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Impact of COVID-19 on Law Practice Management

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Impact of COVID-19 on Law Practice Management

Impact of COVID-19 on Law Practice Management

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the workplace for lawyers and law firms. The pandemic brought the workforce to a halt in early 2020. Suddenly, law firms, among other businesses, were required to implement technology that allowed attorneys and support staff to work remotely. Two years later, many lawyers have returned to the office and members of the judiciary have returned to the courthouses. However, some have remained at home or enjoyed a hybrid work environment. The impact on our clients, firm culture, firm finances, and our collective mental health will be long lasting.

Presenters

Carolyn Wolf
Executive Partner
Abrams Fensterman, LLP

Transcript

- [Carolyn] Okay, greetings everyone and welcome to Impact of COVID-19 on Law Practice Management. My name is Carolyn Wolf and I am director of the firm's mental health law practice. Just to give you a brief overview of what we're gonna talk about. This is about the impact of COVID-19 and how it changed the workplace for lawyers and law firms. Obviously, as we all know, the pandemic brought the workforce to a halt in early 2020. And all of a sudden law firms, as well as other businesses were required to implement technology that attorneys and support staff had to now move from the law firm setting and the brick and mortar setting, to working remotely in their homes, in their garages, in their basements, and some even in their bathrooms as we saw over time. It's now two years later and although many lawyers have returned to the office and many members of the judiciary have returned to their courthouses, we're still faced with the continuing COVID-19 issues. However, there are also some who have remained at home, enjoyed a hybrid work environment. The impact on our clients, on our firm culture, on our firm finances and our collective mental health will be long lasting as we've seen written throughout the literature that has emerged since the beginning of the pandemic. Just by way of background. I'm an executive partner at the law firm of Abrams Fensterman in Lake Success, New York. We also have offices in Brooklyn, in Rochester, in Albany, and we work throughout New York State. And my practice spills over into other states as well. We are a firm of about 115 lawyers plus support staff members. And as I've said, we have six offices across New York State. I'm the director of the mental health law practice and responsible for managing a department of six attorneys and three paralegals. I'm also the co-chair of the firm's women attorneys group, which offers networking in social events and support for the women attorneys at my firm. I'm an invited member of the Nassau County Bar Association Lawyers Assistance Program, as well as a member of multiple county and state bar associations and their respective health law and mental health law committees. I teach law and psychiatry as an adjunct professor at Hofstra Law School in Long Island. And I write and speak extensively on issues involving mental health, substance use disorder and related issues as they pertain to news topics, current events, media requests, all with an eye towards dispelling misinformation and reducing the stigma of mental illness and related issues. So let's begin with the program talking about law practice management and the impact of COVID-19. Technology. That was a huge part of what we had to address when the pandemic hit. It meant really from one day to the next implementing new technology and what the cost to the law firms meant in that regard. The issue of returning to the physical office once we were allowed to do so. Dealing with clients; continuing to generate business, client communications, representing clients during the pandemic. Firm culture changes as a result of COVID. Finances during and after COVID. And as is being written about more and more and looked at and talked about more and more is the impact on mental health of both the firm environment, the attorneys and support staff, the clients, as well as our colleagues and our friends. And we're also gonna talk about looking to the future and what the impact of this is going to be going forward. So regarding technology, video conferencing became the most important technology for law firms during the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone had to switch to Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other platforms in order to continue to litigate, interact with clients, communicate with other attorneys and support staff in the firm, as well as off hours communication. Social meetings were switched to Zoom. We were no longer meeting at the local bar or restaurants or other firms and gatherings among family and friends. All of that was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. And of course, the spillover psychologically of what that meant going from in-person gatherings to virtual platforms. Also impacted were client meetings, board meetings, bar association meetings, committee meetings, as well as court hearings and court conferences, CLE courses all took place on the computer by video conference. While some have returned to in-person, many now are faced with and still using the hybrid options. So in terms of technology, what's the practical application in the mental health law practice? Well, the legal system, which is so closely intertwined with the provision of inpatient psychiatric services in my world, worked tirelessly to adjust court operations, implement safety protocols in the first few days and weeks of that declared state of emergency due to the pandemic. Mental hygiene legal matters in New York, specifically that affect the rights of patients on inpatient psychiatric units were considered essential. And literally overnight, we went from appearing in court in-person in front of judges, meeting our colleagues, meeting our expert witnesses and the patients for whom these hearings are held, to setting up within each