Webinar Recap:
How 3 Established Firms Are Handling COVID-19


As the COVID-19 epidemic hits its projected peak in many parts of the United States, law firms face significant changes in the way they operate financially and operationally. In our recent webinar panel, attorneys Todd Spodek, Al Provinziano, and Mark Metzger shared their unique experiences of securing their businesses financially and operationally to withstand the economic uncertainties of the pandemic. 

Watch the full presentation here.

Jump to a Topic

5:02 – The Current State of Your Office

Panelists Todd, Mark, and Al share the state of their remote offices, how they’re managing fractured teams, and what they’re doing to maintain business continuity in spite of the ongoing pandemic.

8:57 – The Key Challenges of Running a Remote Office

From economic stability to scheduling time with clients, our panelists reveal new pain points that have arisen from managing (mostly) closed physical offices for an indeterminate amount of time.

16:18 – Technological Changes To Adapt to WFH

Rapidly transitioning from an office environment to a home office is not without its challenges. Find out what technology tools and infrastructure our panelists have implemented to combat business disruption.

21:05 – Financial Adjustments for Economic Resilience

Remote or not, certain costs in managing a law firm are non-negotiable. Here’s what firms are doing to cut expenses and maintain cash flow in hopes of avoiding layoffs in uncertain times.

31:55 – Operational Changes for Business Continuity

With Law Practice Management Software in their arsenal long before the COVID-19 pandemic, our panelists discuss staff collaboration, and their tips for team cohesion sans face-to-face interaction.

42:38 – Advice to Struggling Firms

For firms finding themselves ill-equipped to work from home and for those struggling financially to stay afloat amid shelter-in-place orders, our panelists offer perspective on weathering the storm in what is sure to be the dawning of a new era of practice management.

Webinar Transcript

Casey Patterson:

Hello everyone. My name is Casey and I work at MyCase. Welcome to our webinar on How 3 Established Law Firms Are Handling COVID-19. Before we get started, go ahead and check your audio and make sure that you can hear me. Dial in via telephone if necessary, and then you can follow along on your computer as well. Make sure your speakers are on and your volume is up. All right. So the purpose of this webinar today is to offer legal professionals like all of you, some actionable insights on how to keep their firms running during COVID-19. And we’re going to do that today by interviewing some managing partners of firms who are successfully navigating this time. Before we get started, just on the content I want to quickly mention that this webinar is presented by MyCase.

 

We’re a practice management software that helps law firms solve the key challenges of running a business. And it also helps law offices run their law firm remotely. The three attorneys we’ll be talking to today are using MyCase to help run their business. So go ahead and check that out if you have questions at the end of the webinar. My name is Casey. I’ve worked at MyCase for almost five years and I absolutely love my job. That’s why I’ve stuck around mostly because I get to help attorneys and legal professionals run a better business and I love having even a small part in that. I’ll be hosting the webinar and making sure we stay on task and on time. Let’s meet our three panelists joining us.

 

So today we’re joined by Todd, Mark and Al. We’re so excited to have them all here. They all own their own firms and have been navigating this time just like everyone on the line. So welcome to our panelists. Let’s learn a little bit about each of them. So first Todd, Todd will be joining us via phone. He is out of New York City and he practices Criminal Defense and Matrimonial Law. A really, really fun fact about Todd that we learned is that he represented Anna Sorokin and he will be featured as a character in an upcoming Netflix documentary on the case. Welcome Todd.

 

Todd Spodek:

Hello. Hello. Nice to meet everyone.

 

Casey Patterson:

Nice to meet you Todd.

 

Todd Spodek:

Hi, can you hear me?

 

Casey Patterson:

Yeah, are we good?

 

Mark Metzger:

Todd, are there any tigers in your Netflix show?

 

Todd Spodek:

Maybe we could add them.

 

Casey Patterson:

All right, great. And Todd, since you’re out in New York, I have to ask, what’s the first thing you’ll do or the first place you’ll go when it’s safe and comfortable to go out?

 

Todd Spodek:

I’m going to go to a restaurant without my children and enjoy a nice meal as soon as things improve.

 

Casey Patterson:

Awesome. Okay, great. Next is Mark and Mark is joining us via phone and video. He’s based out of Chicago and he practices Business Planning, Estate Planning, Elder Law and Real Estate Law. He is also an Atticus Practice Advisor, so we’re so happy and to have his perspective and to have him join. Welcome too Mark.

 

Mark Metzger:

Thanks. Good to be here. Thank you, Casey.

 

Casey Patterson:

Yeah. And Mark, I know you’re a bit of a foodie, so what’s been your favorite quarantine meal or snack over the last few weeks?

 

Mark Metzger:

Well, I haven’t thought about snack, but by far the best thing we’ve had since the Quarantine started is a terrific home cook version of Kung Pao Chicken.

 

Casey Patterson:

Ooh, delicious. Yes, I get that recipe. And finally we have Al Provinziano joining us from the LA area. We have East Coast, Middle, West Coast and Al practices Divorce and Family Law. And he’s a member of the CLA Family Law Section, Ad Hoc Committee on the coronavirus. So he’s deeply entrenched in what this means for the legal community and we’re so happy to have you Al.

