CLA News / The impact of COVID-19 on the Indian and UK legal markets : A Report by Meenakkhi Bhattacharyya


The impact of COVID-19 on the Indian and UK legal markets

Author : Meenakkhi Bhattacharyya, Trainee Solicitor with Charles Russell Speechlys LLP

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on many aspects of society, not least the legal profession and legal services. Our 2020 webinar held in conjunction with The Law Society of England and Wales, Link Legal Services and ASA & Associates, examined some of the most notable impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our profession across the UK and India and what both countries might be able to expect in the coming months.

The legal profession and law practitioners across the spectrum have seen the impacts of COVID-19 in a variety of settings. Some of the crucial developments were identified and discussed by panel members to offer an insight into how each of the countries have dealt with the crisis and what might come from this.

What has changed in the legal profession during COVID-19?

  • Law firms in both countries dealt with a monumental shift in terms of freedom of movement and the inability to service clients face-to-face. The need to balance the client-focused work and also to protect the workforce led to widespread work-from-home initiatives. This was eased by existing infrastructure, repurposed for the increased virtual workflow. Whilst the larger firms in both countries have largely adapted well, it has been a struggle for smaller firms and individual practitioners without support or pre-existing systems.
  • International law firms have struggle with international travel and varying regulations, making working across international offices a challenge but also an eye-opening experience.
  • There have been concerns regarding infrastructure and office spaces, in both countries: in the UK, the market is still dealing with the effects of enforced lockdown, although the effects of the pandemic on real estate investment is yet to be fully realised. Indian law firms have struggled to quantify the economic loss of idle infrastructure, however, another cost incurred in these uncertain times.
  • The UK legal sector has turned in force to remote court hearings, and this has gradually been opened up to further courts and jurisdictions. Flagship cases have provided legal precedent for understanding what is seen to be the “new normal”. In India, however the courts have essentially stopped functioning, suspended unless for urgent hearings or if consent is received from both sides. There are limited virtual hearings and restricted to certain courts and formats. This is replicated in arbitration across India, where there has been little consensus or IT knowledge across sector and certain practices such as cross-examination via video conferencing appears to be a non-starter.

What does the future hold for the legal sector?

  • The UK is now seeing a gradual return to office to serve business and personal needs, although there is a belief that this pandemic will lead to a turboboost of agile working and infrastructures. This will be important in the legal sector, which has, until now, primarily focused on office-based team working with face-to-face client contact. New solutions will be required for providing efficient and comprehensive client service.
  • Both markets are being forced to consider the impact of COVID-19 on the need for extensive office space and whether the ability to work agilely has impacted on this requirement.
  • The UK legal sector has seen a number of relaxations in rules and regulations (for example, witnessing and client due diligence); it is unlikely this will be here to stay. However, virtual court hearings may well be a permanent feature going forward, given the access to justice afforded, which, in turn, is likely to increase the speed with which cases are seen to. It remains to be seen what will happen in India, where this has been less common.

Legal professionals in both jurisdictions will need to prioritise servicing clients to the industry standard, and abiding by safety regulations. How this will shape the sector for years to come is an exciting but daunting prospect.

Watch the full webinar  on the CRS website.