location, whether it be a hospital or a department of health office, courthouse, and so on, all had to be switched over to the virtual platforms. The mental hygiene parts were some of the first in New York State to transition to virtual hearings, even before Governor Cuomo at that time issued an executive order, mandating telecommuting or "work from home" procedures. Courts, hospitals made immediate and significant operational changes when judges, court staff, lawyers, doctors, and patients could no longer attend in-person court proceedings. And I'm guessing it was the same for other related or unrelated areas of practice. We have a diverse practice in our firm. We have a metrominial practice, a landlord tenant, corporate litigators. All of the people had to gather, put their heads together with our IT people and the courts, and come up with a system whereby everyone could be on a virtual platform and get their work done. Firms had to add security features. Now we were online, not in-person. We had to upgrade computers, add video conferencing technology for lawyers and support staff to work from home. Phone technology had to be implemented to allow employees to make work phone calls from their personal devices while working from home. We needed access to printers, scanners at home. It was an incredible turnover and transition from the office where everything was set up, everything was available, everything was at our fingertips to now moving to multiple locations when people were working from home at this point. Well, what's the cost of the new technology? Well, there is the actual dollars and cents cost of adding video conferencing equipment to every computer, providing printers and scanners to everyone working from home. The cost of cybersecurity measures to ensure client files are secure when accessed by employees working remotely. And of course, the addition and need for increased 24/7 IT staff. And of course that was a cost to the law firm that no one had anticipated prior to the, literally day one to day two conversion when the pandemic hit and everything was shut down. So everybody's budget got turned around in terms of what our priorities were prior to the pandemic. And then as we were going through the shutdown and then of course the spillover into the next days, weeks, months, and now years of this new technology. And even returning to the office, we still have many people as I'm sure you all do and the audience who are working hybrid. So it's not as if we could move all of that technology and equipment back to the office and continue to use it. Much of it remained in people's homes and other areas from which they were working in order to continue with a hybrid. So now we had duplication of equipment. We had scanners, printers, computers in the office, and we had duplication of that in people's settings, where they were now working outside of the office. So technology now that we're in 2022, two years out from the start of the pandemic, lawyers and law firms must constantly evaluate and implement COVID safety measures, taking into consideration new variants, positive tests for COVID, determine whether it's safe to meet in-person or continue to rely on video conferencing. And as the science in the pandemic has moved and changed and shifted with regard to vaccinations and boosters and testing and isolating, the rules keep changing. And so as they change in the science and the outside world, our law firms have to adapt to those changes and duplications in the outside world now coming back into the law firm space. And this of course was very challenging for those people who were working at home now back in the office, some back to hybrid and had to navigate through not only the technology, but the science and the medicine of the COVID pandemic, not wanting to spread it any further than it needs to be spread. How long should people stay home or people being honest about whether they're testing positive or not, because maybe they can't afford to lose a day's pay and have to come into work. The decision of how to navigate through working at home while others are back in their settings, back in the courthouse, back in the office. So all of these issues now have to be navigated that never had to prior to the pandemic. And we are more and more becoming aware of the mental health overflow of where that heads for people sometimes not really knowing, or understanding or deciding where they really wanna work, where they feel safe, where they can be the most efficient and effective, the spillover into working with colleagues one on one, in-person, meeting at the water cooler, or seeing them making coffee in the firm kitchen versus being at home. The same issues with what the home environment actually looks like. Are you working from your living room and people are walking back and forth? Is your dog barking? Is your baby crying? Is someone asking, are we ready for lunch? And who's making lunch? All of these issues and actually stressors that we never had to confront prior to the pandemic. So returning to the office and safety protocols became a very big issue as the pandemic lessened and as we were allowed to then return to the office and hopefully some semblance of normalcy. So before returning to the physical office space, law firms had to create and implement protocols to reduce the spread of COVID 19 in the office setting. The process of reopening a physical office took a lot of planning and preparation to ensure everyone's health and safety. And to ensure that people understood that the firm itself was doing everything it possibly could in order to make it safe for people to return to the office. Keep in mind, it wasn't only the lawyers and the support staff that we had to be concerned about, but many had young children or people at risk or older parents who were now living with them or grandparents who were more at risk even than themselves. And we had to take that into consideration when we were addressing safety protocols that we were now having to put in place in order for us to be able to return to the office setting. Many firms, including our met almost daily in order to understand the science and