Technology bridged the gap between lawyer and client
As COVID-19 continues, attorneys are using what they have learned from this time to better communicate and be more efficient toward client needs.
Firms and the court system are still experiencing the effects of the pandemic but are learning to adapt to the ongoing changes.
Glasz Law, a firm at 27th and Y in Lincoln, only has seven employees and decided it was not necessary for employees to leave the office during the pandemic.
Tyler Egenes started out organizing files for Glasz Law and meeting with clients until he became a full-time lawyer after he graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Law School in September.-
Many firms turned to online conferences to settle cases and numerous firms have kept an online presence with their clients.
“A lot of criminal docket calls and temporary custody hearings are settled over Zoom,” Egenes said. “It is really only the final hearings and trials that they are doing in person.”
In large counties like Douglas and Lancaster, masks are to be worn in the courtroom unless the judge says otherwise. In smaller counties around Nebraska, masks are not mandated but recommended to be worn. In the end, it is a judge’s courtroom and up to them if they want occupants to be wearing masks.
Christie Bender, criminal traffic division manager for Lancaster County, said the time it takes to complete cases online is similar to the time it would take in person.
“I would say it isn’t speeding us up or getting us behind (in cases),” Bender said. “It’s about the same as everyone standing in the courtroom.”
Transitioning from meeting clients in person and being physically present in court hearings to seeing people and settling cases through a computer screen was a difficult change for some.
“For a lot of people it was transitioning to online,” Egenes said when asked of the struggles that law firms faced during the pandemic. “It was pretty easy in this office; we transitioned well but I know a lot of people didn’t.”
Darren Peckney, a litigation lawyer at Johnson and Peckney at 19th and Farnam streets in Omaha, said that most of the time lawyers and judges met online for the case to proceed.
“A lot of the time in civil cases, clients do not even need to show up,” Peckney said. “A lot of judges kind of liked having them (cases) done virtually.”
Peckney and Johnson have 14 people working at their firm and never closed their office during the pandemic but set everyone up to work from home if that is what they chose.
“95% of all of our client contact was over the phone,” Peckney said.
For Peckney’s firm, it was difficult to find clients during the pandemic. He said that because money was tight during those times, divorces were pushed back and there were fewer DUI’s because fewer people were on the roads.
Glasz Law’s client retention rate increased during the pandemic because many that could not afford a lawyer now could because of the federal stimulus checks.
Earlier in the pandemic, Douglas and Lancaster County courts did get behind on dockets, which are calendars of pending cases. They are now gradually returning back to normal and getting on track.
The courthouses in Lincoln and Omaha never completely shut down in the height of the pandemic but virtual hearings happened more often. All cases that involve juries are settled in person.
Nick Glasz, a criminal and family attorney at his firm, found using technology to be more efficient.
“We merged law and technology,” Glasz said. “We do a lot of virtual hearings and it makes it easier for us to practice in rural areas.”
Using technology to get through hearings and cases was something that was never considered before the pandemic. Attorneys and the court system adjusted their practices to maintain quality and efficiency.
“I never would have thought pre-pandemic that we could have done a lot of these hearings and a lot of this stuff virtually,” Peckney said. “It’s possible to have a lot of these things done virtually to save time and expenses.”