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Attorneys adjust to remote work – but miss the daily interactions

Barry Levin.

Barry Levin.

The coronavirus pandemic has inundated Maryland law firms with calls from clients who own businesses – and from the firms’ own lawyers and personnel, who are encountering technical difficulties while doing business from home.

Several lawyers said the coronavirus has led to an uptick in work for several practice areas, with employment lawyers getting questions from companies that fear they will need to close or cut staff.

At Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP in Baltimore, bankruptcy attorneys have been much busier than usual since the coronavirus outbreak began, said Barry Levin, the firm’s managing partner.

“We have a robust bankruptcy practice getting busy because people are now talking to lenders,” Levin said. “As businesses feel a contraction of revenue, they’re starting to think, ‘What does this mean for us?’”

Levin added that a number of lawyers with higher education practices are also being bombarded with questions related to COVID-19.

Charles Bacharach, a partner at Gordon Feinblatt LLC and chair of the Baltimore firm’s employment practice, said nearly all the questions he’s received lately have to do with the virus.

“I haven’t sat still for two minutes,” he said. “We’re absolutely swamped with questions.”

Other areas of practice, such as estates and trusts, have also become noticeably busier, Bacharach added.

Large firms are also settling into work-from-home routines, with partners reporting a mix of experiences, good and bad.

Attorneys said they were surprised by the relative ease of the transition to online work and praised their firms’ IT staff for preparing the company for remote-only operations.

On the other hand, Bacharach said he feels isolated and misses his firm’s in-person interactions.

“It’s nice to spend some time at home, but I do miss the camaraderie, even the occasional ‘hello’ in a hallway,” he said.

James Edwards, an attorney and managing shareholder for Baker Donelson’s Baltimore office, said that while the firm has had an orderly transition, he misses the in-person communications of the normal work world.

“While I don’t miss the commute, I miss the people,” Edwards said. “We are starting to have online conferences to talk about what’s working and stay connected.”

Edwards, who has a construction litigation practice, noted that the coronavirus has delayed many of his clients’ construction deals because of court closures and hearing delays.

At Miles and Stockbridge, the number of tech help requests have dropped steadily since the Baltimore firm switched to remote work, said President and CEO Joseph Hovermill, who added that older partners have needed a little more help working through the technical kinks involved in working from home.

“It has really been amazing how quickly the shift has been,” Hovermill said from his home. “So far it’s transformed seamlessly from the standpoint of board meetings or client meetings; people are comfortable moving to conference calls or virtual meetings.”

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