Bob Buckley: Back to work, but with many adaptations
My partners and I closed our office on March 23. With five lawyers, two paralegals and a receptionist, we are a small firm. There was some debate as to whether we were an essential business under the county “stay at home” order, but we decided that being together amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus was not a risk worth taking. All of us have access to our server from our homes. Thus, we were able to work.
I will confess that I was not very good in my home office. I set up my office in the kitchen that was too close to the refrigerator and my comfortable chair. There are too many distractions at home.
Between March 23 and May 15, when we re-opened our office, I went to my office a few times for a few hours to retrieve files. No one else was there during that time. Others came on occasion.
The legal world was not very active during that those two months. I had filed a couple of lawsuits prior to the shutdown and heard from lawyers for defendants in the new cases. One worked at Shook Hardy & Bacon, the biggest law firm in Kansas City, and I learned that all employees of his firm were told that they could not come to the office except for emergencies. It was comforting that others took the virus seriously.
I had grand ambitions to exercise and lose weight. I did manage to walk four or times a week with a friend for about 45 minutes which made me feel better, but not lighter. I also decided to finish cleaning up our basement as it was full of boxes from our move in October 2018.
Since my wife and I work together, we are used to being together a lot, but hours go by at the office when we don’t see each other. Fortunately, we have a big house so she can hide from me if she wants. I think our dog liked having us at home, although she sleeps most days. I joined her in slumber on occasion.
We have been back in the office for over two months, and it has been different. It took quite some time to get used to working again after eight weeks. The courts were initially closed, but they began reopening under limited circumstances. I have had four court appearances since May 15. “Zoom” was not a word in my regular vocabulary until March 15, but it is now a way of life. Two of my court appearances were by Zoom. I wore gym shorts and a T-shirt instead of a dress shirt and tie. On Zoom only my head is displayed, so no one cared.
In one of my court appearances, the sole purpose was to obtain a new trial date. We were set for trial in June in Platte County, but jury trials have been postponed so we had to obtain a new date. Our time with the judge lasted less than five minutes, which made me glad we did not have to drive to Platte City. Ordinarily we would have to make a personal appearance, but the virus saved us from making the journey.
We had to wait an hour for our time with the judge. Ordinarily, he would take up short scheduling matters at the beginning of the docket and then undertake longer proceedings. For some reason, he varied from his normal routine so I had to sit through two “name change” hearings and a short trial that had as its purpose eviction of a grandmother from her home after it was sold on the courthouse steps for back taxes. Her granddaughter was asking for more time, but the judge did not yield, and grandma was evicted. It was very sad.
The courts are still trying to figure out how to handle jury trials during a pandemic. Masks are required in the courthouse, and there is no way to have social distancing during a trial in a normal courtroom. Many options are being suggested, but most are anxious to try cases in a pandemic. Since the unemployment rate is so high, we doubt that many people who have been unemployed for months are anxious to sit on a jury, especially since the rate of pay doesn’t even cover lunch and transportation.
I have taken no depositions since March, but it is now time to begin. My partners have had a few depositions in our office with everyone wearing a mask, including the witness. Some of my partners have done depositions by Zoom, and they have gone smoothly.
One of the challenges will be depositions of experts. I have one expert in Connecticut and two in Ohio. I prefer to be there when their deposition is taken, but I am reluctant to fly, so we may have to Zoom them.
It is said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I am trying to learn how to manage in these difficult times. It is also said that every crisis is an opportunity, and I am doing my best to use this slow time to better prepare my cases. We may never return to the way it was, so either I learn new tricks or join the dog on the sofa. I think we would both prefer that I get back to work.
Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence. Email him at email@example.com.