Senior executives at top law firms such as Khaitan & Co, Trilegal, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas and Phoenix Legal said business activity has regained steam in June and July, though not akin to pre-pandemic levels
Senior executives at top law firms such as Khaitan & Co, Trilegal, Cyril Amarchand
Mangaldas and Phoenix Legal said business activity has regained steam in June and July, though not akin to pre-pandemic levels. They estimated that business is anywhere between 40 per cent and 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, depending on the individual law firms
During March and most of April, courts only heard urgent matters through videoconference, and litigation activity was nearly negligible as a result.
However, courts have now lowered the threshold of "urgency" as technology issues are stabilising, according to Bishwajit Dubey, partner at Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas. Litigants, earlier in wait-and-watch mode, have also started getting accustomed to the new normal, amid a pandemic that is still raging across the country
Generally, May and June are vacation months for courts. However, most courts have done away with vacation during June, since March and April had little activity.
"June has been very busy," said Trinath Tadakamalla, partner - dispute resolution and insurance at Phoenix Legal. Business is now at 40-50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, he estimated.
In fact, the Covid-19 outbreak is actually driving some amount of business, as companies invoking 'force majeure' and ring employees have become key issues of legal dispute, Tadakamalla said.
"Our employment and restructuring teams have been extremely busy all throughout the pandemic," said Yogesh Singh, partner and cohead of corporate practice at Trilegal. Work from-home arrangements are posing legal issues around data privacy, confidentiality and protection of intellectual property, in the process keeping technology lawyers busy.
While litigation work has been affected, transactional and advisory matters have picked up significantly over the last month, at least at top-tier law rms, Singh said.
Big-ticket financial deals have also resumed, meaning law rms are getting contract-related work.
There has been another silver lining – lawyers and clients do not have to travel to various cities for hearings. This reduces costs, said Tadakamalla of Phoenix Legal.
However, arbitrations are posing challenges.
"It is a tussle between traditional practice visà-vis the new normal. It's difficult to cross-examine witnesses through VC. Body language plays a major role and questions are usually decided on the spot depending on the approach of the witness and answers to the line of questioning," said Jeevan Ballav Panda, partner at Khaitan & Co.
Witnesses can disconnect the call using the excuse of a technical glitch, and consult someone in the meanwhile.
Corporate lawyers have adapted quickly to using technology, but litigation lawyers used to being in court daily are taking longer.
"Some things just used to happen better while getting a coffee in the chambers and briefing counsel. There is absolutely no substitute to the humane touch of a physical meeting," said Panda.
Top law rms are seeing improvement, but smaller rms and individual lawyers are still affected. Many lawyers are not getting work as courts are not functioning at full-strength, and as they do not have access to or are uncomfortable with technology, said Dubey of Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas.
Originally published 09 August, 2020
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