Legal Sector post CoViD-19- challenges and remedies
The crisis that the world in general and our country is facing due to the
rapid and seemingly uncontrollable spread of coronavirus is not only
unprecedented in contemporary times but also extremely damaging on multiple
fronts. Almost the whole world, barring certain exceptions, is in lock-down and
only essential services are allowed to function and operate. We are more than
certain that mankind would be able to successfully treat the novel coronavirus
and get rid of the present crisis soon, however, the immense and
incomprehensible damage which this crisis is sure to cause before it passes must
be considered with a view of mitigating and alleviating the resulting
conditions.We don’t know how the world would look in the aftermath of
Certainly, many things would undergo a drastic transformation, from our eating
habits to hygiene and lifestyle, however, how we embrace these changes - is the
million-dollar question. It is an undisputed fact that sudden changes bring
their own diversified challenges, which, in the present case, would surely be
multi-faceted and far-reaching. We would be wrong if we are only envisaging the
financial turmoil and economies collapsing. The world has contended with many
such financial exigencies in the past as well only with a confined and focused
goal to emerge from such financial crisis. However, this time, things would be
The challenges in terms of psychological and sociological behaviour pertaining
to the entire human race would be more troubling and perplexing in its
enormously diverse ambit. The very definition and essence of globalisation is
sure to take a cataclysmic blow. Countries across the globe would revisit their
policies, financial and political, pertaining to globalisation. In the post
COVID-19 future, we should expect more inflexible and complex policies to take
the front seat.
In the legal arena of our country, things are set to take a paradigm shift. The
corporate players would prefer to avoid going into litigation at all costs,
however, that certainly doesn’t mean that litigations would come to a grinding
halt. No, never. Litigation, from a psychological purview, is a by-product of
trust deficit along with other attendant relevant factors. We are aware that the
professional services of certain legal stalwarts in India are even more
expensive than those of the United States.
The single appearance fee, often ranging in 7 figures, would be tough for
corporate litigants to afford. Litigation, including arbitration, over the past
years in India has become exorbitantly expensive. Sometimes, it is beyond the
reasonable comprehension of a litigant as, at the time of commencing a
litigation or entering an active litigation, he is usually unaware of the
endless hidden costs involved therein. When I say hidden costs, the most
elementary meaning that could be implied would be as to the dates of hearing,
the overall number of which could not possibly be foreseen by any litigant. Law
firms, on the other hand, have started charging clients on the basis of hourly
Hefty pay packages and administrative costs have turned this noble profession of
advocacy to a costly and pompous show. One cannot even imagine a high-stakes
litigation in High Courts as well as the Apex Court without having a battery of
senior counsels on each side. Sometimes, a bare calculation of the fees per
hearing goes up to crores of rupees. Having said that, how corporates, let alone
an ordinary individual, would be able to cover such huge costs in litigation -
is something to be seen.
The litigants must show some confidence in our junior counsels (also briefing
counsels) who prepare the case right from scratch on behalf of their clients.
They must repose their confidence in such juniors and briefing counsels that if
they could prepare the case meticulously and thoroughly, that particular
advocate would be able to argue such case before the court of law with effective
dedication and vigour. In a case concerning the designation of Senior Advocates
before the Apex Court, the affidavit filed by the Gujarat High Court Bar
Association is relevant to note here. The said bar association termed the
designation of senior counsel as a red beacon of legal profession. This
writer does not intend to argue the merits and demerits of designation of
counsels as senior advocates at this juncture. However, it is important to
understand that litigation post COVID-19 is not going to be the same, as it was
The lawyers at the district court level with their individual practices are much
safer than the big law firms and senior counsels as they have an entirely
different clientele to deal with. The nature of cases before the district courts
are, principally, inevitable and thus, such litigations are bound not to suffer.
The big law firms along with mid-size law firms who aspire to be a big law firm
in the near future would certainly suffer the consequences of a calamitous
disruption of the social and economic order.
While the recurring costs would continue to mount, there would be lesser revenue
to make up for such costs which would, at end of the day, lead to laying off
associates working with them. In the last 10 years, the culture of Indian law
firms has changed drastically. We have seen some Indian law firms hiring foreign
legal professionals. Further, the international conferences in legal industry
have seen large participation from India. High scale offices with enormous
amounts of rent along with other factors are going to prove to be very
detrimental for these organisations. Although, everyone would survive, however,
cost reduction across the board is something which we are going to witness in
the near future post COVID-19. The prevalence of 5-star hotel arbitrations and
business class air travel etc. are certain to take a hit.
