CHARLESTON – The Coronavirus pandemic is forcing changes in every phase of life.
The courts and legal community are no exception. Courts across the nation have postponed dockets and even closed entirely.
Beginning March 16, Charleston attorney Rusty Webb said he is conducting consultations and client meetings by telephone. He made the announcement on social media.
“We’re a relatively close-knit staff, and we see a lot of people during the week,” he said of the foot traffic at the Webb Law Centre in downtown Charleston. “You’d think the larger firms would see more people, but larger firm generally representing corporations and do most of their business on the phone and internet already. We have a lot of person-to-person contact.”
Including Webb, five people work at the firm.
In addition, Webb said he plans to file motions for him and his clients to participate in any necessary court hearings via telephone.
“For the safety of our staff members and safety of our clients, we decided we’d stay away from court settings where there is a judge, bailiff, other staff and other people awaiting hearings. We need to avoid as much contact as we can right now.
“Another thing that plays into this is our families. For example, two of our staff members have relatives who have rather critical illnesses, and we don’t want them to take anything back to them.”
Larger law firms also are changing how they work.
Attorneys and other staff members at Spilman Thomas & Battle’s offices have been asked to work from home.
“With guidance from human resources director Mary Smiley, we have developed a plan methodically, quickly and thoroughly to change the way we do business,” Spilman attorney Kevin Carr said. “First, all timekeepers are either strongly encouraged to work from home or they already were working from home.
“Also, we have a lot of folks, like me, who travel a good bit. So that’s part of the equation as well. We are evaluating every single staff position we have to see whether they can provide the same level of service from home with today’s technology.”
Carr said the memo about the changes went out to staff members March 16, but that a team ha been working on changes for about a week.
“We have numerous folks working from home, and it’s more and more every hour,” said Carr, who is the co-chairman of the firm’s labor and employment practice group. “We’ve done a lot, and I’d say the situation will continue to change.”
Carr and fellow Spilman attorney Eric Kinder said they estimate about 50 percent of the firm’s 300 or so employees is now working remotely rather than in seven offices across West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina.
“And it’s a changing fraction every day,” Kinder said.