PH Lawyering in the time Covid-19

Digital practice of law will be the new normal.

Lawyers will have to catch up fast with the use of technology from Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and to Zoom. This will separate those who will thrive and those who will sink. If any, lawyers are likely to adapt well with the technology in place as they are after all trained in law school to overcome all obstacles in their way.

There are, however, a few things to keep in mind to ensure compliance with the duties and responsibilities of a lawyer under the Code of Professional Responsibility and the Lawyer’s Oath.

When using technology, lawyers must keep in mind their duties on confidentiality and lawyer-client privilege. Thus, lawyers should be adept at the security and privacy settings of these platforms and make the necessary efforts to ensure that measures are in place to protect client confidences while using the technology.

On themselves, lawyers ensure that no household member should be listening to private conversations with clients, particularly spouses, partners, or family members. Thus, videoconferencing and phonecalls should be done in closed rooms or areas where others will not be able to listen in to the conversation.

As for court appearances, trial lawyers should keep themselves updated with Supreme Court circulars which have laid down the framework for electronic hearings. The rules will likely require futher study and familiarity as the shift to digital court hearings have been sudden, with no transition in place. While limited initially to criminal cases, it will likely extend to other cases, particularly those concerning civil liberties such as habeas corpus and those of transcendental importance involving legal issues that can shift political, social, economic, and business landscapes.

As for compliance and/or regulatory work, lawyers will have to carefully study each agency’s direction on the use of technology for submissions, payments, taxes, and so on. While a few offices have successfully transitioned to online services, many still are lagging behind with the innovations.

Contract review and drafting of legal documents are perhaps the least affected considering that this does not involve much human and personal interaction. It is only the lawyer, the computer, and the document that get to see each other. Once a draft is sent, revisions and comments are indicated whether in the document or on the email body.

When all is said and done, lawyers should implement convenient payment methods, such as digital payments via debit or credit cards, wire transfers, and the like. Bank deposits should be low on the totem pole. Lower even is the check payments or any physical contact.

Finally, there is the online presence. Digital services have to be searchable and found online as this will be the go-to of many looking for legal services. Instead of business signs or hanging a shingle, a website is going to be the norm. It is best to engage those who are familiar with professional services to maintain the dignity and respect of the legal profession.