 

Al Provinziano:

Oh, thanks. It’s nice to be here and I know that it’s been a tough time for everybody, but it’s really great that MyCase is putting programs on like this to help the legal field grow and survive at this time.

 

Casey Patterson:

Thank you. Yeah, I’m super excited to hear all of your thoughts. And so since you’re in LA, it’s pretty funny there. What’s your favorite activity that’s been keeping you sane during quarantine?

 

Al Provinziano:

We have a lot of lemon trees in our backyard and my kids and I have been picking lemons and oranges and then making delicious lemon orange smoothies. And that’s been a ton of fun.

 

Casey Patterson:

Sounds delicious. Go 50/50 Dreams movie type thing?

 

Al Provinziano:

Yeah

 

Casey Patterson:

That’s so good. Awesome. So to keep things expedient, we’ll have six questions and we’ll go through each of our panelists. It’ll go Todd first, then Mark and then Al. So let’s just get right off to the first question. What is the state of your office? What is going on? Where are your staff? What’s going on? So we’ll start with Todd and then go to Mark and Al.

 

Todd Spodek:

Sure. So we’re a 10 person firm based out in New York City. Everyone is working remotely at home. We’re all working somewhat erratic business hours as some people have children at home, so they have to do homeschooling and whatnot. But we’re in coordination all day long via Slack. Obviously we’re using MyCase, we use Todoist and some other apps to keep everything in order. And we’re continuing like business as usual. The courts are shut down in New York City, so there’s no new non-emergency filings, but all of our cases are continuing with discovery and negotiations and motion and trial prep and things of that nature. So we’re all working remotely. We’ve been working remotely now for almost two months.

 

Casey Patterson:

Great. Thank you. And Mark. We’ll go to you.

 

Mark Metzger:

We’re in week five of working remotely. My entire team is working from their respective homes. We instituted probably a month ago now daily calls at 8:30 every morning. We’re all together which is a chance for all of us to catch up, for all of us to share information that we’ve learned over the course of the last day or so on some of the matters that we’re working on. And inadvertently we discovered that it had also then started to fill a social need that some of the team had because they’re empty nesters and that’s the only activity they had was coming to the office. So that has proven to be something that they really enjoyed because it allowed them to have some social component to their day that was otherwise missing.

 

Casey Patterson:

That’s great. Thank you, and Al.

 

Al Provinziano:

I think at first for our office, everybody really was hit. I was actually at a committee meeting when we had to switch to being virtual, but then what we decided to do is, “Let’s be really proactive about everything.” And we had a lot of cloud based systems in effect like MyCase. And right now about 95% of our team of 15 people are working virtually. And 5% I would say are at the office because we do have the need to monitor… some clients need to bring in documents and we can do that in a safe, secure way where we have a dropbox outside our office. And we arrange the time and then a team member can go out and pick up the documents. And then we do things really to just motivate people and keep morale up.

 

Al Provinziano:

On our Slack we a created a channel called Our Daily Stand Up and we have team members tell us what they accomplished yesterday, what they’re going to do today, and what their roadblocks are. And then three times a week we have a team meeting via Zoom for about an hour. And then every day meeting one-on-one with the managing attorney or myself and a team member to check in with. And I think that you just have to over communicate while you’re working virtually because then it just keeps everybody motivated and going. We do family law in Los Angeles and domestic violence cases are an essential function. And so we’ve been really helping that need and helping people with their domestic violence applications and going into court and doing everything by fax filings. So we’ve been very busy as of right now, which it’s been good and bad because we feel bad for the people that they’re going through these things, but we’re glad that we’re here to help them.

 

Casey Patterson:

Definitely. Sounds like there’s some through lines with all three of you, a lot of communication folks are working remotely, so you’re doing more to stay in touch with each other and then obviously using cloud based systems to help keep everyone on the same page. So thanks for that. Let’s move onto the next question, which is what is the biggest challenge your firms are facing right now? Todd, we’ll go to you first.

 

Todd Spodek:

Sure. Well I think that everyone touched on the fact that the morale needs to be boosted on a regular basis. Everyone has a lot going on. Everyone’s concerned about their own personal matters. Our clients have small businesses or small shops and they’re all dealing with the crisis at hand and then they’re dealing with the illegal issue that we’re representing them on. And since we only do divorce and criminal defense, it’s unfortunately all sort of negative situations. So we’ve tried to be very diligent and proactive in making our clients feel comfortable, making them feel like we have everything under control, making them feel that there’ll be no interruptions in our services and the work that we perform and that we’re doing all that we can to help them. So I think the difficult part is keeping communication with clients, with staff, with adversaries ongoing, and just keep moving things forward and let them know that we’re in control of the situation and we’re here to help them.

 

Casey Patterson:

Okay. And Todd, I’m curious about clients. I mean, obviously client communication is important at all times, but how has it changed in the last few weeks for you?

 

Todd Spodek:

Well, one thing that we started to do, which is really been a godsend, is we started to use one of these online calendar systems where basically instead of playing phone tag or scheduling calls by emails, we’re using Calendly, which is a tool that connects with Google Calendar and MyCase Calendar and it allows clients to see when we’re available and just schedule a time slot. So what we did early on is send out a mass email to everyone connected to our firm from obviously chambers of judges to clients, to adversaries letting them know that this is the best way to schedule anything with us.