the medicine of what safety would look like in returning to the office. We had to look outside of our firm for those companies that were going to be working with us to ensure safety protocols. And again, all with an eye to the science and the medicine continuing to evolve as this played out. So it wasn't now just us within our firm figuring out what to do and how we wanted to protect our employees, but it was also now having to work with vendors outside we never had to work with before. Whether it meant Plexiglas dividers or temperature checks or whatever it was, we now had all of these new vendors we'd never met before, never worked with before. Didn't really know exactly whether they were equipped to appropriately provide what was needed. And many of it was either through referrals or just acting on faith that they knew what they were doing, their safety protocols were up to speed and that we would want them in our offices and working with us in order to provide a safe environment for our employees to come back to the office and to be back and forth from our office to their homes. So what did some of these safety protocols look and sound like? Well, social distancing and other safety protocols had to be addressed. Many that were included, although not limited to, were deep cleaning and disinfecting the office. We were initially doing it almost weekly, biweekly, once a month, again, following the science and the medicine, getting advice from the experts as to how many times we needed to do a deep cleaning and a disinfecting and what that would look like. And we were we able to have people in the office while this was happening or outside of the office and so on. What was the impact of these deep cleanings and disinfecting in the office setting? As I'm sure most of you can relate to, before the pandemic we all had cleaning services who would come in in the evening and dust and vacuum, empty the trash and leave it nice and pristine for us to come back into the next day. This was now at a much higher, more complicated level in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Continuing daily or weekly cleaning services. Again, different from what we were all used to. We had to implement a temperature station outside of the main entrance. What was the technology that was gonna be used for checking people's temperature before they entered the firm setting? And how reliable was that going to be? How that was gonna work, how we were gonna implement making people do it. We have different entrances and exits in our law firm and key card doors. How were we gonna make sure that people stopped at the main door now in order to have their temperature checked, make sure they were safe to enter? So that's on the employee side. That was an education and training process. Emails went out, continuing reminders, posters set up throughout the firm in order to make sure that employees were having their temperature checked before entering the office and actually that is still continuing to today. Then we had the issue of anyone from the outside who was going to be entering our office space. And including in those people, the FedEx delivery people, the UPS, the mail people, and anyone else who was coming to the office, once again, who were not employees. Again, we had to post signs. We had to keep doors locked and only the receptionist could let them in. We had to have a mechanism for the receptionist to know that a person stopped at the temperature station, that the green light flashed and that they were safe to enter. So processes that before COVID nobody had to use or think about. We set up hand sanitizers stations outside of the elevators before entering all throughout the firm and encourage people to use them. We had to install dividers as I'm sure all of you did between cubicles, plexiglass dividers, plastic dividers, so that people could be safe. As well as investing in supplying employees and visitors with masks. No one was allowed to enter or walk around the firm without a mask on which of course, as I'm sure you've all experienced, those who didn't believe they needed to wear a mask or didn't want to, or claimed that their medical condition prevented them. And how were we going to navigate gently reminding or enforcing these rules that we never had to use or enforce prior to the pandemic? In addition, we needed to come up with policies and protocols so that everyone was on the same page understanding exactly what the rules were, what's negotiable, and what's not, who needs to do what to whom and who to call if we were hitting people, refusing to do what they needed to do. We needed a system for not making the receptionist the person responsible for enforcing many of these rules or getting into any sort of conflict with visitors to the firm, but knowing who to include whether it was a manager or the HR people, or those more senior people who could come out to the waiting area who were working from the office and have a discussion with people as to why we needed these social distancing and the safety protocols in place. Many businesses, including my law firm implemented what we called a teams approach. Our firm colors happened to be blue and grey. So initially as we started returning to the office, we had a blue team who were 50% of the staff on week one. The grey team who were 50% of the staff in week two. And then we would rotate weeks three and four back and forth to the office. Of course, this limited the number of people in the office at any one time. And it was left to the department heads to figure out who needed to be in on week one, week two. Sometimes we had overlap and with court hearings and scheduling. It often didn't lend itself to a carved in stone, blue team and grey team. So that was something else that we all had to navigate. Whether we needed them in the office or not, we could set up a hybrid system, whether people could continue to work from home depending on which team they were on. So now we not only had working teams as we normally would have, but we had social distancing and safety protocol teams who would be in and out of the office at designated times, know what their assignment