Will COVID-19 Make Workers Compensation and Personal Injury Cases Less Expensive?
The bottom line.
We all care about it. Prosecuting workers’ compensation and personal injury claims comes with a cost. The cost it takes to try a case, the cost of appeals, the cost of getting and storing medical records and other papers necessary to move cases forward. The cost-benefit analysis that lawyers teach clients about when considering their cases and to see if they can be prosecuted efficiently so that the client has something to show for it in the end. The bottom line is, well, the bottom line.
So, what does the current pandemic have to do with the bottom line?
COVID-19 is forcing the law industry to catch up, particularly when it comes to technology. Modern law firms do not have the old, musty, dark-wooden libraries that smell of cigar smoke, like the kind of you might read about in a John Grisham novel. In law school, we learn Latin phrases like stare decisis, in which precedent usually binds later courts from deviating from earlier decisions. Lawyers and the law profession don’t like change. Some use big words like “heretofore” or “notwithstanding” that you would never hear in casual talk. Or like stare decisis, even though casual talk normally isn’t in Latin. Well, it’s time to change.
So, again: What does the current pandemic have to do with it?
In a recent article, “Will the COVID-19 Pandemic Fundamentally Remake the Legal Industry?” (ABA Journal, August/September 2020 edition), the American Bar Association looks at how tough times make for tough transitions. Change is upon us, and much of this change has forced reluctant generations of lawyers to become technologically savvy and, yes, to change. To adapt. Almost overnight. Just a year ago, the thought of a virtual jury trial was incomprehensible. Virtual trials are now upon us. Our rules of professional conduct, which emphasize “competence,” extends competence to technology. We now have mandatory CLE hours in technology because, well, why wouldn’t you? It’s 2020.
In the end, the paradigm shift to technology will benefit the consumer of legal services–our clients–particularly in contingent-fee cases like workers’ compensation, personal injury, and wrongful death claims where efficiency and cost-benefit analyses are key. Less paper means less expenses associated with receiving, copying, and shipping reams of paper throughout a claim. Remember when the US Post Office had postage revenues that supported its operations? Then came email. Remember when hordes of contract lawyers reviewed document production on a contract basis? Then came Adobe. And OCR. And AI. All for the better, because it makes what we do less expensive for our clients, and they are the ones that matter.
Our bottom lines will become better because of COVID-19 and the changes upon us. Cases will be handled more efficiently in paperless systems with state-of-the-art technology than they have been before. Less expensive litigation means more access to justice for injured workers who might not otherwise be able to afford justice.
All for the better. Better for our legal system. Better for law firms. But most of all, better for those we help.
Their bottom line matters.