With court closures and other drastic measures taken to combat the spread of coronavirus, law firms are rising to cope with this unprecedented challenge to everyday life.
Butzel Long launched an online Coronavirus Resource Center to address the legal, regulatory, and commercial implications of COVID-19.
“Our priority is to ensure our clients are well-informed on the legalities and implications of the coronavirus and how it will affect their businesses,” said Chief Marketing Officer Vanessa Crocetto of the Detroit based firm that has offices in Ann Arbor, Bloomfield Hills, Lansing, New York, and Washington, D.C. “We will add information and provide regular updates.”
Varnum—another firm whose many offices include Ann Arbor and Lansing – launched a COVID-19 Task Force led by Executive Partner Scott Hill to mitigate the potential negative impact the virus may have on clients’ business and operations.
In addition to such concerns as contractual agreements and supply chain matters, the task force also will review labor and employment relations, policies to govern self-quarantine, and how to handle business immigration issues that may arise. The task force also may draw on broad expertise to advise on timing for mergers and acquisitions, according to Hill.
“With global trade, we’re all so connected and tied together. We’re helping clients figure out how to find alternate sources of supply,” Hill said.
Mark A. Davis, president and CEO of Howard & Howard PLLC, said attorneys and staff who can work remotely will do so. The firm also has cancelled non-essential business travel and firm-sponsored social events.
“We are monitoring and following all federal, state, and local guidelines,” Davis said. “Our first priority is making sure we fully engage in all of the efforts to stem the spread of this dangerous virus. With that being said, we have an ethical obligation to also protect our clients’ interests. Our offices will remain open with extremely reduced staff to handle day-to-day business functions. Anyone in the office is asked to practice social distancing. The goal is to implement best health and welfare practices while managing the business.”
Mark Bernstein, president of The Sam Bernstein Law Firm, said the firm started providing employees with unlimited paid time off several weeks ago, without any financial consequence, so they could stay home if they were experiencing any COVID-19-type symptoms.
The firm also has rapidly activated and expanded remote work capabilities.
“This is an enormously important, urgent and complex task that involves literally every person, process and structure of our operation,” Bernstein said. “Thankfully, we have invested heavily in technology over the years…(and) we’re able to serve our clients without interruption.”
Daniel Dalton, from Dalton & Tomich in downtown Detroit, said the firm had prepared and has the technology available for all employees to work from home with one person at the office.
“We’ve opened a Slack channel for messaging; we scheduled firm-wide calls three times a week; we are offering services to employees who feel stressed and we are working with clients to make sure that all projects and tasks are completed on time and in final form,” he sais.
Partner Zana Tomich added that the firm has been “proactive” in its approach to the health crisis.
“As a firm, this is unlike anything we’ve ever encountered and have tried to be proactive by allowing all of our employees to work remotely before the first cases of the virus hit Michigan,” said Tomich. “We cancelled all non-essential meetings, travel, and other face-to-face encounters to which our attorneys are accustomed.”
Vince Colella, from the Southfield based personal injury firm of Moss & Colella, noted that while for most lawyers business may be conducted via video and teleconferencing, for the trial lawyer, a shut down of the courts poses a significant threat to the expeditious access to justice.
“While we would like to believe that judges can rule on motions without the necessity of holding hearings, jury trials are an integral part of our system of justice,”Colella said. “Absent the ability to convene juries in civil cases will result in substantial hardship to the victims of personal injury who await their day in court.”
Brian McKeen, managing partner of McKeen & Associates, which specializes in medical malpractice cases, said the coronavirus crisis has prompted the firm to implement a series of workflow measures.
“Many of our employees are working at home, particularly those who have high risk profiles,” McKeen said. “We have a number of employees who will be staffing the office to receive and process mail, etc. and we are taking extra precautions to ensure the environment is sanitized and safe. We are continuing to field all phone calls from clients and others and maintaining business as usual as much as possible. Depositions will continue, conducted by videoconferencing or phone. We feel that while caution should be taken, discovery should continue.”
Steve Gursten, president and attorney at Michigan Auto Law, said the firm is well “equipped” to handle the coronavirus challenge.
“Thanks to major investments we have made in recent years, we have the technology already in place to allow us to continue to work unimpeded during this national health pandemic and follow the social-distancing guidelines,” Gursten said of the firm with five offices in Michigan. “These include providing our clients with the ability to continue communicating with their attorney and their teams at any time.
“All of our attorneys and professionals can still be reached by phone or e-mail or chat,” added Gursten. “We are also a completely paperless office, and we are equipped with the ability to teleconference, Skype, or use webcams and services like Zoom to continue working on our cases and communicate with our clients, counsel, and experts. All of these technology investments should allow us keep working while keeping the risk of exposure low for our clients and staff.
“In the event of a full national shutdown and mandatory quarantine, our entire law office has full remote access capability, call-forwarding, and the ability to access any file from the cloud – so even if there is a national shutdown and quarantine we can continue to work from home and continue to help the people who put their trust in us after being injured in a car accident,” Gursten said. “We take this extremely seriously. Clearly no one saw the coronavirus coming, but it is also important to note that none of these investments in technology happened overnight. All of these things take time, take money, and take a lot of training, but these are all the reasons why we are now better equipped to work through this national health emergency over the weeks or months to come than most law firms.”
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