How is the Global Pandemic Affecting the Legal Community Worldwide?

By: Diane E. O’Connell, Chair, International Section

You say I’ll be fine … but it’s too soon to tell – Bonnie Raitt

In considering what long-term effects there may be on the international legal community as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, one must consider the legal system, governmental structure and culture of each respective country affected. But the pandemic has brought into focus that ultimately, the entire human race is affected, and a cross border approach will be unavoidable. And, while trying to break down the legal issues that each country will face after the crisis abates is difficult to predict, one thing is certain, we are all in this together and things will be different.

As we contemplate just the simple life events that we all partake in, such as funerals, weddings, birthday parties, holiday celebrations, we realize these are luxuries many of us took for granted and now we need to reassess how these events will be celebrated in the months ahead. Our fundamental needs have not changed but how we realize them looks different now.

In examining these fundamental needs, we can get a glimpse into how the legal profession will be impacted. The appetite for risk will likely diminish as we now have a better perspective on what things will look like if there is another catastrophic global event. Contracts will be focused on more, force majore clauses, while generally not heavily negotiated in the past, will be enhanced, and rights to terminate scrutinized. In fact, contracts may become the superstars for the legal community!

Other areas of law will be impacted as well. Bankruptcies, housing & real estate, business development, anti-corruption, privacy, healthcare, trade, litigation, insurance, environment, and trusts and estates will all have new issues to address as the aftermath of the pandemic reveals itself. And, as attorneys, we will help our clients and ourselves navigate through these unchartered paths.

We’re also learning something about ourselves and our colleagues. How we worked in the past is not necessarily how we will or should work in the future. For instance, we have all survived working remotely for some time now. We have saved money and reclaimed commuting hours by staying home. And, while some of us find this a relief, others struggle with being able to focus on work as we wrestle with the change in routine.  Working from home is not for everyone just the same as going into the office everyday isn’t either. Perhaps we will have a greater tolerance for each other’s individual preferences. Perhaps we will all have renewed perspectives on many things we took for granted in the past. Maybe even greater cultural competence.

One thing that is certain is that things will change and if we are willing to change with it, there will be opportunities to shift focus and be innovative. We will create new rituals that provide us with a sense of connection while figuring out how to maintain traditions. We will adjust our goals, some using this event as a springboard to do something new and different. We may reprioritize what we deem important. But, one thing is certain, is that we will all try to figure out how to maintain our connectedness to the world we live in. Because, community is what we all need as human beings.

So, while it is too soon to tell what will come next, and how we will each respond to it, I do know that the legal community will be fundamental in helping the world move forward. And, for that I extend my gratitude to all the attorneys worldwide. I look forward to what we do next.

To sum it up: Dankie, shukrān, gracias, m̀hgòi, to-siā, Tusind tak, Dank u, Kiitos, Merci, Danke, Efharistó, Qujan. Toda, dhanyavād, Takk, Terima kasih, Go raibh maith agat, dōmo arigatō, kamsahamnida, nāndi, dhanyabad, mamnūnam, Dzięki, Obrigado, Spasibo, kòp kun, Cảm ơn ông, thank you!

And PS: Thank you to Governor Cuomo for having New York in his heart. We would not be able to get through this without your strong, decisive and empathetic leadership! You are the voice of sanity and reassurance.