The unfolding of the COVID-19 virus episode has been the weirdest experience in my lifetime. I remember the courthouse bombing by Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City and commercial jets hitting the Twin Towers on 9/11, but those were one day events.
The corona virus is different because it continues from day to day and all of us are potential victims. You see young people dying on breathing machines and you realize your family is not safe.
At first the virus seemed like just a bad version of the flu and I dismissed it, but as I kept reading news reports I realized this was different and it was heading our way. Then it became apparent that all my staff would soon be working from home.
Our attorneys have always been able to work from home, but not the paralegals. I scrambled to purchase computers and then raced to my tech vendor set them up. Thankfully we got the job done just before daycare services closed so all our staff can work from home.
On March 19th our Chapter 13 Trustee, Kathleen Laughlin, held a Zoom conference with 32 attorneys across the state, and she explained that her court hearings would continue on Zoom. Last week the Chapter 7 trustees declared that their hearings would be conducted by telephone. So, the good news is that court hearings will go during this period of social distancing.
Four years ago I started a one-man campaign to allow clients to sign bankruptcy petitions using digital signatures. This blog was instrumental in getting that message across, and two years ago our brave judge, Thomas Saladino, agreed that it was time to allow debtors to sign their bankruptcy petitions digitally.
Nebraska is the first and only state to implement a permanent rule allowing digital signatures. In a state that spans 450 miles across, that rule change has allowed us to serve clients in all 93 Nebraska counties.
Now that attorneys nationwide cannot personally meet with clients to sign petitions, 43 bankruptcy courts recently issued temporary orders allowing for digital signatures and more are expected to allow it soon. This blog lead the way.
I participated in four bankruptcy hearings by Zoom last week, and I now interview new clients via Zoom right in their living room. Then I conducted a case signing using Zoom and shared my screen with the client who could see me typing in his responses and he could view the same documents I viewed on my screen. He said it was amazing, and it really was.
In many ways, the COVID-19 crisis has forced us to become better communicators and to utilize technology that was at our fingertips all along. Sometimes it takes a crisis to move forward. I doubt we will ever go back to the old ways again.
So, our firm is open. We are answering every call and responding to every email. Sometimes I work in my office apart from other employees, and sometimes I work in my home office. But wherever I or my staff works, we are all working full time every day and we can service new and existing clients thanks to our technology investments.
It’s going to be a wild year. Today we are scared. Tomorrow we start to pick up the pieces of our businesses and protect what remains from the claims of creditors. Whatever comes, our firm stands ready to serve.