We are living in unprecedented times. Amidst the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, much of the world has come to a standstill. And yet, people are still getting injured at work, at home and elsewhere every day. When they do, they are often confused about what steps to take next in this chaotic and confusing time.
For example, one question we here at Enjuris have been wondering is: Are law firms considered essential businesses?
To get to the bottom of this question and more — and to help better understand how coronavirus shutdowns are impacting the legal sector and injury plaintiffs in various states — we asked each of our Enjuris Premier Attorney Members a few questions about how their team and their clients are coping during the pandemic.
Here’s what Arizona workers’ compensation attorney Robert Wisniewski of Law Offices of Robert E. Wisniewski had to say.
Q: Are law firms and legal services considered “essential businesses” in Arizona?
A: On March 19, 2020, Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey issued an Executive Order limiting the public’s access to restaurants, theaters, gyms, fitness clubs, bars and the like. Subsequently, by Executive Order, on March 23rd, the governor detailed a listing of Essential Services.
Professional services, including law offices, are exempt from this closure order and are considered “essential services.”
Even though they can remain open, law firms and other “essential services” businesses must practice social distancing, refrain from hand shaking, maintain a distance, sanitize surfaces regularly, wash hands frequently and take other appropriate precautions. The order also encouraged “telework” or working from home, if feasible, or using electronic video conferencing.
Q: How has coronavirus affected your law firm and your clients?
A: Our firm complies with all COVID-19 safety measures.
While we are physically closed to the public at our entrance, we continue to accept mail and we go to the post office to get mail. As always, we certainly accept emails, Dropbox documents and teleconferencing to maintain operations, yet we have continued with social distancing. We haven’t seen a client since approximately March 18th. We even began practicing social distancing guidelines before the governor’s order.
I’m proud to say that we’ve been able to efficiently and safely maintain the practice.
At all times, select employees can work from home with their computers or they can stagger their work hours or work days so that there is somebody in the office physically every day. All essential operations and representation of the clients are running smoothly.
Q: What expectations do your clients have regarding their case?
A: All of our clients want their workers’ compensation checks sent to them or delivered in a timely manner. Our office manager and the lawyers enter the office daily to read mail, route important documents, as well as write and mail client checks. All client conferences, including new clients, are now done by video conferencing or telephone contact.
We’ve found that by literally having the front door shut, there are no interruptions and we are just as (if not more) efficient in serving our clients.
We use direct mail or direct deposit, so clients’ checks are expedited to them. We mail all our clients’ checks that don’t have direct deposit, but have a deposit slip preprinted on file with us. We’ve told clients that there will be a delay due to the closure of the Industrial Commission of Arizona building for all initial hearings.
For cases that are in litigation, they are being concluded by video conference. We’ve advised our clients that it will likely be after May before the Industrial Commission will resume in-person hearings. But for now, initial hearings have been moved out to a later date. Prior to that, the applicant will testify live at the Industrial Commission, so the judge can address credibility.
We want all of our clients to rest assured that we are taking care of their case without interruption. We haven’t missed a beat in client care and representation.
In fact, being closed to the public has allowed us to avoid interruptions and unscheduled appointments, thereby making us even more efficient. We hope to maintain such efficiency when the virus sanctions are lifted.
Q: What would you like prospective clients to know during this crisis?
A: We want you to know that your phone call will be promptly handled if you contact us. By eliminating a reception desk, your call now goes directly to the case manager on new cases and directly to the paralegal handling the respective lawyer’s files. Our paralegals work from home on Fridays and the phone calls are routed to their home through our secure phone system. They’re also able to access the database, emails and correspondence whenever they are physically not in the office.
We also continue to send and receive mail. We receive faxes and texts. Mail is picked up daily, read and handled immediately, and checks go out. Our clients simply need to know that everything is moving the best we can and moving very fast under the circumstances.
Q: What’s the best way for people to reach you during this time?
A: The best way to contact us is whatever method you have available to you. Some existing clients don’t have smartphones, but our main phone number remains open for calls and you will be routed to the particular extension of the individual handling your file.
If you’re a prospective client who is looking for legal advice, your call will go directly to our case manager 24 hours a day. Whatever method you have available to you — telephone, text, fax or email — feel confident that you can get a hold of us (in both Spanish and English).