was, understand whether they could still work from home or had to be on site. All of course, with an eye towards getting scheduling put in place for meetings and client matters as well as court hearings. So that meant, of course not only coordinating with our firm, but coordinating with a system, the legal system, the court system, over whom we didn't have direct authority or responsibility. It truly became a team approach, not only within the firm, but outside of the firm, whether it was clients or colleagues, other professionals with whom we had to coordinate as well as the court system itself. And I have to say for the most part, everybody got on board, stayed on board, took time, was thoughtful, understood how this was a new normal and a new world for all of us. And for the most part, were very patient with one another. So kudos to everyone who had to live through this new normal and very emotionally challenging time in our history. Since returning to the office, firm leadership has continued to follow CDC guidelines, constantly monitoring for changes and updates, changes to quarantine requirements, changes to social distancing requirements, changes to mask requirements. Every day truly is a new adventure. And again, looking to the science and the medicine, this is what we now had to become expert in. We were trained as lawyers to deal in the law and with whatever social implications there were to that. Many of us became adept at understanding the science and the medicine so that we could bring back to the firm the information that we were gathering with regard again, to quarantining, social distancing, testing, mask requirements. Of course, as we all know, just the issue of getting vaccinated and how to show that we were and could we require that, boosters as they came online, continuing vaccination and boosters and how the science and the medicine continues to evolve in that area. In my mental health law practice, we're used to working with doctors and hospitals and medicine and medical terminology. Most others in the firm were not used to doing that. So we did put together a firm leadership committee who could share information, do the research, bring back to others in the firm what was being required, what was being recommended, what the issues would be in getting pushback from some people, whether to allow people in the office or not, allowed to go to court or not. The courts themselves had their safety protocols and requirements. It became a very big project and very time consuming to, again, not only understand what we were doing in our own practice areas, but understanding what was happening around us from home, to office, to court, to social gatherings and so on. So with regard to clients and generating business, law firms had to immediately adjust to a new normal to continue to ensure high quality client services in the face of the ongoing pandemic. I think initially we all thought this was gonna be days or weeks or maybe a couple of months and now we're two years into it. There continued to be of course, an expectation to continue bringing in new business, collecting fees, increasing the firm's revenue, because now we were not only confronted with our own daily revenue requirements and the financial obligations that we had, but we now had another layer of requirements and financial obligations in terms of the safety protocols that we had to initiate the changes in the physical environment, the mental health issues that were evolving throughout this, which we're gonna talk about. And all of those changes, which we were suddenly confronted with, never having to have to do prior. In addition, we were having to add to the already stressed national, state, professional, personal and societal systems of living and working in an unexpected and unplanned new normal. So all of the emotional part and the mental health part of what was happening in addition to the physical and the financial of what was going on in our outside world and within the law firm setting itself. Video conferencing to meet with potential new clients and communicate with current clients was of course going to be a priority. Many people, clients, new clients, current clients were happy to work on Zoom or Teams or whatever platform was set up. Others were not so sure. They had been used to coming into the office and sitting with our attorneys one on one, being able to be comforted or given information. Of course, as we've all experienced, we lost a lot in terms of physical attributes or physical cues that we were unable to have while we were video conferencing. Verbal cues that were different on a video conference than they were in-person. So all of that video conferencing change, meeting with new clients who you'd never met before and communicating with current clients for whom we were used to sitting in a room together had to change and be converted. There was of course, an increase in email communications and that led to very stringent and structured security measures, because now our communications were not one on one in a private conference room, but were out there in the virtual world. Client expectation of always being available from anywhere became the norm. That was different than what we're used to. In my particular mental health law practice, we are on call 24/7. That's not the norm in most firm practices. So we actually had to work with other departments to talk about now being more available and what the expectations of that were different from what they were used to. We had an increased reliance on sending and receiving documents electronically. And for those of us who were not that technologically savvy, that was a huge challenge, not only on the sending in, but on the receiving end, how to upload, download, what was confidential, what documents should be sent. We had to be very careful not to be sending documents that we didn't mean to have sent. So you might have had a packet of documents that you didn't want all the pages to go or highlight certain things and not highlight other things. So all of that increased reliance on the sending and receiving was a challenge. And again, an educational process and a training