Law360 (February 11, 2021, 2:00 PM EST) -- Weber Gallagher Chair Andy Indeck recently spoke to Law360 about how his firm has been adapting to remote work and where he expects to see litigation spikes for companies and health care providers in 2021 as the country continues to grapple with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How has Weber Gallagher adapted to life during COVID-19?
It wasn't a huge sea change for us, because we were already promoting a partial work-from-home environment before the pandemic. We had gone down the road of hybrid offices, where people had what we call 'hotel' or 'visiting' offices, and we were softly encouraging our attorneys to start working from home.
We already had the structure well in place to go fully remote when March hit and we had to fully shut our offices, so the transition was relatively seamless. The biggest adjustment came for staff, most of whom were still working full-time in the office. They had to get used to working from home, which involved a degree of realignment.
We have seen no reason since March to change. We have not encouraged people to come back into the office, nor have we discouraged it; we have been mindful of the local guidelines in the jurisdictions in which we operate. There is no hard-set date in the future for us to 'go back to normal.' And honestly, we hope our 'new normal' looks closer to our current situation, where people are splitting their time between home and the office.
Do you think courts will continue relying on virtual hearings?
I believe courts are going to keep this virtual approach indefinitely. It makes too much sense. I would carve out from that both jury trials and bench trials, because there are some pragmatic concerns with those. But in terms of conferences, mediations, arbitrations, motions and case management conferences, I think those will shift to online events. They are much more efficient, both from the court's perspective and a billing perspective.
From a client's perspective, as well, I think once they see that matters can be handled without paying for travel time and waiting-in-court time, they will be pushing for this as well. We are very cognizant of that potential change in our practices going into the future.
Where has the firm seen the biggest increase in work?
The main area where we have certainly seen a significant increase is workers' comp. Those claims are immediate: when a worker contracts COVID-19, those claims are brought quickly.
As far as more long-term matters, I think those will start to come to fruition in 2021, all the different components of what COVID may produce in terms of civil liability claims. Med mal comes to mind right away. I think we can definitely expect to see health care providers facing various claims arising out of COVID, unless there is some sort of broad immunity granted by future legislation. Given the political landscape, it now seems less likely that we will see that.
Certainly, I also expect an increase in premises liability claims, brought by people who claim they were exposed to COVID at a particular site. Product liability claims are another area where we may see more activity. On top of that, I think we will see employment-based claims. How did an employer treat its employees? Did they require employees to come into the office, or permit them to work from home? Did they take steps to accommodate employees' disabilities during this time? We can expect to see all these questions come up.
How has the firm kept attorneys connected?
We have an awful lot of Zoom social events, which to me are a far cry from in-person, but they do help us connect in a formal environment.
We have had Zoom happy hours where some of our people who are musicians have given impromptu concerts. We have held wine tastings and cheese pairings, and we also had best-selling author Lisa Scottoline give a presentation during a virtual holiday event for our clients. Lisa spoke about life as an attorney-turned-author, what inspires her as a writer, and she answered a variety of questions with her signature humorous flair. We have definitely gotten creative.
What about you personally? Any new or revived hobbies?
I have taken up playing guitar. I told my wife it would be a long, dark winter and I need something to do, so I bought an electric guitar and started learning. As for bands and genres, it has been all rock music, and ZZ Top songs seem to keep coming up as those are the ones I'm capable of learning and enjoy playing. It has definitely kept me somewhat grounded and sane.
--Editing by Marygrace Murphy.
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