A Q&A on how COVID-19 is Affecting One Texas Firm

Houston appellate attorney Jeff Nobles on working from home

Published in 2020 Texas Super Lawyers Magazine

How is COVID-19 affecting your individual practice?

Some of my work is very hands-on, working on briefs, and that part won’t be too different. I work with other lawyers on bigger lawsuits, so a lot of that has been virtual because I’m working with lawyers in other offices. Even then, if it’s the same office these days, it’s much more common to communicate through computer than face-to-face. think my practice has been computer-centered for a long time. Dealing with clients is mostly by email these days, or other forms of electronic communication, so the hands-on part of it probably isn’t too different. The solitude of working from home is a lot different. It’s easier to focus, in some ways—if you set aside the fact that we’re in a pandemic.

What about court dates?

For a lot of my work, deadlines have already been set. The Supreme Court of Texas, they have closed their building, and people must be working from home. The courts of appeals in Texas, I don’t know what all of them are doing, but I’m sure they’re coping depending on how dense the population center is. I’ve had a couple cases set for hearings in other cities in the coming two weeks. One was in the city of Odessa, and that courthouse is closed for many purposes for the rest of March. I have a hearing in a smaller town, Sweetwater in Nolan County, and they’re practicing social distancing but they’re not rescheduling hearings. But air travel is problematic. This morning, we contacted the court in Sweetwater, and informed them were going to reschedule the hearing.

How are you doing, personally?

I have Type 1 diabetes. I’ve got medical advice that I’ve got to keep something of a quarantine, and I’m self-quarantined right now. My health is fine, but I don’t think I should be flying. Fortunately, other lawyers and clients have been very understanding of that. But, in the long term, if this were to last for 18 months, as some are saying, it would really be hard for me to do what I’m doing if I can’t travel by air.

How is COVID-19 affecting the firm?

For all of us, being busy and having work to do helps psychologically. Part of that means thinking about ways that clients still need representation right now. A lot of businesses are more focused, as we are, on managing the crisis rather than their usual business. There are some needs that clients have this week, and will have in coming weeks. And our way of communicating with clients about that is going to present new challenges and opportunities.

I don’t think small firms are getting the same advice about working from home that large firms, like mine, have done. We are open for business, but we’re all working remotely. Fortunately, we have the resources to do that.

Do you have any advice for other attorneys?

Basically: Don’t watch the news more than you need to. And get up at the right time—my commute is a lot easier now. Also, keep a to-do list, try to stay organized and focused on what needs to be done. This week, there have been a lot of tasks, so it hasn’t been very hard to stay focused. If this lasts for a while, it will be even more important to keep yourself centered, and hope that everyone else can do the same. A law firm appellate practice requires other people to practice law with. So, I’ve tried to stay in touch with friends and clients by sending texts and emails. I don’t think you can overemphasize how important it is to try to stay in touch with the people you know, even if you’re not currently working with them. Those are ways to try to do business as usual right now. In the short term, it’ll be easier than as time goes on—for all of us.

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).

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