In a new reality tinged with coronavirus, law firms across the country responded by closing offices, and having attorneys and staff work from home to minimize their risk of exposure.
But how’s telecommuting affecting the bottom line?
It depends on the firm. Some leaders expect lean ledgers, while others say their business model factors in uncertainty.
“The financials of all of this are unknown,” said Stephen Goldman, managing partner at Robinson & Cole, one of the largest law firms in the country, according to its ranking in the Am Law 200. “That’s one of the big questions. We just don’t know.”
Robinson & Cole scaled back operations at two of its 10 offices Monday—in New York City, where it has 47 lawyers and support staff, and its Boston offices with 52 attorneys and staff. Litigators will continue writing briefs and working on discovery, but Goldman said it’s too soon to measure the economic impact.
But other lawyers feel confident.
“We are a contingency-fee law firm, and we are used to having cases that go on for years without a fee coming in,” said Peter Dreyer, a partner with Stamford’s Silver Golub & Teitell. “Right now, in the short-term, we haven’t had to plan, or thought about planning, with regard to finances.”
Silver Golub handles personal injury, medical malpractice and products liability litigation. It employs 18 attorneys with a total staff of 38, but announced Monday that its Stamford office would have a skeleton staff of about five people, including one attorney at all times. It closed the firm to outside visitors, banned in-person meetings in the office, and canceled all depositions this week, unless its lawyers can take part via video conference.
Dreyer said the firm will evaluate each week whether to return to the office.
“As things get pushed back and canceled, we will analyze the finances then,” he said. “If it goes a few weeks to a few months, it will probably not affect us. If it goes longer, it will affect everyone.”
In Coral Gables, Florida, attorney Jacqueline Calderin, founding and managing partner of Agentis Law, said her nine-lawyer firm has a major advantage as its employees prepared to work from home, beginning Monday. First, Agentis’ key practice area is one that some economists predict will rise in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
“We expect a ton of bankruptcy work,” Calderin said. “We have seen some filings, and expect a flurry of small-business filings because of the climate we are in now.”
Second, the attorney said the firm put important protocols in place after a prior disaster, Hurricane Irma, which wreaked havoc in South Florida in September 2017.
“We learned from that hurricane that we were having a lot of trouble being connected to laptops,” Calderin said. “We just did not have a robust way of connecting remotely to the network. Since the hurricane, we have upgraded our service. It was a big capital expenditure in service and technology.”
The two factors have combined to reassure Calderin of Agentis’ prospects. The firm will continue to pay its 19 employees full pay and benefits during the duration of its work-from-home period, and Calderin said morale was high.
“We are actually extending an offer now to a new associate,” the attorney said Monday. “We expect to stay busy, as our firm handles more and more bankruptcy cases in the fallout from the virus.”
Meanwhile attorneys at Billings, Barrett & Bowman prioritized reaching out to clients. They anticipate no business slowdown as the firm’s employees telecommute.
“Our clients do want to see us,” partner Peter Bowman said. ”I think they all understand that this is a very significant public health issue, and we want to be responsible to the community.”