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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The COVID-19 pandemic has nudged the legal industry to more widely adopt virtual business practices.

Why it matters: Lawyers have rarely been early adopters when it comes to tech, but the pressures of the pandemic on their bottom line have forced law firms to adapt or die — and clients may end up benefiting.

By the numbers: In its 2020 Legal Trends Report, the cloud-based legal tech company Clio found the pandemic hit the legal industry hard, with revenue per lawyer dropping by $2,373 in May year-over-year.

  • As many as a quarter of law firms surveyed said they had let go of staff, and over half of legal professionals say they are worried about the financial future of their firm.

Context: To survive, law firms have been forced to accelerate their adoption of services that can be done remotely, like the e-signing of contracts, electronic billing and virtual client meetings.

  • Brick-and-mortar offices are becoming less important, with 7% of legal professionals reporting they had let go of their commercial office space and 12% saying they were considering doing so in the future.
  • 37% of consumers, meanwhile, said they believed that most if not all lawyers should run their practices virtually in the future.
  • "What we are witnessing is a permanent transformation in how we deliver legal services," says Jack Newton, Clio's CEO.

What to watch: That shift could benefit the average consumer, who consistently reports being unable to get the legal help they need.

  • "Innovative lawyers are going to step up and find ways to deliver legal services that are more affordable and more accessible," says Newton.
  • That could be as simple as adopting clear client portals on law firm websites and electronic payment systems that bring the customer experience of legal services more in line with other industries.
"Law is the last major industry to be fundamentally changed by technology, and COVID-19 is going to cause that."
— Jack Newton, Clio

Go deeper

Dec 15, 2020 - World

Hong Kong's worst case scenario is happening

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The national security law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong is playing out in line with the worst-case scenario its critics feared.

Driving the news: A slew of arrests under the draconian law culminated last week with charges against pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai.

Tech scrambles to derail inauguration threats

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tech companies are sharing more information with law enforcement in a frantic effort to prevent violence around the inauguration, after the government was caught flat-footed by the Capitol siege.

Between the lines: Tech knows it will be held accountable for any further violence that turns out to have been planned online if it doesn't act to stop it.

Dave Lawler, author of World
1 hour ago - World

Uganda's election: Museveni declared winner, Wine claims fraud

Wine rejected the official results of the election. Photo: Sumy Sadruni/AFP via Getty

Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner of a sixth presidential term on Saturday, with official results giving him 59% to 35% for Bobi Wine, the singer-turned-opposition leader.

Why it matters: This announcement was predictable, as the election was neither free nor fair and Museveni had no intention of surrendering power after 35 years. But Wine — who posed a strong challenged to Museveni, particularly in urban areas, and was beaten and arrested during the campaign — has said he will present evidence of fraud. The big question is whether he will mobilize mass resistance in the streets.