 

Todd Spodek:

And by taking out the back and forth of scheduling, it’s made it a lot easier on everyone because everyone has, like I said, personal responsibilities along with work responsibilities and it’s made things go much more seamless. And I’m honestly shocked that we didn’t use it earlier because it’s helped tremendously. So just scheduling a time to actually go over things, answer questions and make dedicated time to going over whatever issues are at hand. That’s been a real blessing.

 

Casey Patterson:

All right, great. And that was called Calendly.

 

Todd Spodek:

Calendly. Yes. C-A-L-E-N-D-L-Y.com.

 

Casey Patterson:

Great. Thank you. All right, Mark, we’ll go to you. What’s the biggest challenge you guys are facing?

 

Mark Metzger:

I’m going to pick up on the thread the Todd was on. Calendly is a super powerful tool. If you’ve been exposed to it before, the temptation that most users that had never heard of it have is to envision a nightmare in their head of, “Oh my God, you’re letting everybody see your calendar. They can’t see your calendar.” The way you set this up, for example, is you pick up on one of Todd’s examples. Maybe you create a 15 minute event called, call with opposing counsel and you decide, “I only want to talk to those people between 10:00 and 11:30 and 3:30 and 5:00 and they can’t have any other times other than that.” So you make that link available to opposing counsel and you say, “Here, hit this when you want to schedule something with me and find a time that works for you and hit the button and it’ll reserve it on my calendar.” And it collects then the name of the person that made the appointment, who’s calling whom? So that question has already been dealt with.

 

And it will only offer them slots that are available on your calender. It doesn’t tell people what you’re doing for all they know you put a whole block in the whole day says I’m out fishing. And all they know is you’re not available. They can’t see your availability and you have complete control over how long this event is that you’re allowing somebody to schedule on your calendar and what times of what days of the week and for how many weeks out they’re allowed to do this. It’s a tremendously powerful tool.

 

Casey Patterson:

Awesome. Okay, Calendly.

 

Mark Metzger:

So I felt the need to add onto that. So what is the biggest challenge your law firm is facing right now? I’m going to pick up two on Todd’s thread about communication and the part of this I want to emphasize as well, it’s really important to communicate very, very well with everybody outside of your law firm. We’re discovering that we need to have recurring times blocked out that the lawyers are available to the team because the lawyers were getting buried with email because it was the only contact opportunity that the team had when we weren’t making a time block available or letting them know when we would be available. They have lost because they’re working remotely the ability to stand in the door and do the lurk and blurt. So we need to give them an alternative and scheduling that has made everybody’s life much easier.

 

Casey Patterson:

Great. Thank you. Yeah, we talk to lawyers all day of office, but we often say they can’t walk into someone’s office and barge in and say, “What’s going on?” Anymore. We have to find different ways for them to communicate. What about you Al? What’s the biggest challenge?

 

Al Provinziano:

I think that the economic climate is really the biggest challenge. We have 20 million people that are unemployed. 50% of the people in LA are unemployed based on Mayor Garcetti’s stated the city address that he just gave. And so really for us it’s just effectively getting out the word that we’re open and we’re here and a lot of people have the need and we want them to know that we’re there and it’s a pretty bleak time. So it’s kind of really, for us, we’re looking at our financials on a weekly basis and making sure that how we’re doing and then just being proactive and thinking about that for the future. And I think that that’s what everybody in our profession has to think about is how are we going to plan ahead because this is going to be a big change to our economy and a big change for all lawyers going forward in the next year to two years.

 

Casey Patterson:

Yeah. So a combination of kind of marketing you mentioned, letting people know you’re open and bringing business in and then planning for what this means in the next phase.

 

Al Provinziano:

For sure and I think there’s going to be big changes to our economy and hopefully it’s not bad. I mean, I think for us, we have just a perseverance attitude at our office, especially being divorced lawyers because you can never give up on your clients. So we’re not giving up on any of our cases and we’re not giving up on what we’re doing, but I think everybody has to think what do they want to do in the future and in their practice and how can they plan ahead to whether the changes in the economy.

 

Casey Patterson:

Definitely. That’s great. And there’s another question about that later. So I’ll definitely circle back to the themes that you’re mentioning. Okay, let’s go to the next question, which is, what are the technological changes that you have implemented since transitioning to working from home? So we mentioned Calendly which is the new scheduling tool that Todd is using. Todd, what other technological changes have you made since living remotely?

 

Todd Spodek:

The truth is my firm is pretty much all litigators and we’re all in court primarily during the day. So it has always had the structure that we could all work remotely using MyCase, having all documents scanned, using DocuSign for e-signature. We use Google Voice and the only thing that I would say that has helped us during this transition is this master task management software that we use. No offense to MyCase’s internal task management software called Todoist which has like a team’s functionality. And basically, it’s a very fast paced environment and I’m sure all the lawyers can understand that aspect of the practice. So we’re constantly adding on small and large tasks. And then when we have our meetings, we break down these tasks into smaller ones, assign them accordingly, give them due dates and priorities.

