Thomas List, Managing Partner and member of the firm’s Real Estate Group, recently joined a virtual roundtable discussion with Law Week Colorado about how the coronavirus, and the resulting social distancing orders, have changed the way law firms operate as well as how attorneys work with their clients. The article, Social Distancing, Not Social Isolation, was published in the March 30 edition of Law Week Colorado. An excerpt from the article is below.
On March 25, Law Week Colorado held its first ever videoconference roundtable discussion with leaders from three Denver-based law firms. The conversation covered the ways in which the coronavirus, and the resulting social distancing orders, have changed the way these firms operate as well as how they work with their clients. Law firms, like all businesses, have had to quickly implement stay at home policies for the foreseeable future. The roundtable participants discussed how they responded, how they’re working now and what long-lasting effects the current situation might have.
The participants were Rich Benenson, managing partner of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Tom List, managing partner of Moye White, and Lucy Stark, managing partner of Holland & Hart. Law Week Colorado managing editor Tony Flesor moderated the discussion.
LAW WEEK: How have your firms responded to this situation? I know it’s probably a little different for everybody, and this is an unprecedented thing. Can you tell me how you’ve reacted and what the state of your firm is right now?
LIST: We have been totally remote. This is our second week. We were actively monitoring the situation before there were official orders in place. We have been getting advice from many sources and took affirmative steps with our IT department to provide everybody the opportunity to work remotely – not only lawyers but our staff as well.
I held a town hall meeting on March 13 and informed everybody what our intentions were: that we were ready, that we had been working with IT for several days in advance and we had multiple laptops for those who did not have the ability to work from home.
Everybody is fully working remotely right now and has full access to our systems. We have a skeleton crew in our office. We normally have about 104 employees in our office, we were down to five [Tuesday] in our office, mostly in accounting, office services and IT. IT is now fully remote, and our accounting department is now fully remote.
But we anticipated what Mayor [Michael] Hancock ordered, and we anticipated what Gov. [Jared] Polis put in place. Our employees have embraced it.
LAW WEEK: What changes have the work-from-home policies brought for your firms so far?
LIST: I’ve never use Zoom before the last two weeks, and I’ve been on so many Zoom calls it’s unbelievable. We had a full firm happy hour last Friday afternoon, at 5 o’clock, where everybody was on Zoom and everybody could see one another. Everybody was asked to show up with their beverage of choice. It was phenomenally received. It was really fun, and we’re going to have another coffee hour. We’re trying to keep folks involved and seeing each other.
As I like to say, we’re practicing social distancing but not social isolation. I think it’s critical that folks see each other and interact with one another. All of our sections are having similar Zoom meetings. It really does show the human spirit. It’s pretty cool.
LAW WEEK: Can you tell me about how you’ve been working with your clients through this time? How have those interactions changed - either in terms of the technological aspects or having to shift to a more advisory role?
LIST: It’s absolutely more of an advisory role.
My practice is real estate, and the issues surrounding payment of rent, force majeure, business interruption are constant. There is no one way to address those issues for each particular client. It really has been ongoing, full steam ahead in addressing those issues.
The deal flow is still out there. There are not a whole lot of new deals happening, but those deals that were being negotiated are continuing to be negotiated.
I think everybody is confident that we will emerge, and we’ll probably emerge a lot stronger than a lot of other places in the world. I think the confidence in America and America’s economy is still there. My clients are exhibiting that.
Everybody just wants to pull back for two weeks, three weeks, a month and just resume and get back to what we all consider to be normal. I’m not sure we’ll ever get back to what was normal before this event, but it’s incumbent upon all of us to continue. Our clients are still interacting. Our litigation folks, things are kind of on hold, but they’re still filing their motions and doing their research and doing briefs and all that stuff. That hasn’t stopped. Access to courts certainly is limited, but access to the justice system is not.
LAW WEEK: Obviously, we’re still in the early stages. What are your thoughts on how law firms can respond in the long term? And do you think there’s anything that might be more permanent when we’re on the other side of this pandemic?
LIST: I anticipate that there will be permanent changes that result from the situation that we’re all in. Technology is the biggest one. Like Rich said, the investment in technology is bearing fruit right now.
Those companies, clients, businesses that have fallen behind in that regard are going to have a tough time catching up in this environment. It goes to prove that our efforts in the past five years just to try to stay ahead, it’s possible to be ahead in the technology race, but to be as current as possible, is absolutely critical for survival going forward. And those companies and businesses that survive and thrive are going to be the ones that take advantage of that technology, without a doubt.
I anticipate that this crisis, this pandemic, will change folks’ outlook, not only in the legal profession, but in every aspect of our lives, our economy, our business. I’m assuming everybody’s seen Bill Gates’ TED talk from several years ago, where he projected that this was going to occur. In America, we think we have the best scientists in the world, it’ll never happen here. And here we are. I think it has to change everybody’s outlook going forward.
I think there’s positives to be taken from it, but it’s going to be some tough lessons for a lot of people to have learned. I wish everybody the best.
LAW WEEK: What long-term effects do you think there might be on the legal profession itself?
LIST: You brought up a very, very good point that we’re addressing right now and that is our space needs.
The space we’re in, while we love it, is not very conducive to a functioning economical unit. We think we can downsize significantly and get more economical. This just shows us that physical space is not critical. Our folks can, and are, operating at full capacity without anybody stepping foot in the office. It really will have it potential to change the landscape.
About Moye White LLP
Moye White is a full-service business law firm serving clients throughout the United States and internationally, with offices in Colorado and Georgia. The firm provides legal representation to clients in a wide variety of industries offering strategic, business-oriented counsel to public, private, and governmental clients in complex business and real estate transactions and commercial litigation matters.