As I sit in my kitchen in shorts and a T-shirt and approach the end of Day 38 in my new life working at home, I am wondering whether we will ever get back to the life I used to enjoy.
My two partners and I met on March 23 before any orders were entered and decided that we would close the law firm and try to function in home offices. We have five lawyers and three staff people, and we are blessed to have some of the best people on the planet working for us so there was not a second of doubt as to whether we would pay our staff during the stay-at-home time.
Both of our paralegals have been working for us for well over 20 years and although I am related to one of them and am somewhat biased, we are blessed with loyal and brilliant staff. Our receptionist has been with us for only two years, but she is the best receptionist I have had in my current firm, and she does more than greet clients and answer the phone and is eager to learn new things and help us as we help others.
Our two younger partners are among the brightest and best in the business. I am thankful each day that I can work with them. We are a family and encourage each other to spend time with our families. We have met on Zoom a couple of times just to keep everyone informed and to make sure everyone is healthy and well. We are all looking forward to being together again.
I have never been very good at working at home. In the first 20 years of my practice, my office was a mile from my home and so if I needed to work, I went to the office. In January 2001, I was blessed to join one of the best firms in the state but had a 12-minute commute. I did visit the office on occasion, but rarely traveled back to the office in the evening. We then moved to our current location in 2007 and my commute was 17-20 minutes so I seldom returned to the office unless I had forgotten something or needed something I could not access remotely. Even then, I rarely worked from home. One of the best things I like about our firm is that we value family time in the evenings and on weekends and while we do what is necessary to represent our clients, we also lead well-balanced lives.
I have joked since March 23 that I would never hire me to work from home.I know many people who do it and do it well. I have a nice place to work at home, close to the refrigerator and so I have no excuses. I have found that there are too many distractions at home, including our loveable dog, Sage, who serves as our doorbell and alarm for anyone comes within eyesight of our home. She sleeps most of the day, which influences me also. I have found that the 20-minute power nap is a good thing.
We examined the Jackson County order when Frank White issued it and it said that professionals such as accountants and lawyers could work under certain circumstances “when necessary to assist in compliance with non-elective, legally required activities.” We were uncertain as to what that meant but opted for a safe and healthy approach regardless of the order. The health of our staff and our clients is of utmost importance. If Jackson County and Independence follow Mayor Lucas’ 10-10-10 plan, we will return in mid-May and operate under the new normal until further notice.
I had trials scheduled in May and June, and those have been postponed. We have four trials set between the first of September and the end of the year. They have not been continued, but I have a difficult time envisioning jury trials in this pandemic soon. How can 12 people sit in close proximity to each other for several days in a crowded courtroom with witnesses, lawyers and court staff? I trust the judgment of the judiciary, and I know they will do the right thing.
I personally believe the stay-at-home orders have been appropriate and necessary. I recognize the economic hardship that this has caused so many people. These same people would be subject to call for jury duty after not working for two months. Pay for jurors is inadequate, not enough to pay for lunch and transportation each day, and many employers don’t pay employees when they are answering the call to duty. I personally don’t think we should have trials until next year. This will work a hardship on many. The backlog of cases will be significant, and the criminal trials will take priority. If we ever return to normal times, this will take time.
There has been much discussion among my brothers and sisters in the legal profession as to how this pandemic will affect our law practices and the courts. Many have been forced into devastating circumstances through no fault of their own so we should all pull together to try to return to normal. This has affected and will continue to affect every aspect of our lives. We have no choice but to do the best we can to help each other.
Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence, www.wagblaw.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.