 

And that gives us a central place to go back to and say, “Okay, where are we on this case? Where are we with this? Where are we with this motion?” And it’s an accountability thing as well. Meaning we all know what task each team member’s doing and this way their responsibilities with them and it’s managed on an ongoing basis. So we had an active structure beforehand. We just fine tuned, but now, because obviously it’s been going on two and a half months at this point. But the cornerstone to be honest, really is MyCase. I mean, at the end of the day having one place for our clients to always log in, see the calendar, see what’s been adjourned, see what’s going to be by Zoom or Skype or anything like that is key. And that’s been the biggest help.

 

Casey Patterson:

Great. Okay. Thank you. Mark, what about you?

 

Mark Metzger:

What we largely did is when people went home to work, they took laptops home with them, they took home bigger screens because they’re addicted to giant screen spaces. So having them work on a 13 inch screen was not an option. A couple of instances they also took their scanners with them because that was critical to them. Others chose not to do that. But other than that, all the work we were doing before this was in the cloud anyway. So this was except for the communication angle, a relatively easy challenge for us to meet.

 

Casey Patterson:

Got it. Okay, great. And Al, what technological changes has your firm made?

 

Al Provinziano:

Pretty much what Todd and Mark have said in having an infrastructure set up and especially being a litigator and something kind of funny happened at the beginning for us which was really… We just recently promulgated that everybody has to accept e-service in California. But we didn’t have that and so we had opposing counsel that we’re accepting e-service. So we did have one team member who was able to go on stamps.com and print stamps up and then she would run down to the post office at four o’clock and mail stuff out. And so she took her printers and everything to do that. But pretty much echoing with Mark and Todd had said as well, it’s interesting, but now everyone has that except e-serve for the time being.

 

Casey Patterson:

Well you have a dedicated team member there.

 

Al Provinziano:

Oh, for sure. They’re the best.

 

Casey Patterson:

That’s great. Okay. So a couple of through lines. One is, I’m assuming that you all adopted some kind of video conferencing tool as well. Does anyone want to jump in on that?

 

Mark Metzger:

We had it already.

 

Casey Patterson:

You had it already. Okay, so a lot of your infrastructure, it sounds like was already in place. You had some cloud based systems, all cloud based systems, scanning systems, et cetera. Okay, great. We have a question about advice later on that noodle on what advice you guys would give to someone who maybe doesn’t have the infrastructure in place that you guys had. And thinking about making a transition during this time sounds crazy, but I would love to hear your thoughts on that a little bit later once we get to that question. Okay. Next question is what financial adjustments have you made? So this is anything from cutting expenses, maybe handling your physical office location differently. Anything related to your finances. So let’s start with you Todd.

 

Todd Spodek:

Sure. So immediately, we started to negotiate some short term reprieve from our landlord in Manhattan just to buy us some time to reevaluate and restructure our finances. We’ve cut costs where we could but at the end of the day, everything is required for our business. I mean, obviously we’re not doing any traveling or entertaining or anything like that. But a lot of these are hard costs for the operation of the law firm that we’re stuck with. We cut back as much as we can, but obviously they still exist. The firm immediately applied for a PPP small business loan which was great and we received it. So that was very helpful. We haven’t had to issue any pay cuts or reductions at this point. We’re hopeful that we don’t have to all together.

 

So, we’re cutting back as much as we can, but I really think that for our team, everyone is working as hard as they possibly can to weather the storm and our clients are continuing to pay their bills and that’s positive and certainly not all clients and those that can’t, we’re working with. So we’re trying to accommodate everyone and we’re trying to work together as a team. I mean, that’s the honest truth.

 

Casey Patterson:

Great. Thank you. Mark, what about you? What financial adjustments have you made?

 

Mark Metzger:

Well, like Todd said we’ve made the PPP application. In my case, my bank gave all the money to publicly traded companies first. So we’re waiting for the second round that should come through this week. The other thing that I don’t think we’re going to have to do, we’re in the same position that Todd is right now. Cash wise, we’re in pretty good shape. We continue to have a lot of work to do. The work in progress is going to carry us for quite a while. But a lot of people are not aware in my experience and talking to my clients that part of the CARES Act one of the benefits that that was passed as a part of that is the opportunity for employers to defer, not ignore but defer payroll tax contributions.

 

And that includes the portion you’re paying if you’re a partner in a law firm, on your self employment tax or for that matter deferring the payroll tax that you’re paying is the employer the 6.2% that’s in FICA, that is the employer’s obligation. I would say you want to be very careful with that so you never want to be in a circumstance as a business owner where you’re not paying that, but you do have the ability to defer that off into, I think you have to pay the first half of it back by the end of ’21 and the second half by the end of ’22. So you’ve got a year and then another year to accumulate the half that is necessary. So if you find that your business is very, very short on cash, you might speak with your accountant and/or your bookkeeper about whether that step makes sense for you.

 

Casey Patterson:

Super helpful. Thank you for those specifics. I didn’t know that either, which it’s good to know. Okay, And Al, how about you and your firm?

 

Al Provinziano:

What I wanted to say it’s I’m really great in glad to hear Todd got the PPP. I know a lot of people have been waiting like Mark. And I think for us, like I mentioned earlier, we’re reviewing our financials weekly. Immediately when we had to close our office, a lot of expenses went away that we had. And we tried to do a lot of nice things for our team to make their lives better during the week and we had catered lunches and once a week we would have someone come in and do the chair massage. And so that stuff sort of went out the window. But I think everyone right now is really excited and happy that we’re able to continue to serve people and work. And so we’re just monitoring during it.

