opens IMAGE file 2 min read January 2021 —While COVID 19 remains an issue, reopening the courts and reinstating jury trials could be complicated. But the judicial system has discovered that cases can be tried – both online and in person – with limitations. The number of trials, the type of trials, and the length of trials will be affected. Trying an evidentiary matter on Zoom is simply not the same as trying it in person. Although many lawyers are busy preparing cases for trial, some are advising clients to wait until normalcy returns before moving forward, said Shareholder Hala Sandridge of Buchanan Ingersoll Rooney PC in an interview with Invest:.
Which particular areas of business have gained relevance during the pandemic?
Certain areas are hotter than others. Bankruptcy has obviously seen increased demand but, interestingly, not as extensively as we thought it would be by now. The general consensus is that what’s going to happen is still to come. In fact, today I just read about two large mall operators filing Chapter 11. Our bankruptcy group is preparing for an influx.
Corporate is keeping busy, and there are select opportunities for growth in certain industries. Transactions in the hospitality sector are down.
Litigation is strong and our firm’s internal numbers show it. That might seem counterintuitive: with courts closed to most trials, one would assume the litigators have reduced workloads. However, in litigation, there’s more pre-trial than trial. You try the case for two weeks but you work it up for two years.
Employment lawyers have been very busy. Our clients are just overwhelmed with employment issues. Our clients have so many questions about COVID’s impact on their employee base, about rules and regulations that are constantly changing. We have assisted many clients with layoffs and furloughs. Experience shows that in a down economy, employment claims go up.
Our healthcare practice is extremely busy. Our healthcare clients have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 rules and regulations. For many months, elective surgeries were severely limited, depriving our healthcare clients of necessary revenue. While the limitations have been lifted, the stress of COVID-19 on the financial welfare of our healthcare clients has not.
How has your practice been affected by the fact that courts remain closed and jury trials are suspended?
The judicial system is where the government provides relief for civil disputes for our clients. We are the voice of our clients and with the strain on the legal system, we have to help them find alternatives for seeking relief, other than jury trials. So for instance, a plaintiff may have been severely injured in a car wreck, and require compensation for the injuries, but receiving an award of damages is postponed because of the absence of jury trials. Many lawyers are urging their clients to try cases non-jury, or seek relief through an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, such as mediation and arbitration. So many lawyers, such as myself, whose work comes from civil jury trials, are adapting to other ways of serving our clients’ needs.
Everyone involved in the judicial system – from the clerks of the court, to the Florida Bar, to the Florida Supreme Court – are all seeking answers to how we provide justice without in-person jury trials but it’s easier said than done. Until we get to a scenario where it’s safe to impanel juries, it’s going to be limited. The first cases that will get tried will be those where a party is constitutionally entitled to a jury trial, such as in the criminal context. That means civil trials will probably not catch up for some time, affecting the work of many civil litigators.
What does the job market look like for newly graduated lawyers in South Florida?
It’s strong. Litigation is one of the areas where young people have a lot of opportunity when they graduate from law school. It’s a natural area that accommodates young lawyers; it’s hot right now and it’s going to get even hotter. We are hiring young litigators, both local and from across the country. It’s about the right person – not so much where they are from – and a focus on diversity that encompasses a lot of different things, including people from different areas of the state.
I’m a Gator, so I can say this: I don’t want a law firm filled with just Gator lawyers. That’s a lot of people with the same experience, from the same place and background, who know the same people. To me, diversity includes different people, from different places and locations in life.
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