How COVID-19 Has Transformed the Future Of Legal Practice In India
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Over the past year, the world has changed radically and businesses across verticals have undergone a major transformation in nearly every sector, and the legal industry is no exception. The COVID-19 pandemic’s ripple effect has proven to be the impetus for the legal sector to accelerate the adoption of technology to ensure that the system continues working seamlessly while adhering to the lockdown regulations and social distancing norms. Although digital transformation has been on the priority list for the legal industry since before the onset of the pandemic, the global crisis thrust the industry into this as the entire world was subjected to a mass remote working experiment almost overnight.
It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention. However, in this case, necessity became the catalyst to overall progress. While the global crisis has caused large-scale disruptions, it has opened a goldmine of opportunities and the legal sector has risen to the occasion, upgrading the usage of technology to continue operations and utilizing the situation to its advantage. In a nutshell, the pandemic has transformed the future of legal practice in India. Here’s how.
The advent of virtual courts
One of the biggest and most notable changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are virtual courts. Ever since remote working became the norm, the court hearing sessions have also been shifted online and virtual courts have been increasingly adopted to enable seamless adjudication of cases without the physical presence of the parties involved and the lawyers and judges.
However, it’s important to note that virtual courts are not an entirely new concept whose creation was fuelled by the pandemic – India’s first virtual court was launched in 2019 by the Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The onset of the global health crisis merely accelerated the adoption of virtual courts by the Indian Judicial System and the Supreme Court, in view of the COVID-19 situation, emphasized the need for the increased usage of video conferencing to conduct hearings. Now, the all-important question is, will this continue into the future?
Courts across the country have swiftly adapted to conduct online hearing sessions and arbitration has shifted to digital mediums. With the legal industry having embraced remote working efficiently, parties and tribunals have also moved past their initial apprehension towards tech-powered arbitration and have accepted the new methods of operations of courts. Besides, clients often had to travel long distances to reach the courts and virtual courts have made remote hearing sessions possible, saving time and cost. However, physical courts have been a major part of the legal/judicial sphere for the longest time and their complete disappearance is unlikely. For the foreseeable future, legal practice may have a hybrid model of working where a combination of both physical and virtual court proceedings is in place once the dust has settled.
Technology: The cornerstone
As compared to other sectors, the legal industry has been relatively slow in adopting cutting-edge technologies such as AI. However, since the onset of the pandemic, the industry has been quick to undergo digital transformation. From hiring to contracts, AI’s usage in the legal sector has been increasing steadily. In early 2020, former Chief Justice of India Sharad Arvind Bobde had emphasized that the Indian Judiciary System must equip itself to incorporate AI in its day-to-day workings especially in dealing with paperwork such as document management and cases that are repetitive.
Although incorporating AI entirely into every aspect of operations across all courts in India would require heavy capital and time, including AI gradually has propelled the growth of Legal Tech – a segment that needed to be prioritized until recently. AI’s scalability in the legal sector will also ensure that lawyers can better adapt to the future and continue to provide independent judgment that focuses on mission-critical work for clients. Besides, new-age legal professionals, who are more digitally savvy, are more open to the incorporation of technology in the industry. Sooner than later, lawyers will be bidding adieu to monotonous, repetitive tasks and instead dedicate time and resources to their practice, strategizing their arguments.
Additionally, for corporate lawyers, the shift to online mediums has made it more convenient and saved time by enabling the drafting and sharing of contracts as well as scheduling client meetings to take place virtually, thereby allowing business to be conducted more efficiently. With the rise of Legal Tech companies, law firms today are also leveraging various software such as CRM to gather more data and cross-reference files if the need arises. Combined, these have contributed to increased efficiency and productivity for lawyers.
What does the future hold for emerging legal professionals?
The post-pandemic time is bound to be a new, exciting time for emerging legal professionals/aspirants. With the industry turning over a new leaf, it has opened a world of opportunities and possibilities. With law firms being more flexible due to the radical changes in the legal sphere, the law will cease to be considered just a static profession. Rather, legal practice has now become a skill in itself that requires much more than just technical knowledge. New-age lawyers need to be proficient in technology and focus on building skillsets such as client relations, networking, analytical thinking, problem-solving, etc., to thrive in the increasingly competitive and changing market. The career prospects are abundant, and lawyers must be equipped and ready to pursue them.
In the post-COVID era, when the world returns to a state of normalcy, it is expected that the inclusion of technology will continue to remain and may even be augmented further for the seamless working of the legal sector. This new, progressive legal regime will be a giant step forward for the industry in terms of streamlining processes and making India’s legal sector and system a globally renowned one. The future will see the legal ecosystem become more agile, fluid, collaborative, and efficient with the transformations that are taking place. All in all, COVID-19 has indisputably changed the face of legal practice – a change that is likely to be long-lasting.