Are attorneys “essential” workers during the coronavirus pandemic?
Based on responses from Valley-region lawyers, it depends. Some legal practices have prospered in the last year while others have suffered. Many attorneys told the Business Journal they feel their hands are tied by closed courts, an uncertain economy and the ever-changing regulatory rules.
The San Fernando Valley Bar Association’s attorney referral service has seen an uptick in calls for family law practitioners, along with the more obvious employment law services and landlord/tenant law.
David Jones, president of the association and an employment attorney at Lewitt Hackman in Encino, said bankruptcy law has been another constant topic for people calling in, but not as much as anticipated.
“Looking at the national and local news, and people struggling economically, we thought there would be a more significant uptick in bankruptcy, but it hasn’t really exploded yet,” explained Jones. “Word on the street for bankruptcy is that it’s coming, it’s coming imminently, like any day. Once unemployment ends, people will file for bankruptcy.”
Lewitt Hackman ranks No. 3 on the Business Journal’s list of Valley-based law firms.
Sectors of law struggling to bring in business, Jones said, included personal injury and workers’ compensation, but specifically highly compensable, significant injuries.
“Some of the essential workers, you’re still seeing people operating forklifts, but the activity is so low in terms of the physical involvement of people that workers’ comp is down,” added Jones.
The Valley Bar president suspects transactional law has slowed too, a notion echoed in a study published by New York management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. that outlines lessons learned from previous downturns.
The study said transaction practices correlate more with the rest of the economy than traditional practices such as litigation and restructuring. But some industries might see opportunity while others were hampered by social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders.
“A third set of sectors that are not directly affected by COVID-19 but feel the impact of a general slowdown or a moderate uptick as people’s lives change at work and at home (such as home improvement, landscaping and consumer electronics) are experiencing muted or lumpy demand,” the report said.
According to state regulations, attorneys are deemed essential “when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities and critical sector services.”