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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

Fortnite developer brings on its first lobbyists

An 11-year-old gamer plays Fortnite in South Pasadena, California, last April. Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

The company behind the wildly popular video game franchise Fortnite, which is suing Apple over alleged anti-competitive practices, hired its first lobbyists this month to “monitor” antitrust issues in Washington.

Why it matters: Epic Games’ case against Apple has potentially huge legal and financial stakes. The company’s decision to enlist K Street veterans with connections on both sides of the aisle indicates it is tuning into D.C., where both parties have railed against anti-competitive practices in the tech industry.

Biden gets mixed grades on revolving door

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Biden is getting mixed marks for his reliance on industry insiders to staff his administration during its first 100 days.

Why it matters: Progressives have leaned on the new president to limit the revolving door between industry and government. A new report from the Revolving Door Project praises him on that front but highlights key hires it deems ethically questionable.

Exclusive: Sen. Coons sees new era of bipartisanship on China

Sen. Chris Coons. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Jan. 6 insurrection was a "shock to the system," propelling members of Congress toward the goal of shoring up America's ability to compete with China, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told Axios during an interview Thursday.

Why it matters: Competition between China's authoritarian model and the West's liberal democratic one is likely to define the 21st century. A bipartisan response would help the U.S. present a united front.