process in order to make sure that what was sending and being received was safe and secure and confidential and protected. In addition, electronic signatures, if, and when they were allowed, including remote notarization of documents. So all of that had to be addressed and had to be taught in order to do it effectively and safely in order to protect the confidentiality that we are all so used to being concerned about and adhering to. Much has been written about the stress of working longer hours, no clear beginning and ending or breaks in the day due to virtual work. There were few boundaries between work life and home life, and that that's been written about and talked about more and more as the pandemic has gone on. There were a few clear physical divisions between home and office as a result of the virtual platforms that we were now converted to. So normally people would come to the office at a certain time, work through the day, leave the office, head home, and then convert to their home life. That was much different in the pandemic as people were working at home, expectations of well, you don't have to commute, we don't have drive time, travel time so we can just continue on with what work we were addressing. And there was, and continues to be, again, a lot written about the mental health impact of not having clear boundaries between work and home, work life and home life expectations of, well, you're still on your laptop so I might as well have a call with you at eight o'clock at night, as opposed to offices closed, and we'll have to talk in the morning and so on and so forth. So it's really important that firms understand that, appreciate that, read about it, digest that and work with their firm, employees, lawyers, and support staff alike to try and address those increasing mental health stresses that have come not only from the medical side of the pandemic, but the law practice side. So clients and court representation. Delays in court conferences happened, hearings due to COVID happened. And all of the backup that we were not used to were brought about because of the COVID pandemic. Technological issues, as I've said, while in virtual court. I know you're all familiar with the, I'm not a cat that was going around during the pandemic. The idea of how to dress, how to appear, the difference between being in-person and getting dressed up for court or for work now was really from half a person up. Other interferences while you were working virtually whether it was babies or dogs or children working and going to school from home, other family members, other responsibilities that come with being at home versus being separate from home and in an office setting. Adjusting to representing a client on a virtual platform rather than sitting next to a client in the courthouse. Issues of body language that was missing, side conversations, controlling when a client speaks, making notes on a legal pad when you're sitting next to a client, sharing with the client to stop talking, which I know we've all been faced with. That was much more difficult to do, obviously when you were working on a virtual platform. And not only was it issues of adjusting to representing a client on the platform in a courthouse, but in a firm conference room, when you could, again, talk to your client, have visual clues with a client, write on a side legal pad and so on. So all of that change in how we were doing things in-person versus virtual had an impact, again, not only on the physical changes and the appearance changes and the professional changes, but on the mental health changes as well. The stress level of everyone, as I'm sure you're all reading about and talking about, went through the roof because not only the fear of COVID itself from a medical standpoint and the spillover into our families, but from a professional standpoint of having to adjust to not being one on one with our clients and our colleagues and a courthouse, and the court staff. Not only was ensuring we were ready, but we had to ensure that our clients were equipped to participate in virtual court hearings. They had a computer and a camera and a microphone, and the video conferencing software. Obviously we couldn't go to our client homes and get them set up. And again, the use of IT staff to not only help the lawyers, but to help the clients as well who needed to get on these virtual platforms. It was also a challenge for the judges to either demand that people put on their video or allow them to just be audio. So all of those issues of what the client was gonna be doing as participating in these virtual court appearances, in addition to the lawyers and the judges and the courthouse staff. Helping to learn how to instruct our clients on proper etiquette for a virtual court appearance, appropriate attire, background noise, or distractions, other people in the room or their homes. That became something we didn't have to think about when we were in-person or meeting a client at the courthouse, but had to in a more informal environment, speak to clients about. Yes, I know many of us, including myself, would talk to clients about how to dress properly in a courthouse setting, how to appear, but we didn't have the noise and distractions to deal with. Excuse me, or other people in the room or in their homes. And of course that was a big issue for client confidentiality. Did people really want to have family members or other people in their home listen to these court proceedings? Especially in the mental health legal area, much of this information is medical, is highly confidential. And what the judges were saying or questioning about became an issue for having clients at home not always alone and able to be in a private and confidential setting. So those were all conversations we were not used to having with our clients, training and direction we were not used to giving to our clients, now we suddenly had to be faced with. So what are firm cultural changes? Well, we suggest that firm leaders create a law firm culture that supports its employees. That's very important. We're all going through the COVID-19 pandemic and all of the changes to our traditional notions