That it was Friday the 13th was not lost on me.

There I sat, one year ago today, on Friday the 13th, on a packed flight from Salt Lake City to Boston, almost no one wearing masks, feeling superstitiously anxious as I returned home from BYU Law School, where I’d traveled two days earlier to attend a meeting of a law school advisory board.

Just two days earlier, literally as I flew out to Utah, watching CNN on my back-of-the-seat monitor, news broke that Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Not only that, but the NBA had just suspended its 2019-20 season because a player for the Utah Jazz had tested positive. Utah. The state to which I was flying.

I mean, movie stars and basketball. This was getting real. Coronavirus hysteria was beginning to sweep a panicked world.

Trust me, I’d considered staying home. But the meeting had been long-planned and there had seemed no strong reason at that point not to go.

I should have thought twice when I went to a pharmacy the day before leaving to buy hand sanitizer. Finding none, I inquired of the clerk, who spontaneously broke into uncontrolled laughter at the audaciousness of my request.

Hand sanitizer? No way. Masks? Fuggedaboutit!

As it turned out, the meeting for which I’d flown was abridged. While I was there, the law school made the decision to go virtual and send students home. At least I got a podcast out of it, recording an episode live on the school’s shutdown.

Sometime late on Friday the 13th, or maybe it was early on Saturday the 14th, I arrived back in Boston and stepped off the plane.

I have not been back on a plane since.

Hardship and Opportunity

This has been a year none of us will ever forget. It has been a year of loss, suffering, pain and hardship for so many. It has been a year that will forever change all of us who lived through it.

While the pandemic has impacted all of us as individuals, it has also impacted the industry in which we work. The strange irony of the pandemic’s impact on the legal profession is that there is general agreement that it was for the good.

Let me emphasize that, in saying that, I mean not to minimize the grief of those who suffered illness, the loss of loved ones, or financial hardships.

I will forever remember the iconically frightening and redemptive story of David Lat, the Above the Law founder whose near-death experience defied the then-popular conception of who should be hit with COVID-19 and whose recovery gave us all a reason for hope. When I interviewed him in April for my podcast, he could still barely speak, hoarse from intubation.

But I will repeat something I wrote in my 2020 year-end wrap, which is that, in the world of legal technology and innovation, the phrase I heard most often repeated this year was “silver lining.” It was a silver lining in the form of an accelerant.

“The challenge to modernizing the delivery of legal services and our systems of justice, as legal futurist Richard Susskind has observed, is that you can’t change the tire on a moving vehicle,” I wrote. “Well, this year brought that vehicle to a screeching halt. Full stop. And then presented the opportunity to reboot.”

The legal system has rebooted. And done so for the better of all it serves and of all who work within it.

The evidence of this is all around us. It is in the profession’s expanding adoption of cloud-based technologies — for that matter, technologies of any kind. It is in the law firms that are rethinking more deeply than ever before how they structure their businesses and deliver their services. It is in judges and judicial systems that not only have come to understand the need for change, but who are, in some cases, leading that change.

A telling statement of this came during the plenary discussion at Legal Services Corporation’s Innovations in Technology conference in January, when Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack said:

This pandemic was obviously not the disruption we wanted but I think it might have been the disruption we needed in courts to be able to accelerate change in a way that I hope can produce a justice system that’s more accessible and more transparent and more efficient.

No one wanted this past year. But the fact is that it served as that full stop Richard Susskind said we needed, that disruption we needed, as Justice McCormack said.

It seems — knock on wood — that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Many are receiving vaccinations. A friend of mine this week went to a store for the first time in a year. In-person legal conferences are back on the calendar.

I will always remember Friday the 13th as the day that, for me, marked the beginning of this year like no other. But what happens from now on should not be left to superstition or chance.

For all the tragedy this year wrought, it also set in motion changes that can be for the better. The challenge for all of us is to maintain that momentum towards a better legal system.

This post originally appeared on Above the Law.

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.