 

Al Provinziano:

My thought process is that there’s a lag in the legal business. It’s recession-proof, but it’s not completely recession proof. And so we just have to really watch all those costs very carefully. We usually have a big program where we hire law clerks and we really look at ourselves as a teaching law firm. And so we usually have four to five law clerks during the summer and we decided that we’re only going to have one law clerk and there’s someone that has worked with us last year and then work with us throughout the year because we want them to be an attorney at our firm when we get through all of this. But we probably aren’t going to have as big a summer program and that’s just to be frugal and be mindful that we just don’t know what the future is going to have in store for us.

 

Casey Patterson:

That’s great. And if you all don’t mind, we do have a little bit more time on this question. I’d love to get a little deeper on the expenses that you all are cutting if you are willing to volunteer the information, but what specifically have you cut out of your finances?

 

Todd Spodek:

Sorry, go ahead. Please go ahead Mark.

 

Mark Metzger:

Oh, I was just going to say I cut out some marketing stuff that wasn’t working. But sometimes I think the lesson there is sometimes we just spend money in a law firm because it’s available. There’s a common refrain that your law firm will take to things in full quantity. It will consume all of the time that you give it and all of the money that you give it. And so sometimes we don’t take the time to slow down and look at things. And we were spending money on some print advertising that as near as we can tell has not produced a single case for us. So that was a really easy thing to get rid of.

 

Casey Patterson:

Perfect. Great example.

 

Todd Spodek:

I’m happy to walk you through some of ours. Obviously we immediately cut out MetroCards and traveling expenses where generally during normal times, the firm would pick up all employees travel expenses for work and for court hearings and whatnot. But the truth is, while I was getting everything ready for the PPP loan, and I’m sorry to hear fellow members here haven’t received it yet, I hope they do. I went through some of the bookmaking, I realized that I had expenses that were minor in the scheme of things such as extra phone lines on the cell phone plan, extra email addresses and storage for the domain that were just carried over year to year and no one was using them. So I cleaned up all these small minor expenses that add up at the end of the day and I’ve used this time to hopefully fine tune our finances.

 

So it’s not that all of these expenses are making such a dramatic thing, but they are helping. And I also cut out a lot of our marketing expenses because one way or the other people are just not actively hiring lawyers right now. We still have our existing clients and we still have new clients coming primarily in the criminal division but at least on the divorce side with the courts closed and you’re not able to file and people losing their jobs, they’re just not hiring as much. So I think our marketing dollars are being wasted currently and better used to later on when things pick up.

 

Casey Patterson:

That’s great. Yeah, it sounds like subscription or recurring services. I mean, I think everyone can think of one that they’ve been paying for too long that they haven’t used and this is a great time to go through and trim the fat on all of that. Al, you mentioned like the kind of employee perks if you’re willing to share it, are there any other expenses that you’ve cut that have helped?

 

Al Provinziano:

No and the real reason is it took me such a long time to get my team together and so I want to do whatever I can to keep us going because we’re going to get out of this and I need to keep my lawyers employed. And I feel that we will continue to survive and be able to help people. But what I’m doing is more on a week by week looking at my numbers and cashflow and just saying, “Do we need to adjust?” And if we have to adjust, then we’ll have to make tough decisions. But I think really what that would look like is just like across the board a percentage payroll deductions, which we haven’t had to do at this point. And I’m hoping we never have to do that.

 

But really, really just cutting things that we’re not using was the main thing but much like Todd said, a lot of the things we have to pay for, it’s not really a negotiable in the sense of you’re going to have to continue to pay salaries, the landlords still wants rents from us and is not really giving us any a break on those things. And so we’re just plowing ahead. But just really looking at the numbers very closely and then anything that we could cut and that was the big thing is a lot of perks in office we did because obviously we’re not there so that was almost automatic and then really not adding more positions at this point for the summer. That was a big one.

 

Casey Patterson:

That’s great advice as well as just looking at it on a week by week basis. I think it’s tempting to make sweeping changes right now, but I appreciate the hopefulness that you offered that we will get out of this. We don’t know the timing of it, but those incremental changes are probably going to be what’s best instead of maybe too broad changes that will affect your firm even when we do bounce back.

 

Al Provinziano:

Oh, for sure. I’ve heard from other law firms that the partners aren’t taking any compensation, you know some bigger law firms were relatively more of a small law firm, but I’ve heard that the partners have been told that they’re not going to take any equity distributions for two quarters. So I think every law firm has to look at their budget and say, “What makes sense for us?” But I think the biggest thing is, is if we can keep our lawyers employed, we’ll have the expert team that we had in place and that’s really important.

 

Casey Patterson:

Definitely. That’s great. Okay, we’ll go on to the operational questions, sorry, the operational changes that your firm has made. So this would be anything from the meeting that you mentioned, Mark, daily meeting. I’m curious what everyone does with incoming paper like mail and how do those operational changes work out? So we’ll start with you Todd.

