As the ripple effect of Covid-19 continues to unfold daily, it’s blatantly clear that no industry will emerge from this pandemic unscathed. With court closings slowing down the wheels of justice, attorneys are helping clients navigate uncharted legal waters triggered by the coronavirus.
Several local attorneys discuss how they’re shifting to meet client needs during the pandemic.
Kenneth Snow, managing partner, The Snow Legal Group
Attorney Kenneth Snow has practiced law since the early 2000s, after earning his law degree from North Carolina Central University. In his current role, Snow focuses largely on personal injury and criminal matters.
Q. What challenges have you encountered since the onset of Covid-19?
Many clients are concerned that because the court is not operating as normal, cases aren’t being worked on. Even though I’m not in court every day, I’m still at my office working. Clients should rest assured that lawyers haven’t forgotten about our responsibility to our clients.
Not all of the court has been shut down. Some matters are still being heard — things like first appearances, bond hearings and domestic violence restraining orders — so we still get lots of calls on those cases.
Some of our clients are in custody awaiting resolution of a case. Of course, they’re concerned because the current circumstances are causing them to have to wait longer. What we’re trying to do is keep our clients in the loop regarding what their court dates may be and assure them that this won’t impact their cases negatively other than taking a longer time to resolve.
Q. How has your office adjusted to meet clients’ needs?
We’re offering free consultations, and clients are contacting us more through teleconference rather than coming into the office. We’re utilizing things like Zoom and FaceTime more than we have in the past.
Last I checked, we have approximately 300 clients currently being served by three attorneys. We haven’t seen any impact on our caseload at this point, but we anticipate seeing something within the next couple of weeks regarding the number and type of new clients we receive. In general, I think lawyers are bracing for the impact.
With criminal practice slowed down somewhat over the past several weeks, we’re focusing more on the personal injury side of our practice. We hope that this opportunity allows us to resolve these cases more quickly.
Q. How do you see the pandemic influencing the legal industry post-coronavirus?
I’m hoping that because the court will experience some backlog, civil and criminal cases will be resolved more favorably without litigation. Long term, I think parties on both sides will be more interested in getting these matters resolved because they understand the impact of the virus on our system.
Faith Fox, managing partner, The Cochran Firm Charlotte
Inspired by her own involvement in family court without legal representation, Attorney Faith Fox entered the legal profession in 2016 as a solo practitioner focused on the areas of family and personal injury law.
She recently landed the managing partner role at The Cochran Firm Charlotte, the first North Carolina office linked to the national firm founded by the late Johnnie Cochran. Although the new position shifts her focus to personal injury and civil rights cases, her heart for the impact of legal matters on families remains unchanged.
Q. Any trends in the types of cases you’ve seen since the stay-at-home order went into effect?
Most of the calls I’ve had since Covid-19 have been employment law cases. Unfortunately, employers are finding ways to discriminate against their employees. I’ve been getting calls from people with problems that I’ve never encountered before. I’m sure this is the case with a lot of offices and different areas of law — specifically with employment where people are picking and choosing who gets to work from home.
We offer some understanding and give the person advice on how to deal with their supervisor moving forward. Not only do you need to be careful about what you’re alleging, but you also have to be mindful that North Carolina is an at-will state. (In general, employers can fire employees for any reason or no reason at all unless there’s an employee contract or a specific law to protect employees.) It’s one of those situations where you basically have to tell people to monitor and make note of what’s happening.
Q. What advice can you give about handling legal matters during this time?
I think it’s really important, not just during Covid-19, that if people have a matter they believe has legal ramifications that they seek legal counsel right away.
The law is very tricky, even for a lawyer. There’s new case law that comes out all the time that may impact how a case is ruled, so you don’t want to trust yourself with that information. If nothing else, I just wish people would at least schedule the consultation. Some consultations are free.
Guy Cousins and Bryan Parker, founding partners, The Freedmen Law Group
Focusing on business and family/estate law, respectively, Guy Cousins and Bryan Parker represent one half of the founding partner team of The Freedmen Law Group.
Inspired by the Freedmen’s Bureau that helped millions of former Black slaves and poor whites in the South following the Civil War, The Freedmen Law Group combines legal services and education to holistically support the Charlotte community.
Q. Has the pandemic changed anything about the way your firm operates?
Parker: Covid-19 has presented some unique opportunities for us to reach out to people via social media. Freedmen’s Happy Hour is a way to connect with the community and other law professionals to allow individuals to get answers to legal questions. Education, we believe, is so important, and we want to break down that wall.
Our firm has been unique in its focus on keeping the community informed. At least once per quarter, we offer the Freedom Fellowship, a series of free seminars to educate the community about various facets of law.
With social distancing, we’re looking at creative ways of forming more partnerships. We view the Freedmen’s Happy Hour as a start to that process. We’re constantly brainstorming ways to compile resources and get that information out to the community. With the legacy of the Freedmen’s Bureau, we’re trying to carry that out, especially in times like this.
Cousins: Part of the character of our firm is trying to be a bridge to resources. When we think about pivoting, [Freedmen’s Fellowship] may be something we do more frequently.
One of our taglines is “of you, for you, with you,” and we are of the community in which we serve. We came together knowing that our people, specifically, are lacking information. We take that very seriously…[and] partner with mental-health service providers and churches as well as hosting free financial seminars and tenant-landlord clinics. This is probably our favorite part of what we do.
We expect that business will look different on the other side of Covid-19. All of the actions we’re taking now are gearing up for larger plays.
Q. What advice can you give about handling legal matters during this time?
Parker: Patience is a word I’ve been using with a lot of clients during this time. To ease frustration, I encourage clients to use all resources available, including attorneys and nccourts.gov.
Cousins: For small-business owners and entrepreneurs, this is an opportunity to recalibrate. Look at your business plan to see what you have, assess changes you need to make — with a keen eye on technology and getting your records in order so that you come out with a more efficient operation on the other side.
Editor’s Note: Responses have been edited for brevity.