Mass killing lawyers, who tend to prefer a practical approach to complex litigation, were forced to conduct remote battle battles during Covid-19. So far, however, they have had no impact on their business results.
"Our earnings across the firm were as good or better than before the pandemic," said Jennifer Altman, partner and lawyer for mass killings at Pillsbury, Miami. Altman called this development "surprising" given the travel delays and travel restrictions that lawyers typically bill their clients for.
Pillsbury, which reportedly cut partner draws and attorney salaries in April, is not the only company that claims it has managed to stay profitable during an economic downturn that has had many problems, pennies to pinch. According to a recent survey by the legal adviser Altman Weil, a large number of law firms are reducing their ranks and reducing their office space.
"I think there was a natural expectation that the hours would flatten out for people, but that didn't happen," said Altman.
Mass murder lawyers, who typically have litigation over product liability, prescription drugs, and toxic contaminants, which can include tens of thousands of plaintiffs and lengthy court battles, take similar measures to protect their cash flow. However, during the pandemic, they face special daily challenges, as they typically rely more on personal contact to gather important information as they develop these complex cases, Altman said.
Being a mass torture lawyer means many unannounced knocking on doors and surprising interviews with potential witnesses, not to mention searching through numerous documents. It also means using court appearances to sue judges and juries, and preparing cross-exams to try to puncture opponents' evidence.
"Part of what we do is an art and part of it is a science," said Altman, who works on both the defense and plaintiffs side.
"The trick is reading a person's body language," she added to deposits, hearings, and court cases. "And you won't get the same way on a zoom call if you are physically in a room with them. Is your foot wobbling? Are you nervous? You are trained to watch all of your body language."
Long-distance court hearings also make it difficult to contact judges, which is critical in the case of mass sentences, said Richard Meadow, national leader of mass killings at the Lanier law firm.
On a long-distance call, "you are only listening and 90% silent and cannot approach the bank or ask questions," said Meadow, who represents the plaintiffs.
Who needs an office?
The pandemic has brought about change, especially through remote working, which is likely to save companies on both sides of the aisle.
The move to video conferencing is changing "the financial dynamics of large companies," said Hunter Shkolnik, partner of Napoli Shkolnik. "Large companies have to be leaner."
In many cases, this is likely to lead to a reduction in office space.
“People realized that we can do things at home. Office space is not so urgently needed, ”said Annesley DeGaris, founding partner of complainant DeGaris Wright McCall, who is involved in product liability lawsuits against medical device manufacturers Stryker Corp. and Depuy Synthes, as well as antitrust litigation, worked against Blue Cross Blue Shield, among others.
The plaintiff's companies, which are usually paid at the end of a case and only if they win, also save money because they do not constantly pay in advance for overland travel to juggle multiple cases, Meadow said.
"Nobody misses the airports and the commuters," he added. "Fewer court appearances, fewer trips mean less case processing costs."
Court closures and delays in legal proceedings can also result in late payment days for the plaintiff's companies. But Shkolnik said that this does not mean that both sides are more likely to talk about an agreement.
"Many of our attempts have been postponed to next year," said Meadow. "We may not get the same income or the same solution in the short term, but it will balance out in the long run."
Mass disputes have slowed down as deadlines go down in court.
"The litigation continues, but there are many things that are impossible to do in a pandemic, such as a lawsuit," said John DeBoy, special adviser at Covington & Burling LLP, who works on the defense side.
Some judges have started videoconferencing legal proceedings, which is challenging since courtroom hiring is an important part of winning a class action lawsuit, Altman said
"A lot is lost in translation," she said. "How do you communicate with a jury via Zoom or WebEx?"
DeBoy has seen some of its processes postponed. Like many lawyers for mass killings, he hopes that the world will return to normal in time so that it can be held in person.
After the pandemic, "we will return to a strong preference for litigation," he said, noting that other parts of the job, including some court conferences, may still be held remotely after Covid-19 is a distant memory.
However, this does not mean that massive legal disputes will no longer take place.
"There will still be companies arguing about important things," said Markenzy Lapointe, partner at Pillsbury. "There may have been an easy break for some, but many of us remain very busy."