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S.C. law firms open for justice with skeleton crews

As attorneys grapple with COVID-19, they’re coming up with creative solutions to keep their firms’ lights on, even as many of them are working from home as they deal with an unprecedented situation one day at a time.

“We are open for justice,” said Roy Willey of Anastopoulo Law Firm in Charleston. ”We are doing a hybrid system where those in high-risk categories, or living with those in high-risk categories, are working remotely. Those that want to come into one of our offices to work are still able to, and we are taking social distancing precautions in all of them.”

Wayne Ridgeway of Burriss and Ridgeway in Columbia said that while his firm’s three attorneys are working in the office, the staff is working from home.

The “new normal” of remote working isn’t the biggest challenge, though.

“The disruption isn’t so much that our staff is working remotely,” Ridgeway said. “The disruption is the fear and anxiety that everyone has surrounding what is going on.”

At Joye Law Firm in North Charleston employees have the option to work from home, which is a necessity for those with children now that schools have closed, said Mark Bringardner, an attorney there. To that end, the firm has staggered its schedules to make sure that at least one person is present in certain departments. Bringarnder said the firm is working to minimize the impact of the internal changes, but is keeping client visits to a minimum. Meetings such as deposition or hearing preparation meetings are conducted by phone, and the fim is scheduling virtual mediations through FaceTime and Skype.

Catie Meehan, an attorney with Steinberg Law Firm in Charleston, said that whenever possible, her firm has switched to telephone conferences for client meetings, depositions, and mediations. The firm has also conducted some workers’ compensation hearings remotely via Court Call video. It too is staggering work days and hours for staff to reduce the number of people in the office. 

Because of South Carolina’s familiarity with hurricanes, Willey said his firm is well-equipped for remote work. And because South Carolina courts have an e-filing system, the firm is able to file documents with the courts, and request emergency hearings. The fact that jury trials and motions are not moving forward has been difficult, Willey said, but the firm is using the opportunity to prepare for those that will resume once courtroom proceedings resume. 

At Womble Bond Dickinson, one of the largest firms in the region, attorneys are reaching out to clients to keep them up-to-date on how changes in the court schedules are affecting their cases, spokesperson Bruce Buchanan said. It is encouraging its attorneys to work from home, has postponed or cancelled firm-sponsored events, and has stopped all non-essential travel.

Chris Lam of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings in Charlotte said lawyers and clients have no choice but to be flexible and patient. All of the firm’s lawsuits are in different stages, so its attorneys are focusing on aspects of the litigation that don’t require court appearances. Depositions and mediations are conducted by video or telephone, and that will likely continue for the foreseeable future.

Brett Davis of the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin in Durham, North Carolina, is in charge of the operations for the litigation side of his firm and has had a lot to handle.

“We’ve been drinking from a fire hose, that’s for sure,” Davis said. “We have so many people at this firm who are working on keeping the operation of the firm continuous though this. You have a lot of information coming out and work being done in a fluid environment can change from hour to hour. This is an interesting combination of planning on everything you can foresee at the moment and balancing this with the requirement that you have to wait and see what happens.”

Follow Bill Cresenzo on Twitter @bcresenzosclw

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