COVID-19 has brought many changes to the practice of bankruptcy law this year, including remote work for many attorneys and supporting staff, use of telephonic and videoconference hearings and meetings, and a quick need to adapt to managing others remotely. While it is possible that some of these necessary changes may be temporary in nature, there is a growing sentiment in the industry and courts that this may become the new “normal” - even after the pandemic.
A major consequence of COVID-19, from March 2020 to the present time, has been the widespread use of remote hearings due to the restrictions on travel and social gatherings, as well as courts seeking to keep fellow attorneys and court staff healthy during this time. Hearings have mostly been handled by telephonic or video conference means, and the manner tends to vary by specific bankruptcy court or judge. For example, in the Western District of Pennsylvania, all judges have used telephonic hearings, with the added exception of one judge who has moved to video hearings thru Zoom. In addition, many 341 and confirmation hearings have been handled by telephonic means or Zoom as well.
In the Southern District of Ohio
, the Bankruptcy Court has issued an Order mandating telephonic hearings for matters before the court through October 30th, 2020. This order has been extended several times and will likely be extended again as flu season approaches and the pandemic continues. The Trustee’s Offices have also implemented telephonic 341 meetings and confirmation hearings in furtherance of the Court’s Order for telephonic hearings.
At the very beginning, the change in technology was trying for some participants, however, recent hearings have mostly been seamless. In fact, judges have remarked at times that this method for routine hearings is much more efficient and should be considered going forward.
Another change that many have experienced is performing remote work themselves during the pandemic. While there may have been some speed bumps along the way, especially at the beginning, it has since become part of the normal routine. As a result of remote work, bankruptcy attorneys are mostly working from home, as the aforementioned telephonic and video hearings depict, as most staff is as well. Therefore, attorneys, management, and staff have become used to corresponding routinely through email and over the phone, but videoconference meetings have become a new normal as well. These videoconference meetings allow attorneys and staff to “meet” face-to-face and enable the team atmosphere, similar to what one had experienced in the “old normal.” While at the beginning it took some getting used, attorneys and staff have embraced our new situation and are thriving.
Finally, one effect of the above changes that may come to pass is that less office space is necessary for firms to conduct their business at the same support levels that have existed previously. When staff and attorneys are able to work remotely, the physical footprint needed to accomplish that practice of law and operations would likely be less.
Therefore, while COVID-19 has caused many changes and inconveniences for everyone, when we look back years later, there could be some aspects of our lives that noticed a positive impact as a result of circumstances that suddenly needed to be changed. The coming months will likely see if these changes continue to take hold, or if more changes are on the way for law firms and courts, much as many didn’t see these coming to pass just a short six months ago.
This blog is not a solicitation for business and it is not intended to constitute legal advice on specific matters, create an attorney-client relationship or be legally binding in any way.