 

Todd Spodek:

Sure, as I mentioned before, we use all of these cloud based tools at all times. So it’s not unique to this pandemic. We use them throughout the year, every day. The only major change in our end has been, we have a calendar call where everyone calls a conference number at 10:00 AM to just touch base about everything. To touch base about family members and personal matters and whatever’s going on in everyone’s respective lives. Because obviously in New York when things first hit, it really was overwhelming. It was scary. And now we just catch up with everyone’s case load and who spoke to what client and what adversary and where we are with our cases. I think as to what Mark was saying earlier, it’s really important to stay connected and to have that social aspect along with the professional aspect.

 

From a mail perspective, in the beginning no one was going to the office at all. So the mail was just being held in the mail room for us. What we immediately did is all of the active cases where there’s potential for motions and other important filings, we obviously let everyone know that we’re requesting that they send a courtesy copy by email to us so we could stay abreast of everything. And the truth is, is that outside of the active litigation, both criminal and on the matrimonial and family side, everything else really isn’t using the mail system as much. It’s mostly electronic and the bills are all through auto pay and auto debit and things of that nature. So the only change that we’ve really made is trying to be more cohesive because we’re all separate and we’re all working remote that we all connect at least in the morning, once a day. And we try to do a video call altogether once a week where we’re using Zoom or one of the apps. Actually we’ve been using Google Duo, which is really easy from the phone.

 

Yeah, Google Duo has been great. And we’re just connecting and just saying, “Look, here’s where we are. Here’s what I’m nervous about. Here’s what I’m happy about. Here’s what’s going well. Here’s a case that’s been resolved.” We’ve been lucky in that in some ways, I think the collective experience of going through the pandemic has led some people, particularly on the matrimonial side to reevaluate their positions and we’ve been able to settle some cases that would never have been settled. And even on the criminal side, we’re making some progress that I don’t think we’d make outside of the pandemic. So again, the operational change’s really just staying connected with our team daily and weekly.

 

Casey Patterson:

That’s fascinating. Can you really quickly, I’m curious about the criminal cases that are moving forward or the divorce cases. But what do you think is the cause of that, of that moving forward in a different manner than maybe it would have been before?

 

Todd Spodek:

Sure. So, recently there’s been some changes in New York regarding the discovery laws and the timeframe for prosecutors to disclose certain evidence to defendants. So that moved everything along much quicker because now they have to give it within a much shorter period of time than usual. Adding on top of that, the pandemic, adding on top of that, all of the mitigating factors that every defendant and their family has from losing jobs to losing lives, to losing their house. That it’s given everyone a little pause before jumping to a quick decision. So we’ve been able to negotiate plea bargains that are really much better than they usually would be based on all of this. And I think that in New York particularly, prosecutors are overwhelmed to begin with.

 

This is just a horrible situation for them. I mean, everyone’s working remotely, they don’t have access to all the files, witnesses who were scheduled to come to New York to testify, forget about it. “When is the trial actually going to go forward? Who knows what the future holds?” And I think if you’re savvy as a criminal defense lawyer or matrimonial lawyer or any type of lawyer, you could find ways to use this to your advantage for your clients. And we’ve been fortunate and that we’ve been able to do that to some degree.

 

Mark Metzger:

Well done, Todd.

 

Todd Spodek:

Yeah, thank you.

 

Casey Patterson:

Mark, what are your thoughts?

 

Al Provinziano:

That’s awesome.

 

Mark Metzger:

Oh, you said, that’s awesome. I thought you were adding something else on, AL. So I think that Todd’s really onto something there. I want to go back to one of the big ahas that we had after we got into this was the realization that so many people have been sent home and don’t have the luxury that the three of us have of having a type of job that we can do most of in some reasonable way remotely. And the people who don’t have that luxury unfortunately have the ability to pick up their phone and make long phone calls or send long email messages that they expect immediate responses to. Because after all, it only took them four seconds to send that email. And as a result, we discovered our email volume was going through the roof.

 

Mark Metzger:

And the other thing that we discovered was every phone call, and this is still true, five weeks in is at least seven times longer than it needs to be because in many cases the people who are calling you the clients, it’s their only social activity for the day and they were not anxious to let it end. So we quickly figured out that the only way we were going to get our work done was to compartmentalize the timeframes. When somebody wanted to talk to me or my associate attorney for example, the team is now scheduling those calls and clients are being told, “The schedule is full today, I can put you in for tomorrow.” But we’re doing a dedicated block of time for the calls because it’s the only way that we can manage it and still have time to do the work that we need to do.

 

Mark Metzger:

So that’s an important operational change we made. The team meetings I alluded to earlier, I think it was critical for some of the same reasons that Todd articulated. It helps keep team cohesion going. It gives the team members, they need a little bit of social opportunity and opportunity to get that. And quite honestly it’s an important thing to go back to one of Al’s earlier comments about he’s very happy with the team that he has right now. I think anything you can do right now that’s reasonable to make them feel part of something while there’s a lot of other uncertainty in their life can only be a benefit.

 

Casey Patterson:

Great. And just quick clarification on the time block. So you’re basically, instead of setting a start time or maybe just having clients call you whenever they pick up the phone, you’re saying not only do you have a start time but you also don’t have an end time. Am I getting that right?

 

Mark Metzger:

Well, for the time period that we will accept the calls to be scheduled then there’s a start and an end to that time block.

