Since Milwaukee went into mandatory lockdown last week, businesses across the city have struggled to figure out how to not only remain open, but to stay productive, relevant, and useful during the COVID-19 crisis.
Already, it’s clear to see that there will be enormous legal challenges for businesses in the weeks to come. Without a doubt, it is essential that companies work hand-in-hand with legal counsel to navigate the rough times ahead.
I’ve been talking to Milwaukee attorneys this past week, trying to understand the steps their organizations have been taking during this crisis. It’s clear to me that most law firms were already well-prepared for their legal teams to work remotely.
“For the last several weeks, we responded to COVID-19 based on guidance from health professionals,” explains Hall. “In early March, we started with an international travel ban and promoting social distancing. Within a few days of that, we limited domestic travel, postponed meetings involving outside guests within our office, or converted them to video conferences, and started directing that professionals work remotely. By the time the ‘Safer at Home’ order was issued, we were already operating remotely.”
Indeed, all law firms I spoke with were operating with a large proportion of their legal teams working remotely.
“A lot of lawyer work gets done electronically under any circumstances. Most filings are already performed electronically, so there’s a very large swath of work that can continue without a lot of disruption,” said David J.B. Froiland of Ogletree Deakins. “But there are many other workstreams that are not business-as-usual, including jury trials, in-person hearings and depositions, in-person investigations, and labor negotiations.”
For the time being, it looks like most court systems have hit the pause button. While the Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended all Wisconsin jury trials until May, that doesn’t mean that litigation and legal activities are also suspended. The fact is legal professionals are busier than ever.
Milwaukee City Attorney Grant Langley would agree. Langley’s office, which employs 38 full-time attorneys, is working at full capacity, despite most staff working from home. The COVID-19 crisis, coupled with the city’s “Safer at Home” orders, has opened a pandora’s box of thorny legal issues for the city.
“Right now, our focus is on getting Milwaukee through this crisis. City officials rely on our guidance to help municipal departments enact legally enforceable policies and initiatives,” said Langley. “Much of the work now is unpredicted. It requires extensive legal analysis of statutes, a deep understanding of governmental systems, and good judgment. It requires speedy responses to emergency needs and it challenges us to work cooperatively online on all tasks large and small, without the benefit of face to face interactions. We are currently advising city leadership on critical issues such as response to the ever-changing health crisis, how to conduct the spring election in the midst of required social distancing, employment policies for city employees, and more. We are also heavily involved in guiding the city in the upcoming DNC convention.”
Not a single law firm we talked to indicated any sudden decline in business. Our own company, Data Narro, which specializes in digital evidence collection and e-discovery for civil litigation, has seen a spike in casework in March. For the foreseeable future, I expect that area law firms will remain busy, engaged, and fully capable of guiding their clients during these uncertain times.
I’ll finish this post with some quotes I gathered from our client law firms in response to the following question:
How has your law firm adapted to the escalating COVID-19 crisis and how are you able to respond to your client’s needs?
Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren s.c.
“Our firm implemented a wide range of proactive measures early in the crisis and was able to leverage in-place technology infrastructure to smoothly transition the bulk of our workforce to remote operation, with no loss of productivity or access to clients. Since that time, we have deployed extensive COVID-19 related digital content via our website’s Coronavirus Resource Center to equip our clients and the larger business community with the information they need to successfully navigate these difficult times.”
–JEROME M. JANZER, Chief Executive Officer
LINK: Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren: Coronavirus Resource Center
Fox, O’Neill & Shannon, S.C.
“FOS remains available during the COVID-19 crisis, providing needed critical advice to its business clients navigating unchartered legal waters. FOS’s protective measures, including remote working and audio/video conferencing, have allowed the firm to provide multiple client alerts, via email and foslaw.com, and substantive legal responses to our clients’ many questions regarding the impact of COVID-19 on their operations. We realize the importance of our partnership with our clients and will remain available to assist in any way that we are needed.“
–FRANCIS J. HUGHES, Managing Shareholder
LINK: Fox. O’Neil, & Shannon: COVID-19 and Coronavirus Information
Godfrey & Kahn, S.C.
“For more than 60 years, Godfrey & Kahn has supported our clients through numerous business challenges – and this is no different. We’re here to help with the human resource, financing, tax, cybersecurity, employee benefits or operations issues businesses face resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
–NICHOLAS P. WAHL, Managing Partner
LINK: Godfrey & Kahn: COVID-19 Resource Center
Milwaukee Law firms – want to highlight your activities, resources, or stories? Contact me so that I can feature them in an upcoming article. Email me directly at [email protected].