Recommendations for Legal Practice in South Africa During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Mollica Maharaj Managing Director, Rahman and Rahman Inc., Attorneys, South Africa The global COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the world in unprecedented ways.Businesses have suffered immensely. Every day journalists report that more and more businesses have been forced to retrench or close down for good. In fact, Moneyweb reports that the impact of COVID-19 on the economy could be worse than the effect of the 2008 economic crisis. President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged this in his latest address, but also reminded us that the number of lives lost would be far higher without the current stringent lockdown policies. Legal practitioners feel the impact Legal practitioners in South Africa have borne the brunt of the pandemic. In a nationwide survey of legal professionals conducted by Goldfields Attorneys Association in May, 58.2% of participants indicated they lost more than 60% of their income in April. In addition, access to legal services has been negatively impacted; the same survey revealed that 85.2% of attorneys and advocates reported that the lockdown regulations severely affected access to legal services by the public (85% of respondents in the survey said that access to legal services was negatively impacted). How can legal practitioners respond? Professionals across all sectors are required to work in an agile fashion and adopt a growth mind-set that will enable them to succeed during difficult times.These are a few steps that members of the legal community can take to mitigate long term risks: Collaborate It might seem counterintuitive to encourage collaboration during isolation, but for professionals, there is no better time to do so. Simple but effective strategies such as pooling of resources, sharing office workspace, and accommodating clients and colleagues with flexible working hours can ensure business continuity during tough times. Assess the court system Social distancing naturally causes challenges for court attendance. However, there are ways that this can be addressed to guarantee that people are safe and that legal processes are carried out adequately. One way of addressing this issue is to assess each case and prioritize accordingly. For instance, in this blog post, the author outlines that while certain critical matters cannot be addressed outside of court, other dealings such as preparations and litigation can be done virtually, for example, via zoom. Go digital! Digital technology has revolutionised the workplace, particularly within global firms that manage multiple offices across continents and time zones. In South Africa, firms are just now tapping into the possibilities virtual conferences hold for future business. It seems natural that the courts should benefit from digital technology. This would require courts to rethink current processes; for instance, even today, the majority of courts operate with paper and only a few courts have digitalised their paperwork. Going forward, this process will have to be transformed. It’s time to think ‘Out of the Box’ The far-reaching effects of the global pandemic on the legal profession has caused much panic, but, we believe it is the perfect opportunity to reimagine the law profession in South Africa. As the profession begins to embrace digital technology and integrate it into their vocation, we should start to think about how we can adopt a growth mind-set that enables us to identify opportunities, transform how we do things, collaborate with our fellow practitioners and ensure the public reaps the benefit of ongoing service. The legal profession in South Africa has been given an opportunity to transform current practices in order to provide the best service possible to clients in turbulent times. It will require legal professionals in South Africa to make small changes that, in the long run, will benefit them, their clients, and the law community as a whole.