Law360 (March 30, 2020, 12:37 PM EDT) --
Today's perspective comes from Andrew Zaron, a South Florida-based partner at Leon Cosgrove LLP who focuses on bankruptcy, restructuring and commercial litigation.
What challenges has the pandemic created in your specific area of work?
As a bankruptcy/restructuring lawyer, in-person initial consultations are critical. Principals of troubled companies are often in denial and stressed, requiring a level of face-to-face reassurance to come to terms with the reality confronting them. The current climate discouraging or prohibiting close personal contact is and will prove to be a hurdle.
In bankruptcy cases, debtors typically require "first day" court action to gain access to cash collateral, enter into debtor in possession financing, and pay critical vendors and employees. Because fact findings are required for approval, debtors must meet an evidentiary burden and present one or more witnesses at "first day" hearings. Although telephonic, evidentiary hearings are possible, a notary or other authorized person must be present to swear in witnesses. The inability to hold in-person, evidentiary hearings will render first day hearings cumbersome.
Furthermore, many bankruptcy cases are national in scope. Thus, even if an in-person evidentiary hearing is possible, it may not be feasible for the witnesses or lawyers to travel to the venue where the bankruptcy is pending (often New York or Delaware), given the current travel restrictions and risks.
When a Chapter 11 trustee is appointed over a business, he or she must gain physical possession and control of the business premises, records and assets. The dangers associated with traveling and engaging in person to person contact in the current environment will render it difficult for trustees to fulfill their obligations.
In one case I'm aware of, a Chapter 11 trustee was recently appointed over several hospitals in three different states. She is risking her health not just by traveling to the hospitals, but also by meeting with various employees of the hospitals who themselves are at high risk of exposure to COVID-19.
How are you and your family adapting at home?
In South Florida, where I live, schools are closed through mid-April, and most offices are closed. We have two boys, who are in fourth and sixth grade. For the first week they were out of school, both were tasked with a number of at-home assignments. While it was fascinating to watch how adept they are with technology, they preferred to have their parents present and asked a lot of questions.
Working out of the house reminded me and my wife, who is also a lawyer, that a law degree is no preparation for becoming a teacher. With spring break this past week, and no homework assignments, we refereed an endless number of fights, and were further reminded that a law degree is no preparation for becoming a parent either!
What is the most creative or productive response to the crisis you've witnessed so far?
Courts have been especially helpful and understanding in the current environment. On March 18, the Florida Supreme Court, recognizing the closure of offices and risks of person to person contact, authorized notaries to notarize documents/affidavits through audio/video verification, rather than through in person meetings. This was helpful in one case in which I am serving as an expert, as it enabled me to execute an affidavit remotely, without having to go into the office.
The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.
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