As the anniversary of the Covid pandemic’s arrival in the United States approaches, our firm and its staff met to discuss the effects that it has had on our practice. Specifically, we discussed how office business was conducted, and the changes in the manner of our practice due to government restrictions and conscientious health safety practice. While we look forward to restoring our normal operations as soon as vaccinations are readily available and our nation approaches herd immunity, there have been several takeaways from the last year that will better enable our firm to better serve current and prospective clients going forward.
During 2020, our staff came up with different and innovative methods of obtaining information for bankruptcy consultations. Usually, documents such as tax returns, paystubs and creditor communications were provided at the initial in-person consultation. Leiden & Leiden adapted to socially-distanced consultations by providing a written checklist of necessary information to prospective clients to better enable them to prepare for a phone consultation. Our attorneys were then able to review this information in advance of the consultation, which made it easier to identify the primary problems so that the phone consultations were more focused and efficient. This procedure was well-received by potential clients as well and will be continued going forward when possible.
When available, our attorneys were able to have same day “pre—consultations” with prospective clients. While documents and other necessary information were not available for these “pre—consultations”, it did give the attorneys the opportunity to identify the specific issues of concern (such as a foreclosure or garnishment) and determine whether or not a more detailed phone consultation to discuss bankruptcy options should be held later. This also enabled the attorneys and callers to determine if bankruptcy was not a preferred option, so that no time was wasted by the prospective client with a later “full consultation” if a bankruptcy would not help them.
Because our office was not open to client meetings, procedures were established so that clients and the attorneys could teleconference and sign bankruptcy petitions and related paperwork. The bankruptcy petition was prepared in advance and mailed to the client to review at their own pace, in the comfort of their own home. The attorney and client would then go through the paperwork during a teleconference, at which time the client could ask questions and suggest changes to the paperwork. Since the conference was conducted over the phone, this could also be done after normal business hours. Even when Leiden & Leiden reopens for traditional business, this may be a procedure used in certain unique or emergency circumstances where clients would have difficulty coming to the office.
Bankruptcy court hearings were also held telephonically, which was a great convenience for our bankruptcy clients. The entire federal court system and all of its employees deserve credit for modifying their normal procedure to protect the health and safety of the participants, while at the same time allowing for the normal administration of cases. Because of the telephonic hearings, no time from work had to be missed, and clients with small children at home did not have to make arrangements for their care. Leiden and Leiden clients were given a full briefing of what to expect during a telephonic court hearing, and the general feedback was that they were comfortable with the telephonic court process. Obviously, the courts will resume normal operations when there are no Covid – related safety concerns, but this was an exceptional accommodation during the crisis which allowed the cases to move forward just like normal.
Like everyone else, we are looking forward to the end of the pandemic so that we can do business with current and prospective clients as we have done in the past. We also look forward to seeing smiles instead of masks on our current clients. But with an end to the pandemic in sight, we thought that it would be worthwhile to reflect on what we have learned, and how we can better serve our clients going forward.