Five Los Angeles attorneys on how COVID-19 is affecting the law
For some, things are simply slower; for others, their entire practice is on hold
Published in 2020 Southern California Rising Stars magazine
on April 15, 2020
Updated on May 4, 2021
It’s early April, and it’s rare to phone an attorney and not hear a child in the background. Everyone is suddenly working from home. Amid social isolation and shelter-in-place orders, it’s the new normal.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also put some practices on hold.
“Most of my cases are being continued three months out,” says Los Angeles-based criminal defense attorney Louis J. Shapiro. As for new clients? “Very few,” he says. “People aren’t going out, so crime is down. Evidently, there is an upside to the community in all of this.”
The civil side is seeing more movement—but only slightly. If the wheels of justice turn slowly under the best of circumstances, they’re now moving at a snail’s pace.
“Generally, I sue governments over action or inaction, and they’re all focused on something else right now,” says civil rights lawyer Anna Barvir at Michel & Associates in Long Beach. “They have to deal with the pandemic. There’s a lot of focus on that. Things are going at a little slower pace than might normally happen because they have to focus on these things that are coming down the pike and changing every day.”
Michael W. Davis is a bankruptcy attorney at Brutzkus Gubner in Woodland Hills. “The state court cases are on a much different holding pattern than district court cases,” he says. “Most of my district court matters— including bankruptcy—are proceeding as best they can: hearings are telephonic, etc. I would say that 15% of my practice is on hold based on the superior court orders. Federal practice is proceeding—although much differently than in the ordinary course.”
Some practice areas are busier than others. “I am a combo practice—family law and appellate attorney,” says Lisa McCall, who has an eponymous firm in Santa Ana. “So I not only have divorces I can continue to work on finalizing during this time, but I also have appellate briefs to write. … The only part of my practice on hold is court hearings.”
McCall has even recently retained five new family law clients. Were any of them the result of the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders? “Yes,” she says simply.
Samuel P. Nielson, an employment-plaintiff attorney at Sessions & Kimball in Mission Viejo, also anticipates an increase in business. “I think we may increasingly see an uptick—particularly at food processing places, distribution centers and warehouses—if there are complaints workers are making about unsafe conditions,” he says. “That, I think, will be how COVID-19 will impact [employment law] the most. Some employers won’t recognize that those are protected complaints.”
But Nielson is worried about the long-term effects of the trial backlog. “Settlements happen because of trial dates,” he says. “If you’re not going to get a trial date now for two to three years, well, what’s going to drive the settlement? The flip side is, maybe employers realize, ‘Hey, this is going to be a three-year-long process … let’s just resolve it now.’ So it depends on the approach the employer takes.”
Most of the attorneys anticipate some tech innovations will continue into a post-COVID legal world. “The courts were very ill-equipped to deal with this,” Shapiro says. “Moving forward, expect every courtroom to have video-monitoring capability.” Los Angeles County has already installed video conferencing equipment, he adds.
“The pandemic is teaching people that they can effectively work from home,” Davis says. “This may flow into firms and businesses reevaluating how much physical office space is necessary.”
As for what people are missing most? It’s usually other people. “I miss seeing everyone: fellow criminal lawyers, prosecutors, judges and court staff,” says Shapiro. “I can’t wait to put my suit and tie back on and save Metropolis.”
COVID-19: An Early Timeline
- January 7: China announces it has identified a new coronavirus; early reports indicate there is no clear evidence it is communicable.
- January 13: First case outside of China is confirmed in Thailand.
- January 20: First U.S. case is confirmed in Seattle.
- January 25: First California case is confirmed in Orange County.
- March 4: First California death attributed to COVID-19.
- March 4: Gov. Gavin Newsom declares state of emergency .
- March 16: Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye issues statement providing guidance in facilitating the submission, review and approval of requests for court closures.
- March 16-18: Various county courts, including Humboldt, Los Angeles, San Bernadino, San Francisco and San Mateo, suspend non-essential courtroom services for 30 days.
- March 19: Gov. Newsom issues statewide shelter-in-place orders. More than half the state’s population was already under such orders at the county level.
- March 23: Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye suspends all jury trials in California’s superior courts for 60 days.
For more information and articles for legal professionals navigating COVID-19 as it relates to their law practice and clients, visit FindLaw’s COVID-19 resource center or visit superlawyers.com/articles (search for COVID-19).