Well, this sucks (can I say that?) Did the term “social distancing” even exist a few weeks ago? I don’t think so. Could anyone have even defined it?
I think we are all feeling that life will never be the same, akin to the feeling we had after 9/11. Life resumed, but it was never the same. That’s how it feels now. There already are sweeping changes in the practice and more will come.
Managers who frowned on working remotely have embraced it (the wrong word here in this world of social distancing, but you know what I mean). Younger lawyers are leading the way in using available technology to practice efficiently, effectively, and remotely. We dinosaurs who are still working need to get a grip and adopt it.
A huge issue here in California is how to continue to operate the courts in these times. Different counties have taken different approaches in how to continue to operate. Attorneys are frustrated as to the lack of clarity. Now is the time for uniformity and not each county going off in its own direction. Fifty-eight counties and fifty-eight different ways of doing things? Never a good idea, especially now.
Chaos has reigned in the court system here in California, the largest trial court system in the country. Are courts open or closed? Every day? Limited hours? Or no hours? Are they handling all kinds of cases or only those requiring emergency assistance?
The criminal justice system does not have an off switch, neither does the domestic violence restraining order courtroom, as well as others essential to health and safety. Civil cases can wait.
Now all cases will wait as the Chief Justice issued an order on Monday that all cases, civil and criminal, are delayed for sixty days. All the courts in the fifty-eight counties are on the same page. Hooray!!
I made a list of some of the collateral consequences that I could think of. I know this list is incomplete, and I am just focusing on legal issues:
- What about LSAT testing?
- What about the July bar? Bar review?
- Tolling agreements for expired or expiring statutes of limitations?
- Most banks, if not all, require that the applicable documents be recorded before a loan can be funded. What if the recorder’s office is closed? How will real property closings be handled? What about payment defaults? Non-monetary defaults? I see a lot of forbearance agreements in the future.
- Graduations, marriages, funerals, and all manner of gatherings are kaput for right now. Celebrations of any sort prohibited.
- Layoffs. They are now starting in our profession, but the economy has already decimated many businesses. I don’t need to recite what they are; everyone knows or should know. I doubt if these law firm layoffs will be the last. Hopefully, there won’t be a tsunami of layoffs, but it’s way too soon to tell.
I am under a “stay at home” order issued by California governor, Gavin Newsom. A number of other states have imposed similar orders. What am I doing? Reading, cleaning closets, shredding documents, participating in webinars and learning how to use Zoom, getting some fresh air sitting on my front porch, cooking (huh?), figuring out what I am going to write about as this is not a time for snark, ordering from local restaurants in my small effort to keep my favorite places going right now. It’s entirely possible that I could get most, if not all, my CLE credits for the next reporting period while home.
On the positive side (is there one?) the more work that can be done remotely, the better and less expensive for the client. Yesterday’s webinar was about online mediation practice, an idea whose time has already come. I thought that years ago, but I wasn’t quick enough on the uptake to pursue it.
This is also a time to connect or reconnect with friends and colleagues while practicing social distancing. Social media and there’s something to be said for old-fashioned phone calls, Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, and the like.
There’s work and lots of it prompted by COVID-19. (Am I the only use inundated with law firm newsletters?) The number of issues that arise as a result of COVID-19 is mind-boggling, at least to me. Labor and employment, privacy and data security, contracts, real property, deal-making and deal-breaking, and of course, the bread and butter for many lawyers: family law and estate planning, the latter which does take on a ghoulish hue right now. What to do when you’re in the middle of a nasty divorce and the warring parties are still sharing the family home?
There should be more time now to spend with family, if not in the throes of an ugly divorce. More time to spend with kids home from school. Screw the billables; there are way more important things than that and if any time illustrates the illusory nature of billables, it’s now. Remember that there are no pockets in a shroud.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out and best wishes to David Lat, who will hopefully make a full recovery from COVID-19. David gave me the chance to write for ATL, which I had always loved for its irreverent, take no prisoners, snarky attitude about our foibles and follies. Get well soon, kiddo. In deference to you, I am trying not to write snark now.
I hate not writing snark.
Jill Switzer has been an active member of the State Bar of California for over 40 years. She remembers practicing law in a kinder, gentler time. She’s had a diverse legal career, including stints as a deputy district attorney, a solo practice, and several senior in-house gigs. She now mediates full-time, which gives her the opportunity to see dinosaurs, millennials, and those in-between interact — it’s not always civil. You can reach her by email at email@example.com.
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