A year into COVID-19, how have things changed in the legal world, and will they change back or stay the same? This is a question that many in the legal industry have been wondering for quite some time.

Some things, like social distancing and safety precautions, are likely to stay in place for quite some time, even after vaccines are common. Many employers and businesses are concerned about the potential liability if someone is exposed to COVID-19 at their location and falls sick. Some states have passed laws that address potential liability, but Virginia has only passed a law that creates immunity for certain industries related to elder care.

In the summer of 2020, the Virginia Department of Labor & Industry passed emergency temporary regulations for worker safety, which have now become permanent standards. These regulations are intended to keep employees safe based on their exposure risk to COVID-19.

There have also been broader changes in contract law. Contracts are being reevaluated with their provisions around “acts of God” or force majeure clauses, which allow one or both parties to end the contract without penalty. Early in the pandemic, it was unclear whether these clauses covered global pandemics and public health orders issued by the government. Many contracts are being updated to more specifically address public health emergencies and the potential need for flexibility in changing locations, formats, or delivery methods.

It will likely be years before we know the full impact of COVID-19 on the legal industry and how that intersects with the real estate industry. Changes adopted early in the pandemic by the real estate industry will likely be long lasting to limit liability to agents and protect consumers and clients.