 

Casey Patterson:

Got it. Okay, great. Thank you. And Al, what operational changes have you made?

 

Al Provinziano:

Unfortunately, a big thing happened to our firm where our managing attorney had a family member that was in the ICU with COVID and it was really sad and everyone was really concerned about this team member. And they immediately took… We have emergency sick leave in California, so they were able to take emergency sick leave. And we basically redistributed all the managing tasks that attorney did and created an acting management team. And then fortunately their family member came out of it and he survived, which is wonderful. And our management attorney, this week is back in office but we’re just slowly putting them back in to their managing duties. And so we’re still sharing all of those right now. But everyone really came together and everybody was really concerned and sent a lot of real positive messages to her.

 

Al Provinziano:

So that was a big thing that we’ve survived that we didn’t expect. And it was really funny because I was talking to our managing attorney and I said, “You know, it might be happening that one of our team members might get hit with COVID and it turned out to be one of her family members. So it was really close to our heart and we really got to see the effect that that had on someone and their family and the things that they had to go through. So I’m just glad that we’re out of the tail end on that. I hope nobody else gets affected by COVID in that way. And so that was the biggest change that we had to do was emergency change due to COVID. But we’ve had great operational procedures in place all throughout this time, much like Todd and Mark, and it was just tweaking them to figure out what works best for our clients.

 

Casey Patterson:

Yeah. I think that’s great advice as someone who’s managing a team of people to have a lot of grace and understanding for the things people are going through, even if it’s like someone has a cough and they’re freaked out about it. I think everyone’s on high alert and just having the understanding of saying, it’s a fragile time for folks and giving people like the space and the ability to take time off, like you mentioned.

 

Al Provinziano:

Oh, for sure and just being supportive, and I think understanding it’s had a big toll on everybody going through this and being understanding of our team members that maybe they’re not there. Much like Todd said, people have their lives going on still as well. And a lot of us all have children at home too. So it’s kind of juggling those things and I know from myself. My wife and I, we go into her office, she doesn’t work as a lawyer, but she has a building where really no one is there. And so that’s been helpful for us and we have some childcare, but we really try to be understanding of what everyone’s going through and I think everyone on the team is mindful of that as well.

 

Casey Patterson:

That’s great. Thank you all for that advice. And then the last question that I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on are, what’s the best piece of advice that you’d give to firms struggling through this time? I think that there’s a myriad of people listening, people who have nothing in place to run their firm from home, people who are still in the office because they can’t run their firm from home possibly, folks who are struggling financially to just keep their firm afloat. So we’d love to hear everyone’s advice on firms that are… for firms who are struggling. So we’ll start with you, Todd.

 

Todd Spodek:

Sure. So I have two points. First, lawyers to their clients are their trusted advisors. Meaning they look to us for advice, they look to us for guidance, obviously for counsel. So you have to be strong during this time for them. You have to have your firm together operating in whatever capacity you can. Whether it’s a solo and it’s one person or five people or 10 people or 100 people, but they came to you, at least in our case and it sounds like a lot of the lawyers for this year in a moment of weakness. They’re going through a very difficult time and they come to you for help and you have to be that pillar of strength for them, even through this.

 

So I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people, not about legal issues, talking to clients about their financial issues, the small business loans, other family related issues, they have children and homeschooling and just addressing their concerns and they appreciate it. And I think it keeps us bonded. I think it’s going to help going forward. And I am not so focused on the business right now as far as getting new clients and things of that nature. I don’t think anybody is doing phenomenally well right now. Everyone is suffering, everyone is taking a hit. So I think it’s better to focus more on the long term relationships.

 

And my second piece of advice is most lawyers had built up a email list for years of potential clients who reached out or existing clients or family members. And for the most part, these are people who already sold on your services. They’ve already trusted you to do some tasks for them and hopefully you’ve been happy with the result. So if you’re not taking advantage of email marketing, this is the time to do that. You should go back and reach out to all of those people, give them updates on the court system, give them updates on the timeframe for things, but you don’t know what’s going to reap a benefit. You don’t know who’s going to contact you and it’s a good source of potential leads for new business. So those are the two pieces of advice I would give.

 

Casey Patterson:

That’s great. Thank you, Todd. And we have a similar kind of mantra at AppFolio, which is do the right thing, it’s good for business. Which I think is what you’re alluding to in both those cases, both just making time to talk to your clients and help just by listening and then reaching out to your network and making sure that you’re communicating with them. So thank you so much. What about you, Mark?

 

Todd Spodek:

Sure.

 

Mark Metzger:

Well, I’ll take Todd’s lead and I’ll suggest that there’s two things that you could consider doing right now in the category of advice. The first is to recognize that when it comes to running a law firm and managing and thinking about what you’re going to try and do with a law firm, generally speaking in times other than these, it is strategic planning that pays off. Right now, that’s not a wise thing to do because the landscape is changing way too rapidly. We can’t play chess when the world is playing tennis with us.

 

Mark Metzger:

So what we really need to do is to rethink the way that we think through what we’re trying to accomplish for our law firm and shift out of strategy into tactical thinking. I think it’s useful to have a 30 day perspective right now instead of a 90 or 120 day perspective because it will allow you to more flexibly respond to whatever the new version of the challenges is. Todd’s exactly right. The long game that can still be played and one here is about building relationships and yourself as the trusted resource continuing to move forward. But that’s a great tactic that pays off strategically down the road.

