At our law firm, we have experienced changes in how we have conducted business over the course of the pandemic year.
Some measures affected how we met with clients, conducted investigations and proceeded with defense counsel and the courts to settle your case. Many of these measures will likely continue for the foreseeable future.
Although we had to adapt to this new normal, overall, everything worked.
Working with Our Clients
Although our offices were open for business throughout the crisis, we found that many clients did not want to travel to our office. As a result, we communicated with our clients over the phone, FaceTime, Zoom and other online services. One client met me for an initial interview in the open air of Chase Manhattan Plaza.
Instead of in-person interviews, we used an investigator to interview our new clients at their homes. For those clients who were reluctant to allow-someone they did not know into their homes, we used a combination of telephone, FaceTime, and Zoom to interview and meet clients. Papers for clients’ signature were sent by either email, mail, or FedEx. In some cases it took a little longer to get signed papers from the clients, but the system worked.
As for in-person meetings, our office hours have been abridged somewhat to allow our staff to stagger their commuting times. Clients are asked to make appointments, although we still welcome unannounced visits.
Working Remotely with Insurance Companies, Defense Counsel, and Mediators
The insurance companies and their attorneys almost all worked remotely at home. Some are still doing so. Most communication was through email. Often, email supplanted regular U.S. mail, which had been the standard way of communication in our operations and with the insurance industry. Before the pandemic, insurers and counsel wanted original, signed papers, such as releases. Out of necessity, they have accepted scanned copies by email. The acceptance of scanned and email documents is a permanent change in how we conduct business, and email will likely overtake the use of mail.
Private mediators and arbitrators have been fully equipped to conduct their hearings and meetings remotely. We have settled and arbitrated matters with each party — client, our attorney, mediator, plus the defense attorney and the insurer — speaking from a remote location, whether at home or in the office.
Working Remotely with the Courts
Working remotely with the courts should be described as not working compared to the standards of the past.
The courts have been solely working remotely. There have been no live court appearances since early March, 2020. Since then, some conferences have been conducted remotely online. There have been no trials.
We have been able to hold some pre-trial examinations and examinations under oath online, when both sides agree to proceed remotely. In some cases, we have refused to proceed in this manner because we view live testimony as preferable for the client.
Essentially, the courts shut down during the height of the pandemic. The Chief Judge has ordered all court personnel to return to the courthouses on May 24th. It is unclear how many staff will return.
Not surprisingly, during the pandemic the courts have been operating at a quarter speed compared to the past. It will take one or more years for the court system to catch-up as to where it was. At this time, it is unknown when the courts will start trying cases again.
For our clients who have complained of the law’s delay before the pandemic, the situation has only gotten worse.
Some Lessons from the Pandemic
Remote communication is here to stay, for both client meetings and court appearances. Lawyers have lost their reluctance to conduct a deposition or hearing online, rather than in person. Although there will be a return to in-office and court appearances, a good part of the practice will be performed remotely, such as initial client interviews and sign-up, deposition preparation, examinations before trial, and mediations.