Lockdown devastates conveyancing, criminal and immigration practices
By Nicola Laver
High street lawyers are hit “hard and fast” by covid-19 with residential conveyancing suffering disproportionately, a significant report has found
High street lawyers are being hit “hard and fast” by covid-19, with residential conveyancing suffering disproportionately, a significant new report has found.
However, they should be on a firmer footing to weather the crisis today than if it had hit several years ago, because of solid recent growth in demand for their services
A LexisNexis report, Quantifying legal demand growth and the impact of covid-19, has revealed the devastating toll on many practice areas and anticipates firm closures in the coming days.
The report is LexisNexis’ first Gross Legal Product index and is the result of a project using hard data to quantify the impact of the pandemic on legal service demand.
In its preface, the LexisNexis segment marketing team headed by the report author, Chris O’Connor, said it is hard to overstate the impact covid-19 has had on the legal community and its long-term impact “is hard to gauge”.
But it described the response of the community as “inspiring”.
Residential property activity all but stopped for some weeks with completions down 70% in March.
Though viewings and transactions are now returning it could take years for legal activity to rebound, the report says.
Commercial property has also experienced an acute drop in activity (24.8%) but a short-term burst of activity is expected later in the year, such as renegotiating leases and payment terms and more company voluntary arrangements.
But the report’s longer-term outlook for commercial property is “challenging” with a likely structural reduction in demand for office and retail space.
The criminal sector is facing difficult times not least because the number of crimes committed has fallen precipitously since the start of lockdown.
This factor “could prove terminal for some practitioners and firms”, the report said. Immigration practice has also come to a halt.
Litigation and dispute resolution is facing the most severe short-term challenges because of court closures but this is expected to recover as the courts reopen and proceedings become remote.
Unsurprisingly, some areas such as employment, commercial and tax have seen an increase in activity during the pandemic.
Employment work has accelerated by more than 10% in the first quarter of this year, fuelled by furloughing and redundancies; and tax by more than 17% reflecting increased demand for advice as businesses navigate the covid-19 alleviation measures.
Commercial practice has seen “intense demand” for advice during the crisis and, says the report, demand will be accelerated by the need for commercial lawyers to interpret the legal implications of covid-19 on business contracts.
Family and private client were found to be largely insulated, likely to be resilient and may even see an increase in work.
In family, for instance, the report found that though the volume of proceedings has fallen by more than two thirds since the start of the crisis, urgent care proceedings have increased by 500%.
There has also been a 700% increase in domestic abuse enquiries according to Relate, which could translate to a big rise in instructions for family lawyers.
In the longer term, the report anticipates the drops in income caused by furlough will trigger reviews of hundreds of thousands of child maintenance agreements.
In the private client sector, figures show a 75% increase in wills instructions compared to the same period last year and, as the report states, covid-19 deaths will be a “fundamental driver” of future work.
Risk and compliance, another insulated area, is expected to increase.
Covid-19 will, says the report, accelerate digital adoption across all sectors – “more data will mean more breaches” and more work for compliance professionals.
The report makes a number of recommendations to help firms weather the storm, ranging from protecting your client base, focusing on business development – and diversify or ‘rebalance’ your practice.