Working virtually in a legal environment with Tunde Ojo

legal digitalisation

The Pros and Cons of Maintaining a Law Practice Online in the Era of COVID-19

In the spring of 2020, when it became increasingly clear that the novel coronavirus posed an immediate and grave threat to people across the world, businesses and professional institutions alike rushed to adapt to the changing and uncertain circumstances at play.

Many shuttered voluntarily; however, choice in the matter was removed when governments of all levels issued broad-sweeping shutdown orders—except those industries deemed to provide essential services.

Throughout all this, the legal community found itself in a unique position. Although in many places public hearings and jury trials were temporarily suspended, the law itself did not shut down. Despite the global spread of COVID-19, police still arrested individuals and charged them with crimes. Businesses still found themselves embroiled in lawsuits, both as plaintiffs and defendants. Most poignantly, people kept dying—but at even higher rates than usual—necessitating the administration of estates, last wills, and testaments. As such, attorneys, barristers, and legal officials, although not specifically deemed an essential service in many cases, functionally fell under that heading. Lawyers of all varieties had to find a way to keep operating. In the ensuing weeks, the legal profession shifted its activities almost entirely online.

Babatunde Oladele Ojo (Tunde Ojo) is a lawyer specializing in a wide variety of legal matters, primarily focusing on public environmental law, but also including civil and criminal law, immigration law, employment law, commercial law, family law, and contract law. Having previously established his reputation as an effective freelance clerk, in 2009, Tunde Ojo founded his own firm, Green Management Solutions Limited (GMSL Legal Services).

In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly swept across the world, Tunde Ojo made the difficult choice to transition most operations of GMSL Legal Services online for the sake of the safety of his clients and employees.

Now, as the summer of 2020 concludes and most regions are allowing a cautious reopening of their full economies, many legal firms are now grappling with some serious questions—for instance, is it better to return to conducting business in person or to keep most operations online? What are the positive and negative aspects of maintaining a primarily internet-based law practice in the current climate? The following is a short rundown of some important pros and cons.

Pro: It is Technologically Possible

From a technological point of view, it is actually quite fortunate that the COVID-19 pandemic occurred when it did, as opposed to, say, fifteen or twenty years ago. Had that been the case, the complex telecommunication infrastructure required to conduct multi-person video conferencing and facilitate the sharing of vast quantities of legal documents and data would not be in place. As it stands presently, with the emergence of high-tech online tools such as virtual private networks, cloud storage technology, and the various video chat applications, lawyers can consult their peers, work with clients, and even litigate remotely with relative ease and in relative safety.

Con: The Technology is Far from Perfect 

There are however, some persistent problems with the aforementioned technology. Issues regarding information security, privacy protection, networks becoming over-burdened by excessive traffic, and outright technological breakdown continue to rear their ugly heads. That being said, new strides and breakthroughs are continuously being made to address these problems, as the field of internet-based business solutions is experiencing something of a renaissance in both investment and talent recruitment. For better or for worse, in the era of COVID-19, information technology and the legal profession have never been so intertwined.

Pro: It Mitigates Health and Safety Risks

Of course, the whole idea underlying the trend of working remotely is to diminish the likelihood of contracting and passing along the coronavirus, and helping to flatten the curve. By moving day-to-day operations online, a firm can guarantee a stop to any incidental contact between employees, clients, and delivery people. By appearing in court only via teleconferencing, legal professionals can significantly mitigate health and safety risks to judges, stenographers, bailiffs, and fellow lawyers. As an extreme act of physical distancing, working virtually is highly effective.

Con: It Can Blur the Line Between Professional Life and Personal Life

One of the major downsides of maintaining a virtual work environment is the conflation of productive working hours with private or personal time. When a person’s daily work setting is suddenly changed from an office building to their own home, certain problems can arise. It’s easy for people to fall prey to distractions, or to allow domestic obligations to intrude on what is ostensibly supposed to be company time. This is especially true in the case of someone caring for small children or an elderly relative at home. So, a certain inevitable decrease in efficiency must be factored in to any law firm’s decision whether to keep working remotely through the pandemic or to return to a traditional, brick-and-mortar practice.

Pro: It Can Reduce Office Overhead

In moving to a virtual business model, a law firm can substantially reduce overhead. By furloughing extraneous staff, bundling technology services, and cutting down on office supply usage, a firm can streamline costs and increase profit margins. If the move online is made permanent, savings can be significantly boosted, as rent or mortgage payments on a physical office space are removed from the firm’s monthly expenses. There is a tradeoff to this, though, as legal practices that exist solely in the realm of cyberspace are at best taken less seriously by the legal community, and at worst deemed illegitimate and unable to effectively practice law in certain jurisdictions.

Con: It May Necessitate Substantial Retraining of Office Staff

Depending on how tech savvy a firm’s staff was before the onset of the pandemic, a certain amount of retraining may be necessary in order to familiarize them with the programs and technological tools needed to practice law remotely. While this process can be frustrating and time-consuming, it does not need to be costly. In most cases, at least one or two staff members can quickly learn the ins and outs of the new technology in question, and then, in turn, offer in-house training to the others.

Tunde Ojo and the Bottom Line

Working virtually is by no means a perfect solution to the disruption in normal business operations caused by COVID-19. For the time being, though, it would seem the rewards outweigh the prospective risks. By continuing to work virtually through the remainder of the pandemic, law firms will limit viral exposure to clients and employees and help curb the spread of the contagion, as well as reducing operational expenses. At the same time, there are some drawbacks to consider. Among these are a need to retrain office staff, unexpected problems arising from dependence on remote technology, and a measurable decrease in overall efficiency.