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Screengrab Handling Casework From Home Changes For The Future And Staying Sane During Covid 19

With Florida in the initial phases of reopening, in-person trials postponed until July 2, and social distancing measures at their peak, many lawyers continue to handle their casework from home.

This “new norm” has taken a toll on productivity when handling casework and new clients. How do you maintain a work-life balance when your commute to work is the walk down the hallway from your bedroom to your home “office.”

To gain some deeper insight, we called on Mike Haggard, FJA past president in 2009-2010, and Todd Michaels, an FJA board member, both shareholders from The Haggard Law Firm in Coral Gables.

How do I effectively tackle my casework from home?

According to Mike, there’s one important thing to keep in mind to ensure things continue to run smoothly for staff and clients: “Communication is key,” he asserted. Attorneys should stay in regular contact with their clients while we’re all under stay-at-home orders.

“We have to understand that these clients are going through something terrible, and now they’re experiencing something terrible on top of this situation we’re all in together,” said Todd. “You can imagine how bad a tragedy is in normal times, magnify that by being in quarantine; by a family member dying and not being able to go to the funeral.”

Reminding your clients that you’re available via call, text, or video chat can go a long way, especially when in-person communication is much more limited, and entirely nonexistent for others. But we know in-person meetings aren’t just necessary to build trust between you and your client–it’s also vital to the development of their case.

“In a wrongful death case, you go into the room of the child or parent who passed away,” explained Mike. “You have to do that to be able to tell the story to the jury.” So what can attorneys do right now when visiting the scene of an accident might not be possible?

Mike declared that as long as you’re resourceful, you can do about 90% of all your casework before courts reopen. He explained further by providing an example of a case he’s currently working on:

“I had a case where a swimmer was killed by a boat off a beach. I met the client via Zoom, and now it’s about the investigation. ‘How do we do this like we normally would?’ Well, we have Google Earth pictures of the beach, and there’s a hotel that may have some interplay with the incident. We went there with an expert, took photos and drone footage while practicing social distancing. Now, the issue is with the hotel nearby, how close do swimmers get to this area? So, we can do 90% of the work, but it’s that last 10% limiting us. But guess what? That hotel is going to open up again, whether it’s in two months or three months.

“I would encourage all the lawyers out there to think creatively as you can. You can do about 90% of the work. Take every depo and mediation, up to that last 10%. Put all your cases in a perfect position.”

One final piece of advice both attorneys stressed as the most important is creating a schedule, and sticking to it. Setting aside even small increments of time to go through emails, and giving yourself breaks between Zoom calls can help ease the pressure of your workload.

What are some changes we might see once “normal” life resumes?

While trials are on hold until the summer and Zoom calls have replaced human contact, both attorneys believe there have been some changes for the better.

“The biggest difference has been doing everything on the computer rather than just some. A 5-minute hearing that would’ve taken an entire day of travel and waiting, is now truly a 5-minute motion hearing,” remarked Todd.

“One area that might change the most is judges might say, ‘Let’s do the motions calendar by Zoom,’” suggested Mike. “I think there are ways that might improve tremendously.”

Honestly, I sometimes forget what day it is, and I can’t leave my house.

With a lack of routine and so many new interruptions, let’s face it: some things are going to fall through the cracks. Laughing, Todd advised, “If you’re standing in a closet trying to type out an email while your kids are banging on the door, proofread it.”

“Please make sure you test your PowerPoint before depos or mediations,” stressed Mike.

And while you’re sipping your coffee and planning out your schedule for the day, don’t forget to pencil in some time to go outside and get a workout in, or have lunch with your kids. “You’re not spending as much time stuck in your car in traffic; you have more time to spend with your family. Use that extra time to do things you wouldn’t normally do. If you’ve always been looking for extra time to get a quick run in, now you have it,” Todd noted.

Ultimately, one thing is clear: though life has changed dramatically, there’s still work to be done.

“When you know what your purpose is, there’s always a way to figure out what to do,” remarked Todd. “Our clients’ tragedies haven’t stopped because this is happening.”

“Talk to your clients to encourage them to stay safe, keep in contact, and maintain open communication,” Mike said. “Use your resources; don’t be afraid to reach out to your fellow FJA members, because we’re all in this together.”

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