 

If you’re still involved in strategic planning, I urge you to set that aside and start identifying things you can do tactically right now that make a difference now. Like Todd’s example, we’ll continue to make a difference later. Second bit of advice I have is to ask yourself this question. If you had a goose that laid golden eggs, what would you do with that golden goose right now? Would you keep it up all night? Would you feed it crap? Would you deprive it of sleep? Would you work it 24/7 or would you give it rest? Give it an opportunity for exercise. Give it an opportunity to take a break from work.

 

I hope by now most of you are figuring out and talking about each of you as the owners of your law firms, that great temptation that most of us have that are now working from home is since the office is right here. “Well, it clearly is a better use of my time,” we can say to ourselves, “for me to do some client work or work on the law firm than it is for me to watch Gilligan’s Island.” And if that’s your only alternative, you’re probably right. What I think you need to do is to recognize that you will benefit now and later from taking time away from your work. Just because it is available 24/7 does not mean you should be doing it 24/7. If your competitors are relaxing and rejuvenating during this time frame when we come out from under this, they will run laps around you because they will be tanned, rested and ready and you will be suck in the hind end of the whole race.

 

You’ll be at the back of the peloton not doing what you’re trying to accomplish because you will have exhausted yourself in the interim. So whether that’s designing and planning, what a good day off looks like and implementing it. Because if you don’t plan it, you won’t come up with a good one and you’ll always talk yourself into more work. Or if it’s adopting a mindfulness habit, by the way, the mindfulness apps on the phones are fantastic. They are all sold on the crack dealer model, which means you get the first week for free and then you pay. So they can give you all three of them, decide which one you like better and subscribe to that one. But for crying out loud, take care of yourself.

 

Casey Patterson:

Wonderful. Okay, great. So think tactically or a little bit more short term rather than strategically right now just because things are changing so quickly. So more on a short term basis, what’s going to have an impact today and then take care of yourself. Take care of your goose. Excellent. Al, what about you?

 

Al Provinziano:

I really love that analogy Mark about the golden goose and I think it’s really something everybody has to think about. I think that work life balance is really important right now, especially when you’re going through emergency situations. And I know for myself, I’ve set hours and tried to stick to them and have encouraged everybody else to do that because you do need that good downtime and rest. And just to kind of absorb everything. That’s kind of happened and gone on. I’m a big student of history and I think I look at things from a historical perspective, which always helps me put things in perspective. And so we know historically, the last pandemic was about two generations ago and it was the 1918 Spanish flu.

 

And that was horrific. And we had two huge calamities in the 20th century with the world wars, but eventually everything turned around. I think that you have to recognize a lot, like Mark said, think about being tactical. We have to recognize that we don’t know when this is going to end. In California, they’re saying that our courts in LA are closed til June 22nd. But we don’t know how long that’s going to be. But what we do know is that it is going to come to an end and we do know that things are going to go back to some version of normal. And I think that keeping that perspective is what’s important and to persevere. I think the things that you can just do tactically right now is I look at every business as a piece of property, every business, every practice is unique.

 

So you have to just customize your practice to what’s going on right now. And I think obviously doing everything you can to be digitally effective is where it’s at. And so just making sure that you’re having all your workflows set up to utilize all the apps that Todd and Mark mentioned that I think one to add to that is there is something called Earth Class Mail and Earth Class Mail will handle all your mails for you and deposit all your checks. I looked into it, myself I didn’t use it. We opted to have a team member in office because we were able to do that safely. But that’s because that was what was unique to us. But I think there’s a lot of digital applications out there that people just have to customize to their business when they’re thinking tactically during this time and then strategically just know it’s going to end and we’ve got to just persevere and never give up.

 

Casey Patterson:

Excellent. Thank you so much for that advice, Al. All right, as we close out, really quickly I wanted to reiterate that each of these fine panelists use MyCase to run their firm. It’s a cloud based software that helps law firms do everything from home where from wherever you are. So everything from managing your leads, your cases, billing, et cetera, can be done through MyCase. There is a free trial if you’d like to check it out and get a demo of it. Just to mention really quickly that 96% of customers would recommend MyCase to a friend, which is a stat we’re really proud of. So wanted to make sure that was known before you checked it out. There’s a lot of legal professionals like you who are using it. And lastly, just thank you all so much for your insight and your time.

 

Thank you to everyone who’s joined as an attendee. We’re thrilled to just bring people together during this time. Honestly, I think we’ve talked a lot about how communication and just talking with folks is good when you’re secluded. So just really appreciate everyone offering their time. And thank you all so much until next time, and if you’d like any other resources on COVID the MyCase blog is full of posts and other webinars that will be helpful as you navigate this time. So check that out as well. Thank you to Todd, Mark and Al. We will all talk soon and thank you to everyone who joined.

 

Mark Metzger:

Thanks Casey.

 

Todd Spodek:

Okay, thanks Casey. Be safe everyone.

 

Casey Patterson:

Bye everyone. Be healthy.

 

Al Provinziano:

Bye





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