• David Slarskey

2020: The Summer of COVID


Nearly ten years ago, I served as Secretary for the New York State Bar Association's Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession. The Task Force was convened in the wake of the 2008 economic downturn, to formulate a vision for necessary and inevitable changes to the profession. The report we delivered outlined four key areas where changes were expected to occur: (i) Law Firm Structure and Billing; (ii) Educating and Training New Lawyers; (iii) Work-Life Integration and the Practice of Law; and (iv) Technology and the Practice of Law.

Few could have envisioned the immediate effects a global pandemic would have on legal practice. But nearly a decade after the Task Force delivered its report, so many of its predictions and recommendations appear prophetic today. And indeed, over the last five years, our firm practice has been built on a willingness to take those recommendations seriously. This has placed us in a better position to serve clients, compete in the marketplace, and grow into the future -- especially during this global crisis.

Here are a few ways we are poised to grow into the future, and how we are finding silver linings during this Summer of COVID:

Law Firm Structure and Billing. We have built a flexible, scaleable practice that relies on a core team of dedicated lawyers, while leveraging relationships and "flex-time" attorneys who provide us with the bandwidth needed to litigate large disputes. Clients rely on us to manage distributed teams that are built on a low-overhead model, while retaining the best of what clients expect from large, sophisticated law firms, i.e., lawyers who have fought the fights and have the experience and wisdom to provide sound, strategic counsel in search of optimized results. The addition of Renee Bea to our practice earlier this year is an enormous step forward in this respect.

As for billing, we recognize that now more than ever, some clients need counsel who are prepared to share risk, and align interests, in pursuit of excellent results. Along with traditional arrangements, we are also well-suited to serve clients who are thinly-capitalized, with strong claims and defenses against solid counterparties. Those dynamics allow us to share risk and reap the rewards alongside of clients who we authentically believe in, and whose success is our success as well.

Educating and Training New Lawyers. We had a number of law students join in with our pro bono COVID efforts. This summer, Evan Fried has been instrumental in integrating and providing mentorship to two terrific law students, Tyler Kamperschroer (Cardozo) and Samuel Dayan (NYU). We strongly believe that the best way for new lawyers to learn to practice is through practice. And student participation helps us provide better service, as well: "That's the way we've always done it" no longer provides justification (if it ever did). Tyler, Sam, and other law students with whom we have worked provide fresh eyes, new ideas, and a perspective on problem-solving that demands all of our attention.

Together with the help of several law students, we were able to help more than two dozen small businesses, freelancers, and individuals throughout the tri-state area, counseling them through the COVID crisis and helping them resolve disputes so that they could turn their attention back to the priorities that they and their businesses face in the wake of this ongoing pandemic. It has been a privilege to work with these clients, and was a pleasure to include local law students from NYU and Cardozo.

Work-Life Integration and the Practice of Law. If COVID has meant anything, it has meant the full realization of work-life integration principles. Our team has been practicing from Brooklyn, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Southern Maryland -- all in seamless fashion, without missing a beat. Getting rid of the commute (by necessity!) has enabled people to recapture hours in their day, and work on their own time, in their own ways. Our office in the Graybar Building at Grand Central Terminal, new at the end of 2019, is a bit of a lonely reminder that the most important asset of a law firm is the experience and creativity of its lawyers: not its real estate.

Technology and the Practice of Law. We have been taking depositions, meeting clients, and making court appearances by videoconference -- a curiosity only five months ago that is now routine! While the courts were slow for a few months, the dockets are now moving, and we are pushing them forward! The tools, borne out of necessity, actually give us greater force and power.

So What are the Results? We are gaining speed, getting stronger, and growing! Picking up new clients who see the value that we offer, particularly in our willingness to do things in new and different ways. Since COVID struck, we haven't slowed a bit: Multiple new proceedings filed in state court, federal court, and AAA arbitration proceedings, in the areas of real estate, business divorce, professional negligence, and complex contract disputes. We have been recognized for our pro bono COVID efforts, incorporating law students into our practice. We are taking depositions, making court appearances, and planning for hearings scheduled in the fall. We have settled several disputes. And we're doing it all while marveling at the rapidly changing world around us.

The future of the profession is here.


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