Is it possible to perceive some elements of the corona crisis positively? And is it possible that changes could take place that would have a positive effect on the Slovak legal market? I may be too optimistic, but I am convinced that the answer to both questions is “yes.”
Although lawyers have been talking for many years about how they have been innovating their provision of legal services, the reality is, to be honest, much more plain. This stands out the most when looking at last year. In a single year, many law firms made larger leaps in innovation than they had in the previous ten years. During my practice, at the end of the day, we always provided legal services classically, as we had learned and read in wise books. But the corona crisis gave us the opportunity – or even forced us – to get off the beaten track and try something new.
Last March, literally overnight, we had to move from our offices to our homes. Instead of a period of careful trial and error, overnight we learned how to communicate only remotely, and digitally. We traded coffees and lunches for online seminars and podcasts and learned much more about how to provide clients with the real value and content that catches their attention and helps them. As in every crisis, clients were impatient and needed quick, practical advice. And all this against the background of the fact that we were at home with the rest of our families, learning how to work and function together.
Last year I learned more than in the previous five years put together - better time management, how to work remotely, how to use electronic tools, and much more. And we still have a lot to learn; for example, how to keep team spirits high when we cannot meet in person for several months at a time. Every cloud has a silver lining, and the horrific events of last year gave everyone the opportunity to learn many new things. So yes, at least in terms of personal development and innovation in the legal business, the corona crisis has had some positive effects.
And what about the Slovak legal services market as a whole? Have there been positive changes against the background of the corona crisis?
With a good dose of self-reflection, I must say that in Slovakia, lawyers and the entire judicial system do not have a good reputation. The reasons for this stem from a number of corruption cases that were talked about in whispers for many years and which have surfaced over the past year, resulting in prosecutions of the former attorney general, two previous police presidents, and heads of anti-corruption units, and a number of judges in handcuffs. And, of course, a number of lawyers were involved as well.
While human lives are threatened and our economy is suffocating, a fundamental purge of the Slovak legal system is happening. As a matter of fact, these events should make the Slovak business environment more attractive. It should also have a positive effect on the Slovak legal market. Unfortunately, in Slovakia, lawyers were often perceived as so-called “arrangers” – a sad generalization, damaging the reputation of all decent lawyers. I will never forget the first (and unfortunately not the only) client who told me “Mr. Starha, you are excellent attorneys, and though you will do a perfect job, you can’t help me here.” No need to think too much about what he meant. I believe that thanks to the purge of the Slovak legal environment, such remarks will become a faint memory.
So yes, I am convinced that in the shadow of the corona crisis very positive changes in the Slovak legal environment are happening. Of course, it’s not all coming up roses, and many things, such as some not-so-well-prepared legislative proposals, deserve criticism. Overall, however, I see a positive shift, and I believe that this is a good opportunity for all good and decent attorneys. And to be ready for it, I am going to keep looking for the answer to the question of how to keep our team spirit high, when we cannot see each other in person.
By Stepan Starha, Partner, Havel & Partners Bratislava