of a law firm environment, a home environment, a working environment, collegiality, professionalism, all of those issues, as well as the stress and the mental health issues that have come about due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So it's very important for leaders in the firm to understand it, read about it, talk about it, and create a culture that is supportive and understanding of its employees. And what this has meant, does mean now and will mean in the future as the pandemic continues to play out. We need to pay more attention to flexibility. Hybrid working and allowing employees to work remotely from home, that's a challenge for employers. The issue of we have brick and mortar offices for which we pay a lot of rent and a lot of expenses that may go unused or not used in the same way as it was being used prior to the pandemic. And how much of that do firm leaders wanna compromise on? The whole environment of collegiality, stopping into someone's office and saying, what do you think about this? Or I have a problem, can you help me with it? Is different in a home office setting, in a hybrid setting than it is being in-person, in place, in an office. Issues of accountability and supervision. These are new challenges when employees work from home. We don't have direct supervision in the same way, accountability in terms of time and coming and going, getting on a computer, what you do on your computer, all of the equipment that's required, what happens when it breaks down. All of those issues of accountability and supervision are now in the forefront when of course they were part of the prior area of practice, but they've become much more important. What's the impact on mentoring new and young attorneys through networking and receiving training? This is also increasingly being written about and talked about, and it's really the new or young attorneys who are very much impacted on having to either work remotely or in a hybrid setting, as opposed to being in the firm and being together to get direction, get support, learning, and practicing. What's the impact on collaboration with colleagues? Again, it's very different being on a virtual platform as it is from being in-person and being together in office space, kitchen space, conference rooms, and so on. And of course, as has been written about a lot and talked about more and more, is the improved work life balance. Given how we went to one extreme of having very little work life balance when all of this started to now coming back to a more normal and manageable work life balance as before. We need a new work life balance and it may be improved, or it may not. So that has to be addressed and talked about as well. Firm finances during COVID. Firm leadership had to maintain employee morale during an extremely uncertain time. We dealt with the paycheck protection program loans. Many firms like other small businesses applied for and received pandemic related financial assistance. Many firms had to implement cost savings measures such as temporary salary, reductions or layoffs. And then as the pandemic has continued, and there's a somewhat return to normal, whether we increased people's hours back to what they were, or their salaries, bringing people back who were laid off. And again, all of the emotional spillover of being laid off and maybe being brought back or people finding new jobs and filling in the gap of those who we had to reduce in salary or lay off from their current jobs. Changes in expenses as we've talked about. Increased COVID related expenses to ensure safety in the office, decreased travel expenses, reimburse for tolls and gas and parking and trains and so on. That was all a change when we moved from in-person to virtual. Changes in billable hours happened. When appearing in virtual court attorneys were no longer billing clients to travel to and from the court or wait in the courthouse for their case to be called. So although setup changes added to billable hours, again, the travel expenses, the time of sitting around as we're all used to doing, gas and toll expenses, all of that changed as the pandemic continued on. And now it's gonna be a change back in terms of managing expenses in the firm for the increased related expenses to COVID, as well as bringing people back and what's going to be reimbursed for, with a somewhat challenging change in billable hours when we're remote versus in-person and how those changes moving from one type of billing to another, in terms of what billable hours we will be using or not, that all became part of the challenge. So what is the impact on mental health for the pandemic as we have been exposed and continue to have to address in the course of the pandemic? Well, the concerns about mental health and wellness have long been and remained critical issues for our profession. It was talked about and addressed, there were programs and webinars, but it wasn't really in the forefront the way it has become since the pandemic has happened. Of course, COVID has exacerbated existing mental health conditions and created new ones in an industry that was already high stress and fast paced. Lawyers are used to working on a high level of stress, of challenges, of emotional issues with their clients, dealing with courts and judges, dealing and interacting with colleagues who are not in the firm, but are certainly part of our cases. But the fear and the anger and the overflow and impact of COVID that we've all experienced. The increased stress on our professional lives, on our colleagues on our families has now increased significantly. And that is why more and more firms are looking to address the mental health and wellness concerns, that again, have been critical issues in our profession, but have not come to the forefront before the pandemic had hit. Post-pandemic stress reaction. That is something that we have been looking towards, reading about trying to implement programs so that our employees feel supported, understood, not only professionally, but in their personal lives, in terms of being supportive and understanding issues of childcare, of financial stress, of losing family members, of being