Moving forward, the law firms must equip themselves adequately and properly to
embrace the tough times which this sector is going to face. The law firms, as
well as junior/briefing counsels, would be required to satisfy their clients
that even without the presence of senior counsels, they would be able to do the
best for the cases for which they are being entrusted. The culture of referring
any high stakes matter to senior counsels must be balanced to some extent. The
senior counsels also have to show some leniency in charging clients.
Non-effective hearings should be spared from being charged. A new component,
although not novel, of one-time lump sum consolidated fee structure for senior
counsels has to be infused in the working order, instead of per hearing fee. The
conference fee, clerkage etc. ancillary to senior counsel fee ought to be
slashed or removed.
Law firms and individual lawyers must be fully prepared themselves for the rough
road ahead. Though the litigations, as well as non-contentious work, is steadily
bound to increase post COVID 19, however, they must be vigil that this rising
volume of work would not match their expectation and receipt of revenue.
It is high time for the management of law firms to ponder upon this
restructuring aspect which could balance the interests of all stakeholders. We
have to keep in mind that every year thousands of law graduates join the
profession and they have to be suitably placed amid this crisis. We need to
generate this confidence in clients that like other sector, the legal sector is
also prepared to face the challenges.
We have to further ensure that the quality of legal support, in the absence of
huge revenue, is not compromised. We have to scrutinize and identify the
prospective cost cutting avenues while ensuring that employees of law firms and
working advocates aren’t subjected to unduly harsh measures. Above all, we have
to take them into confidence.
On the contrary, it could also be argued that the legal sector would see an
influx of work in the aftermath of COVID-19 since the resumption of social and
economic order would result in an exponential increase in litigation. This may
be true to some extent as well. However, as I have maintained earlier, this
influx of litigation would not bring the revenue proportionate to what it could
have fetched earlier. There arises a peculiar situation where the lawyers, on
one hand, have to deal with post COVID-19 corporate and contractual disputes,
while on the other, they have to embrace and overcome the challenges of such
disputes not generating adequate revenue, as it used to generate earlier.
Some bar councils have come up with a proposal to support young lawyers amid
this crisis. Lest we forget that a large chunk of the legal fraternity consists
of daily bread earners who are required to work continuously to generate
sufficient income. In this lockdown, they are the ultimate sufferer in terms of
their financial dependency.
The bar councils such as Delhi Bar Council has floated an idea whereby 5000 Rs
per month as would be provided as financial assistance for young lawyers. The
idea, although appreciated, has its own challenges as Bar councils do not
maintain the income cycle of the lawyers enrolled with it. Further, how such
lawyers who require financial assistance would be identified presents its own
difficulties under the conditions of the lockdown.
Although the idea has been publicised and senior members of the bar have been
urged to contribute and reportedly, some senior members of the bar have
contributed to such corpus, however, it is unclear as to how many lawyers have
actually received the benefits of such assistance.
The welfare policies for lawyers have been always been demanded by the
fraternity, however, barring the exception of Delhi government’s recent fund of
50 Crores, governments have not paid heed to any such proposal and demands. It
would not be out of place to mention that the apathy of the state towards the
legal fraternity is not the only reason which has restricted the formulation and
implementation of welfare policies for lawyers. The various Bar councils,
associations and its leaders have sadly failed in persistently pitching for such
policies despite many bar members having occupied senior ministerial positions
in almost every government. The fraternity, especially the affluent and
well-settled members, have to take this call at their end as to how they could
support their struggling and suffering brethren.
The nuclear module of such support is best to adopted at this time. Every senior
member of bar definitely knows some struggling lawyers acquainted with him/her.
It is humbly proposed that instead of forming a corpus at this stage, the senior
and well to do members of bar should identify struggling lawyers in their own
respective networks and should directly support them. This would also facilitate
support under the lockdown and it would not require any paperwork formalities.
The corpus and its scheme of implementation should be promptly and appropriately
deliberated and finalised for any such situation as it arises in future, God
Time, however tough it, may would change. We must learn the ability of embracing
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