Partner – Cescon Barrieu, Brazil
1. How has the Covid-19 crisis affected the way you work as a lawyer? What are the key positives and negatives that have emerged out of lockdown?
The firm has changed a lot the dynamics at work to adapt to the new environment. After several months working from home, we realised we had to adopt new techniques and a new approach from the perspective of human interrelationship. As lawyers, we are not only used to producing written documents, but also meeting clients and talking directly to people involved in a query or a case that can developed into a litigation or a negotiation. We file petitions, present defences, arguments and claims before courts and tribunals all over the country. Negotiations and discussions among parties and stakeholders involved in a case had to be adapted.
The solution was a massive use of the internet, digital platforms, and apps to communicate peer to peer or with small or large groups when necessary. It seems that after an initial period of adaptation with the new tools that are now being used to communicate among people, the workflow was reinstated, and the results and productivity were basically the same as before the pandemic and as or even more efficient.
Oral presentations before court are now being done through the internet, negotiations, filings of petitions, even court hearings, assemblies and general meetings of creditors/shareholders were and continued to be held with the use of the tools provided by modern technology. Brazil had already developed a system of digital court files, judgements, and trials years ago, which helped the continuity of the work in cases before courts and arbitration chambers. The use of technology to avoid the high costs of transportation (flights, hotels, etc.), massive production of paperwork, among others, is a positive change that seems to be here to stay.
A downside certainly is the reduced face-to-face interaction both internally and with external contacts, the increased difficulty in training new hires and in trying to develop the work that requires more face-to-face discussions and alignment among the people involved (lawyers, trainees, paralegals, assistants, etc.).
Also, it seems that as result of the pandemic, the way we use the office space, the hours and work journeys will change significantly. The use of the home office is another practice that has come to stay. The old idea that a person seated at their desk in the office is in work mode will be substituted for a more substantial concept of content production, communication among the parties involved in a project and delivering the results and the product of the work, instead of merely fulfilling the hours expected.
2. Will you and your firm continue to use flexible and agile working in the future? Will you reduce the size of your physical office space?
Yes, it seems that the expectations are that the firm will continue to use flexible working arrangements and the home office system in the future. However, the physical presence of the teams in the office environment for specific purposes such as training, discussions, group presentations, participating in court hearings or the production of petitions and documents, will still be required. Therefore, it does not mean necessarily that the workspaces will be reduced.
In the short term, current social distancing measures and other protocols demand more space. Also, the development of the cases and legal work, including new areas of practice at the firm will demand new staff to be hired and the office space would be needed anyway according to a new model of occupation. However, in the medium and long term, it seems the trend will be for office spaces to be used in a more efficient and rational matter and possibly reduced. It is already practice in certain areas of business that the offices are reduced, workspaces are returned to landlords or spared, and this is already happening in legal services as well.
3. How have you employed legal tech during the crisis? What has been successful and what has been lacking?
Legal technology was broadly implemented through the tools that we were already developing such as information and data search, production of documents, legal auditing, and due diligence. However, this evolution was already happening before the pandemic and the new environment has just accelerated projects and investments already planned and solutions that had already begun to be implemented.
4. How do you see the advancement of legal tech affecting the legal industry in the next 10 years?
It seems huge and it is massively substituting repetitive work, the need of physical space, the production of documents and communication among people involved in a case or legal work. Artificial intelligence may also help legal professionals to work in a more efficient and productive manner, with a more innovative way of developing legal work and solutions. Although it does not seem that technology will substitute certain level of creativity, repetitive work and the search for information and data will soon be drastically impacted by the technology.
5. Has your firm changed its remuneration structure during the crisis? Will the firm consider using a “commission only” or hybrid remuneration model in future?
There are existing models in the market that could be considered and used in the future.
6. Name one key thing that will be different in the legal profession in 10 years’ time.
As the legal work relies on the demand of people in business and human relationships, the interactive communication among people will drastically change; however, the need of defending and protecting interests in society will always be a high demand for the legal profession as a substantial service, and less of a formal or bureaucratic work.