ill themselves about needing to come back to work and so on. So the issues range in terms of this stress that are related to the next chapter of people's lives is anxiety about post-COVID, in-person, social and professional obligations, depression, an increased dependence, as we've seen on drugs and alcohol on which too many people relied to get through the past few years. And again, being written about and addressed more and more as the pandemic continues on and moves in different ways. In addition to those mental health issues, having to think about and address feelings of isolation, virtual team meetings, and check-ins with employees, looking for what we call red flag behaviors. Are people feeling or talking about being more isolated, not really knowing what their next steps should be in their professional life or their personal life? Red flags, such as increasing depression. Being able to identify whether people are using drugs and alcohol more than they had before, or in addition to having not used it before. These are all red flags and many firms began to offer additional mental health resources, psychologists, social workers, other resources. We've been consulting with our own firm through our own mental health department, as well as other firms to make referrals to mental health professionals and resources, that can help with combating these feelings of isolation and depression and substance use and so on. Very important or for firms to know about their bar association lawyer assistance programs. These programs can provide and have provided increased programming and services, education and training on the impact and the issues of post-pandemic mental health. So looking to the future, what are some of the issues that we need to be concerned about and need to have in the forefront of our minds, as we move through the midpoint of the pandemic and hopefully into moving into the future of what our new normal is going to look like, and how to adapt to these issues that we've talked about throughout this webinar? Well, managing the retention of attorneys and staff who want remote work or hybrid work. Those of us who have been in practice a very long time have been used to people in the office coming in and out, work going to court, live and in-person, meeting clients in our conference rooms and in our offices. But as people have gotten used to the remote work or the hybrid work, how much of each are we going to provide for, allow for or not? And again, that's very individual to the firms in which we work and the types of practices in which we work, but that is a very important issue that's gonna need to be addressed going on into the future. And again, not only from a professional or a collegial standpoint, but from an emotional and a mental health standpoint as well. It may look and sound great to say, I still wanna work from home, or I wanna be home some of the time and work some of the time in the office. What is the emotional spillover of that? And as we've talked about privacy, confidentiality, others being at home, having a secure workspace, confidentiality issues, and so on, some clients like the idea of being on a Zoom type platform. I know in my practice very often because I meet with families and deal with their loved ones' mental health issues, they often like having a remote platform so that people who may be all over the country, sometimes all over the world can gather in order for us to do our consultations and offer our advice. Others prefer to be in-person and to be able to interact one on one in a conference room setting. Much of this will depend on the type of practice that you have and how it works best in terms of your legal practice for remote work or sometimes hybrid work or in-person work. And obviously there are practical implications to this as well. File clerks can't work remotely. They have to be there with papers and files and so on. So looking around how come they have to be in the office when others can work remotely or hybrid and dealing with all of those issues as well. We're seeing a very big increase in new employees who want to have that increased flexibility. It's no longer saying to an employee, your hours are nine to five, or you'll be expected to work in-person between these hours. Now, new employees who are being interviewed want the increased flexibility of being able to work at the very least hybrid, somewhat remote work, more than normal, and having the flexibility. That's become a very big issue when we interview new employees who want to join the firm. Excuse me. The other issue, looking to the future is reducing expenses and overhead costs. Whether we need smaller workspaces, smaller offices, less conference rooms, less individual offices, sharing office space and so on. And then of course, most important is preparing for the next crisis, the rainy day fund, being prepared to move back and forth from an open setting or a remote setting to an in-person setting. Work life balance is part of that. Because as is being written about and talked about, we are anticipating another crisis. We're all hoping it doesn't happen. But we need to be prepared in order for the possibility of another crisis or medical challenge to understand what that's going to mean and how we're going to move forward with regard to those issues. And again, very important is the mental health issues and the wellness issues that have come to the forefront since the beginning of the pandemic and the need to understand train and educate, be supportive, bring in professionals, really keep an eye on people's mental health, because the more mentally healthy they are, obviously the better they can be at working at their jobs, interacting with colleagues, with courts, with friends and their personal family issues. So I'd like to thank you all for participating in this webinar today, and for joining us. And posted on your screen is my email and my phone number. I'm always happy to answer any questions and to provide any information to those of you who have participated today. Thank you.
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1h 00s

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