William Savitt, who co-chairs Wachtell’s litigation department, sent a memo to clients on Monday expressing “dismay” at a “flood” of what he described as seemingly trivial lawsuits and legal demands that have come against the backdrop of mammoth disruption to virtually all aspects of society, including the judiciary, caused by the COVID-19 disease.
Savitt told Law360 on Tuesday that dealing with the virus in an optimal way “requires triage for everyone, including and in some ways especially for lawyers.”
“Lawyers, like everyone else, need to avoid insisting on priority for matters that aren’t urgent, and should avoid filing or pressing fringe cases in this environment,” Savitt said.
In the memo, Savitt said courts are fighting to keep up with necessary business — some of it related to the pandemic — and shouldn’t be further burdened with “non-urgent” litigation.
“Insisting on rules and schedules that apply in normal times in nonexpedited cases isn’t sensible, because times aren’t normal,” Savitt told Law360. “Everything will take longer in this environment, both because of the massive disruption in the way we are working and the press of newly urgent human and legal business.”
The pandemic caused by the new coronavirus has led in recent weeks to the declaration of a national emergency and a slew of court closures.
As federal and state courthouses across the country shut their doors and limit their access to the public, judges and court staff have been scrambling to keep the justice system moving, in part by switching some court proceedings to phone and video conferencing.
However, for some courts, the transition to operating remotely in this unprecedented era has been a bit of a slog as judges contend with technical glitches and learn to use new software on the fly.
At the same time, attorneys, judges, and court and legal staffers who are parents have been forced to cope with performing their usual professional tasks without the full resources of their offices and while juggling the challenge of keeping restless children educated and entertained.
All this while also mourning the loss of friends who have succumbed to the illness, fretting over those who have fallen sick, canceling long-awaited events like weddings and trying to find a sense of normalcy even as fresh horrors are reported in the news each day.
Nevertheless, some attorneys are responding to this pressure in ways that may seem counter to the legal industry's adversarial nature: They’re being nice.
As Savitt told Law360 on Tuesday, “We all have to take care of each other and that includes in the way we litigate.”
--Additional reporting by Erin Coe, Hailey Konnath, Andrew Kragie and Sarah Jarvis. Editing by Bruce Goldman.
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