2020 has been a revolutionary year of sorts globally and the legal world has not been left untouched by the pandemic. During the initial days when the covid beast had just begun to flex her mouth to spew venom, we, lawyers, considered ourselves immune to it or the problem appeared to be too far-sighted for us to worry. Even when the pandemic loomed over us at the beginning and a lockdown was announced, the lawyers and their associates were worried about their cancelled foreign vacations and other plans for the summer break. After all, how can the goddess of law with a mask above her eyes be affected enough to change a 100-year-old system? The lockdown stretched and so did the worry lines, even the overworked lawyers who were relieved to have some family or me time had just about had enough of being in their comfort zones and itched to get back to their social circles discussing political affairs while networking to make new clients, not to mention the savings that were starting to dry up.
Even during the pre-covid period, as the world rejoiced in the wake of the digital revolution, we had held on to our traditions and systems. We held our heavy law books close to us while the world moved to kindle and embraced technology with open arms. We always made ourselves available for a coffee meeting or a long conversation with a prospective client as the rest of the world grappled with video conferences and conference calls. There was never any after-work time for a lawyer – s/he is after all, always out making friends and being visible to the social circle thus being totally unaware of the “out of office “ or “away from work” options embraced by other professionals.
However, the Covid 19 beast forced us to dismantle an entire age-old system to mould ourselves to the virtual world. The traditional lawyers were left to the mercy of the millennial juniors or associates who became their walking aids as they learned the nuances of digital communication while the rest of the legal community steered themselves towards social media platforms. The system was changing, and the imminent change came with many imminent challenges.
During the lockdown, the main income generated by the young/ upcoming lawyer base were the numerous bail applications filed in the Supreme Court and High Courts but with the directions to ease the bail system for a crime under a sentence up to 7 years the lawyers were left at a loss. In the pre – covid era where the lawyers would run behind the registry for their case to be posted, the virtual world made lawyers inaccessible to these human contact points, leaving them in long queues for a matter to be posted/considered by the court.
However, these incidents constituted minor nuisances in comparison to the major obstacle that came up with the virtual courtroom. With multiple litigations pending in our country and each judge hassled by over hundreds of cases a day – the virtual courtroom gave the convenience for the case to be “accidentally” ignored, made inaudible or heartlessly posted for a later date a few weeks after, all within a time frame of ten seconds. Similarly, not to mention the curse of the digital angels if any, such as your Wi-Fi choosing to act erratic or your earphones deciding to commit suicide at the most opportune moment. Despite the challenges, a lawyer struggles with the art of advocacy and convinces the distressed clients to trust them with fruition.
The Rule 36 of chapter IV of the Bar Council of the India Rules specifies that lawyers were not allowed to promote or advertise themselves or their area of work. We, lawyers, have always resorted to the foolproof marketing strategy of word of mouth, strong social circles and an ever-expanding network as the immediate resort. But now, with us being confined to our homes, social circles being encaged to WhatsApp chats and networking being perceived as a health hazard – we are at a loss since few lawyers know what is the best strategy to increase their clientele while being disconnected from the social world or in the "contemporary social media age”.
Amidst this, as lawyers struggled to make ends meet, the Honourable Supreme court was kind enough to remind us that this is all we had as our identity thus disallowing us to think of another career alternative. The legal fraternity in the past three months has faced severe financial hardships forcing them to resort to alternate means of livelihood ranging from basket weaving to teaching. Our profession stewed to keep only the fittest for survival with cutthroat competition and an unstable income-earning schedule. The doors to being employed with corporates payrolls or taking up other odd jobs for a stable income avenue are now closed. However, some of the state Bar Councils like Gujarat were empathetic to the plight of the lawyers and have suggested relief measures and leniency on the rule disallowing lawyers to have other income avenues until Dec of 2020.
As the beast sits over us, the change is happening. Maybe, this is the new era where our goddess needed a makeover to be her millennial best. A highly efficient virtual courtroom, trusted by clients, a social media presence for making the world aware of your existence, an organised, effective fee structure and a transparent case registering & hearing process is the replacement that we need to improve our work culture.
The vaccine may kill the beast, but in the meanwhile, let us become more adaptive and make the best use of change as an armour for the battle that lies ahead.
About the Author
Adv. T S Sarath is a practising lawyer in the High Court of Kerala with over 9 years of experience. He is also one of the founding members of Marks Legal – a law firm based in Kochi. He has completed his Masters in Law from Symbiosis Law School, Pune and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org