• By Rethabile Konopo

Monotony in the midst of Covid-19: a Legal Pandemic


Work seems a lot different today than just 3 months ago.

Legal professionals are left defenceless during the COVID19 pandemic, they too are pushed out of their jobs as the whole world remains homebound. The question that comes to mind is, “how ready are legal professionals for remote work?” An alarming rate of unemployment is showcased across the world, as the viral scourge spreads without warning. Courts and law firms shut down just like your favourite pub, instantly the powerline is invisible. Meanwhile, amidst this chaos, and the legal expert who has readied themselves with new skills adapting to legal technology are doing business as usual. But mind you, greater automation was already occurring before COVID-19.

Does it call for a pivot or new business model?

Vulnerable. The word I will use to describe how legal professionals have become since the pandemic in most countries. Legal professionals have been gasping for air since the Governments shut down the courts in which they conduct their business, stripping them off of their powers to secure human rights. But did this power struggle exist before this plaque? A few months ago when I approached a few law firms to take part in the Law & Tech Summit we have organised in Botswana to take place in April, a majority of the legal professionals were indecisive to push the agenda.

One of the biggest pain points in the legal community at this time, and a reason why legal professionals are reluctant to embrace change, is the fear of the impact of technology on their future, the fear that their jobs may very well be made redundant because the technology could replace them in the future. When we launched the ‘Employment Justice Lab’ in Botswana-- a platform for co-creation and experimentation; using legal design to find solutions for access to justice-- the response was generally the same. Legal innovation requires more than just a modern white paper or great talks, but immersing ourselves in the experience of the user.

Given the facts that this contagion will have a long term impact in the way legal professionals do business, tweaking is not an option it calls for a new look into the legal business model. While some are hoping that things will get back to normalcy, the question is, what is the new normal for the legal profession?

What will normalcy be like for legal professionals?

Lawyers do not only have legal knowledge but are also skilled at the application of the law, made possible through years of acquaintance in dealing with an abundance of cases and cannot be acquired with the aid of any technology. Thus, the attorney’s knowledge and legal acuity will always be of the ultimate significance in the legal profession. To combat the sentiments of suspense and turmoil that might be felt, firms and business leaders need to capitalize strength into creating a culture of honest communication and confidence with employees to ensure that motives are appreciated.

“When a crisis like a coronavirus pandemic hits an organization, owners need to assess the impact on their business model, both immediately and over the long term,” write Thomas Ritter and Carsten Lund Pedersen in the Harvard Business Journal.

Acquainting a new profit model concept in the legal space is challenging. The Total Solution, First Mover, Spin-Off, and Product Pyramid models are among those enabling law firms to flourish. The law firm model also involves evaluating the scope of activities proposed to consumers, which comprises both the techniques essential to immediately satisfy clients’ needs as well as those expected to operate a business. In a litigation practice, for example, the first category of processes would include things like client consultation, pre-trial motions, discovery, depositions, and court appearances.

The second includes general functions like finance, human resources and back-end operations.

A firm’s choice of activities in both categories shapes its strategic approach to winning business. The concept of selling time will only remain in the past in the legal industry.

What's subsequent?

Now that the future is here, how do legal professionals pivot?

Total Solution: Law firms will need to address the full range of clients’ needs – legal issues and allied business concerns. Developing solutions requires a major initial investment to understand clients and their needs, create the solutions, and cultivate a client relationship.

Spin-Off: Law firms will need to apply “lean” principles to provide options to a wider market of new ways to serve clients and a wider pool of potential clients. Streamlining is becoming fashionable and sustainable in the legal industry.

First Mover: In the legal market, first movers will be those that address new legislation or

regulations or those that establish a task force on an emerging issue, like cybersecurity breaches. First-to-market firms can command premium pricing. This can be sustained until viable competitors enter the market. Given the ready accessibility of precedent in the legal space, the window for first movers is small. But for genuinely innovative firms, it can be highly lucrative.

Product Pyramid: The Product Pyramid model focuses on providing high-priced derivatives that may be low-volume but with a high-profit leeway. It also works with lower-price, high-volume products, where the per-unit dividend margin isn’t high, but the volume of units moved propels the widespread profitability.

What skills do legal professionals need to remain relevant?

The skills that are required in the legal industry to meet the needs of this turbulent profession is resiliency—the ability to absorb a shock, and to come out of it better than the competition—will be the key to survival and long-term prosperity. New skills are definitely needed when transitioning into LawTech.

Though legal professionals are equipped with a vast knowledge of legal education, they usually lack data protection experience. Soft skills such as design thinking are also prominent within the industry creating new careers at the intersection of law and technology. Entrepreneurship spirit, curiosity, emotional intelligence and strategic thinking are the characteristics that could become relevant in the education and recruitment of future lawyers. Therefore, legal professionals will find the need to continuously increase their scope of learning and familiarize themselves with the latest trends of technology.

​​About the Author Rethabile Konopo is a Labour Law Consultant, Founder of Konopo & Partner Labour Law consultancy in Botswana. She has over ten years of experience in both nonprofit and private sectors with a strong background in business and law to lead research in legal and systems design projects for access to justice.

Rethabile spent a year at Stanford University, Hasso Plattner School of Design (d.School), as the John. S. Knight Fellowships Affiliate where she developed an immense interest in the human-centered process of creative problem-solving, spending time at the Legal Design Lab and the K12 Lab.

She then participated as a fellow for d.School Designing for Social Systems, joining high impact social sector leaders across the world.

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