Flexibility and Other Lessons Learned by the Legal Profession in 2020

Posted on December 07, 2020
Daily Business Review

Call it what you like. Being flexible, adaptable or malleable while facing a combo pack of a public health disaster, economic crisis and election trauma is seen as a big plus.

The Daily Business Review’s 2020 Most Effective Lawyers honorees were asked what the year taught them about the legal profession. In addition to the value of elasticity, the attorneys lauded shared goals, resilience and the rule of law.

Attorneys also learned dress pants and power lunches are non-essentials, but shared adversity can inexplicably generate positive outcomes.

Here are their takes on the lessons they will carry into the new year.

Alan I. Annex, Greenberg Traurig global corporate practice co-chair:

The profession is adaptable. No matter what the circumstances, we will find a way to provide our clients with the highest quality work product in an efficient manner, all within their time expectations.

Ardith Bronson, DLA Piper partner:

2020 has revealed the resilience and dedication of lawyers protecting the interests of those who need a voice. While the pandemic has created challenges in lawyers’ everyday lives, they’ve continued to demonstrate a dedication to helping others.

Matthew Dietz, Disability Independence Group litigation director:

We are not empathetic to the needs of our future colleagues in the legal profession, the profession has the ability to change and use technology when required to stay in business, dress pants and Ferragamo shoes are not a necessity, and many attorneys have dogs and cats that they like to work with.

Paul Geller, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd managing partner:

I can tell you what it has taught me about my firm — from my partners and associates to our nonlawyer staff, we are a team of really dedicated, resilient workers who care deeply about our clients. Ours are not merely cases, but causes. Working from home while struggling with kids and jumping from Zoom to Zoom didn’t stop us from our mission, and we didn’t miss a beat. And since you asked about the legal profession, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my disappointment at the number of law firms that accepted taxpayer relief in the form of Payroll Protection Payments. These firms certified that they couldn’t stay in business without the bailout, and I just don’t buy it. I was literally shocked to see that my law firm was one of the few that didn’t take those funds, funds that were important for the small businesses that truly needed them. Gandhi said there is enough for everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed.

Robert C. Gilbert, Kopelowitz Ostrow Ferguson Weiselberg Gilbert partner:

2020 has taught me that the legal profession is resilient and able to evolve in ways most of us never imagined.

Steven Mark Greenberg, Shutts & Bowen partner:

Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Be grateful for what you have.

Jordi Guso, Berger Singerman managing partner:

Resilience, the power of collaboration and the importance of remaining engaged with colleagues and our communities, even when we are physically separated.

Steven Hadjilogiou, McDermott Will & Emery international tax partner:

The legal profession is especially important in times of change. The change brought on by the pandemic created both challenges and opportunities that influenced the short- and long-term business objectives of our clients. We swiftly provided the needed assistance to help our clients obtain the necessary relief and emerge in the best possible position.

Adam Hall, The Hall Law Firm president:

That the judicial system is willing to adapt its procedures and methods in whatever ways may be reasonably necessary to satisfy the legal needs of the citizenry to best obtain the resolution of disputes in the safest way possible, while adhering to our constitutional right to due process and equal protection under law.

Rory Eric Jurman, Hinshaw & Culbertson partner:

The legal profession has learned from the pandemic that remote working has its benefits and the need to have alternative means and methods for performing within our profession. The law has traditionally been slow to adopt new technologies, and the pandemic has made necessary for attorneys and judges that have never used technology such as video conferencing to conduct essential functions of the legal practice in that fashion. Accordingly, 2020 has shown that the legal profession needs to take advantage of the technological advances available. 2020 has shown that both lawyers and courts need to be up-to-date on technology, including secure forms of video communications. Most importantly, 2020 has also shown that the legal professional is capable of adapting to change on a much faster time scale than previously expected. On a personal note, having a strong firm platform and team culture, built upon professionalism, honesty and integrity, that maximizes all of the latest technology, has supported our practice to thrive and face any challenge.

Brad Kaufman, Greenberg Traurig co-president:

We need each other more then we realized. While more remote working is here to stay, the law is an apprenticeship profession, and we need in-person human interaction to become better lawyers for our clients and better “partners,” (meaning in the colloquial sense ) to our colleagues.

Etan Mark, Mark Migdal & Hayden partner:

When attorneys are forced to adapt, they find a way to do so. The farther you sit from your colleagues every day, the more important law firm culture becomes. Our state court judges don’t get enough credit for what they do. I miss complaining about going on too many business lunches.

Steven Marks, Podhurst Orseck managing partner:

The legal profession occasionally can be seen as traditional; however, this year has taught the world the importance of and how to adapt to changing circumstances. The pandemic has proven that the legal profession is adaptable and creative in finding solutions that allow attorneys to better serve their clients.

Sigrid McCawley, Boies Schiller Flexner partner:

This year has taught me that the legal profession is resilient and strong. Despite a terrible pandemic, the legal profession adjusted quickly and found ways to continue moving cases forward. While the year was not without its growing pains in litigation, I believe some judges now prefer Zoom hearings and agree that the format has created many efficiencies. It was also a time to be a trusted adviser to clients who were experiencing unprecedented issues. In 2020, I became a member of my firm’s executive committee, and I worked with my firm to develop a COVID response team to help better serve our clients. I look back on this year with great pride in the legal profession.

David Miller, Bryant Miller Olive shareholder:

The entire structure of our profession is built around conflict and competition. However, the unique, shared adversities of 2020 have also shown that many of us can set those to the side when it’s necessary to do so to reach the shared goal, whether that’s closing a deal or reaching resolution in the dispute being litigated. On a fundamental level, it has reminded us that we do, in fact, have shared goals.

James Sammataro, Pryor Cashman co-chair of media and entertainment:

Law is not intended to be practiced in isolation.

Michael Silva and Gregory Weigand, McDermott Will & Emery tax partners:

That despite the various hardships encountered in 2020, lawyers and law firms have found ways to continue to effectively represent their clients, many of which were not shielded from the pandemic. This year has also taught us that lawyers continue to value the importance of giving back to the community through volunteer and pro bono activities, whether it be volunteering at a food bank or representing individuals on pro bono basis.

John Uustal, Kelley | Uustal partner:

2020 may have been a pivotal year in so many ways. Big, sudden shifts are not common, but in 2020 we saw several. Lawyers have always been among those making a better country. I am glad to see lawyers still in the forefront.

Peter F. Valori, Damian & Valori | Culmo Trial Attorneys managing partner:

The rule of law is even more important than is has ever been in the history of our nation, and lawyers play a vital role in ensuring that civility, truth and justice prevail.

Scott Wagner, Bilzin Sumberg partner:

Lawyers as a group are far more malleable than we gave ourselves credit for.

Getting Things Done: The DBR’s 16th Annual Most Effective Lawyers

‘Awful Impact’: The Long-Lasting Effects of COVID-19 on the Practice of Law

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