Symposium Unpacks the Impacts of the Pandemic on the Workplace

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented global impact on the operation of virtually all organizations. In a matter of weeks nearly the entire world shut down and shifted into primarily virtual environments. While remote working was once a highly coveted workplace perk, today it is practically a global standard. In response to the many implications surrounding the virtual workplace, the Journal of Business & Technology Law's 2021 symposium, “The Remote Revolution: A Discussion Regarding the Economic Impact of the Virtual Workplace,” explored the impact of the virtual workplace on professional environments in the future, as well as the associated legal challenges.

The symposium, which took place on Friday, March 26, 2021, featured four practitioners presenting their unique perspectives on the topic at hand: Moriah Daugherty, Senior Associate in Covington & Burling’s Data Privacy and Cybersecurity Practice Group; Scott Wilson, Co-Leader of the Corporate and Securities Practice Group at Miles & Stockbridge; Sebastian Kurian, Corporate Counsel at Google; and Thiru Vignarajah, Partner in DLA Piper's Litigation Group and former Mayoral candidate for Baltimore City. Each presenter offered a unique perspective on the world’s response to the coronavirus and discussed topics such as the impact on data privacy and cybersecurity, industry and client practices, the social and political effects of the virtual work environment, and the impact on cities and the local community.

Following opening remarks from Donald Tobin, Dean and Professor of Law at Maryland Carey Law, former FBI analyst Moriah Daugherty launched a presentation on the importance of cybersecurity throughout the pandemic. Daugherty, a senior associate at Covington & Burling, advises clients on a broad range of issues such as cybersecurity and data privacy, national security, government, and internal investigations, regulatory inquiries, litigation, and state and federal compliance with privacy laws. Her presentation shed light on how firms are handling changes in data privacy and cybersecurity, as well as the impact the pandemic has had on business planning for cyber-security and national security risks.

Next, Scott Wilson discussed the pandemic’s impact on businesses, his firm, and client relationships. Many businesses, including his firm, were forced to transition to virtual environments immediately and, subsequently, test multiple virtual systems. These changes occurred quickly and required creativity to develop innovative solutions for teams and clients. Wilson discussed the unique opportunity to advise businesses operating amidst a global pandemic through the difficulties of onboarding new associates in a virtual world and on sustaining company culture without access to the same level of interpersonal connection. Overall, Wilson illustrated how the pandemic has allowed businesses to redesign, transition, and provide excellent client services irrespective of geography.

Sebastian Kurian spoke about the pros and cons of remote work.  Kurian discussed the advantages of remote work and how it allows individuals to move and work from places that make them happy holistically without sacrificing their careers. Superstar cities such as San Francisco, DC, and New York—areas with high concentration—are home to some of the most prestigious jobs and companies. However, presently, due to the surge of remote work, opportunities can be spread more equitably around the United States. Individuals are no longer forced to leave their communities to follow career opportunities. Additionally, remote work has positively impacted the environment; with fewer cars on the road, smog has reduced in many cities. In the alternative, due to liability concerns, some remote work cannot easily be transitioned to online formats. Furthermore, the lack of interpersonal connection impacts many professionals' ability to grow within their organizations. Overall, there is a lot of positive growth in the remote workspace, but there is more work to be done; significant virtual infrastructure must be built throughout the country to make remote work feasible for more individuals. By doing so, remote work may be more equitable in the future.

Lastly, Thiru Vignarajah spoke about the effects the pandemic has had on Baltimore. While the pandemic presented problems for public health systems and hospitals, the effects of the novel virus disproportionately impacted black and brown communities. Many community members were facing infrastructural barriers to accessing the vaccine. Vignarajah also discussed the pandemic’s impact on crime and the difficulty Baltimore’s education system has had in handling the pandemic and providing equitable resources to all students. Nonetheless, as much as the pandemic has exposed problems that persist in Maryland, it also afforded many organizations and Baltimore City leaders the opportunity to develop creative solutions to help vulnerable populations throughout the city.

During the symposium, participants had the opportunity to join breakout rooms, network, and discuss topics discussed by each speaker. To end the symposium, Zachary P. Birnbaum, Executive Symposium & Manuscript Editor, gave closing remarks emphasizing the importance of understanding the changing workplace dynamics for professionals in all aspects of the legal space.

Participant Maya Jackson ’21 believed the symposium provided her a localized perspective on the impacts of COVID, “The symposium was an amazing event. Our guest speakers were diverse in background and experience while also being knowledgeable about the topics discussed and their relation to Baltimore, which made the experience more intimate.” Ari Fryer ’22 enjoyed the opportunity to interact with colleagues and discuss innovative topics. “The JBTL Symposium was an invaluable experience.  It was great to have the opportunity to network and hear speakers discuss such a timely topic.”

Michael Van Alstine, Director of the Business Law Program and Francis King Carey Professor in Business Law, commended the JBTL students for producing another successful event. “This symposium was timely, substantively valuable, and professionally accomplished in spite of the Covid pandemic. Each of us is all too aware of the challenges we’ve faced as a result of the pandemic. For our students to grapple with these challenges themselves as they continued to navigate law school with the new constraints but at the same time to take a step back and put on this excellent symposium is nothing short of astounding.”

 

The next cohort of JBTL students are hard at work planning the 2022 edition of the Symposium. The 2022 topic will be "Advancing the Legal Landscape: The Future of AI in Law" and is scheduled to take place on Thursday, March 31, 2022.