

As a result, those matters from which one would have ordinarily earned fees would be affected.

Leiba further added that similarly, lawyers who would have commercial clients whose businesses have been affected by COVID-19 would also be impacted as business deals, mergers and acquisitions are halted or at best, postponed.

Nunes, Scholefield, DeLeon and Co senior partner and attorney-at-law Patrick Foster, QC echoed similar sentiments.

“We have generally seen a decline in work as the COVID-19 cases increase. Law firms, like any other business, will be affected so we have no doubt that as this problem intensifies they will be more adversely affected for the simple reason that, clients who have legal problems will not focus on those issues and only the most urgent and compelling cases will be dealt with,” Foster stated.

According to him, receiving fees from clients became a challenge as they are more occupied with COVID-related matters. However, the firm's institutional/corporate clients are still able to make payments.

Interestingly, both attorneys noted the uptick in request for legal advice as it relates to the country's labour laws and COVID-19, due to the unprecedented state of quarantine measures outlined by the Government.

DIGITAL CATALYST

With COVID-19 propelling digitisation initiatives to combat the impact, Leiba revealed that there is a strong hope and likelihood it could act as a catalyst for the reshaping of the law industry.

In efforts to combat the spread of the disease some law firms have adhered to the measures announced by the Government by implementing shift and work-from-home systems for staff, arranging meetings via phone and video conferences, and scanning documents to minimise human interactions.

“COVID-19 is requiring the court to operate in different ways than it is used to doing. The systems that we put in place to deal with [the disease] are systems that we can still continue to use after [it] is gone,” Leiba stated.

“This is something that we all have to work together on. The Jamaican Bar Association is working with the stakeholders in the justice system to try and find a solution to what is happening regarding the move towards more electronic interactions between attorneys and the courts. Similarly, we are also monitoring the situation in terms of the Stamp Office, Companies Office of Jamaica and other [offices] that had to modify their operations due to Government directives,” he disclosed.

He added that legal professionals would accept the digital change if it meant increased efficiency and quicker resolutions for their clients.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, 23 per cent of work done by lawyers can be automated by existing technology. Advances in technology such as artificial intelligence would allow for modern software to scan legal documents, streamline communications, facilitate an electronic filing system and conduct virtual court hearings.

Stuart Fuller, the global head of the legal services arm of 'Big Four' accounting firm KPMG, in an interview with Law.com International, also endorsed the expected changes, adding that traditional law firms need to prepare for the transformation.


Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaperlive


ADVERTISEMENT




POST A COMMENT

HOUSE RULES

1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper � email addresses will not be published.

2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.

3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.

4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.

5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed: advertising@jamaicaobserver.com.

6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email: community@jamaicaobserver.com.

7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy



comments powered by Disqus
ADVERTISEMENT

Poll

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Today's Cartoon

Click image to view full size editorial cartoon
ADVERTISEMENT