The Personal Injury Lawyer’s Guide to Embracing Change in the Age of COVID-19

Issue May/June 2020 June 2020 By Robert E. Mazow and Robert J. Hartigan
Young Lawyers Division Section Review
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From left: Robert E. Mazow and Robert J. Hartigan

It was only a few months ago that we were ringing in the new decade and sharing our goals and plans for 2020. We were hosting Super Bowl parties and awaiting spring. It had barely snowed this winter, which meant personal injury firms were getting fewer calls for car accidents and slips and falls. What we didn’t know was that our personal and professional lives were about to be turned upside down by a worldwide pandemic.

As we write this article, our firm (like many others) is working remotely from home. Our team has not been together at the office since March 16. Now, the only time we see each other is for 15 minutes during our daily Zoom videoconferences.

COVID-19’s impact on the justice system is profound. The courts have been closed to the public (except for emergency purposes), and both civil and criminal jury trials are postponed until at least July 1. Some civil jury trials are being rescheduled well into 2021, and it remains to be seen how jury trials will even operate following social distancing guidelines.

Many physical therapy, chiropractic and other medical offices have shut down, and people are avoiding going to therapy for fear of contracting the virus. Those who are open have shifted the way that they conduct therapy to keep their patients and themselves safe.

In order for our firms to survive, we must learn how to adapt and embrace technology more than ever.

Managing the “Virtual” Operation

Massachusetts has slowly started to reopen. As we navigate through each phase of the reopening, it is expected that there will be apprehension among our colleagues and potential clients to meet in person. In the meantime, consider having daily meetings with your staff members and setting weekly goals on what you want everyone to accomplish. Invest in a laptop that allows you to have videoconferences. Also, the benefit of having dual monitors at home and a scanner cannot be overstated. And if your office is not paperless, now is the perfect time to look into making that transition.

Keep in mind that many insurance adjusters are also working remotely. Offers are being made and cases are settling. Be open to the idea of doing depositions, mediations and arbitrations via Zoom. Keep your cases moving as best you can.

Reaching Out to Clients

Most people have felt isolated for the past six weeks — some of them are your clients. Now is the time that you should be reaching out to your clients (former and current) just to say hello. Some of them might be alone in their homes and looking for someone to chat with for a few minutes. Send a card in the mail to let them know that you are there if they need you. Remember, they came to you looking for help during a difficult time in their lives and trust that you will be there for them. Let your clients know that you are still working on their case.

Keeping Track of Your Client’s Treatment

There is no doubt that in the coming months, there will be insurance adjusters evaluating claims and pointing out to you that your client “stopped treating” during the shutdown. To minimize that as best you can, consider having your clients complete a daily log that describes their pain level, difficulty with tasks, and any home exercises they completed at home as part of their treatment plan. One of our paralegals, Lisbette Santos, created a form that helps keep track of how our clients are dealing with their injuries while isolated at home. Similar to a journal, a daily log can help rebut the adjuster’s “gap in treatment” argument.

Returning to the Office

As we leave our makeshift home offices and return to work, there will be plenty of questions regarding day-to-day operations: Should everyone wear masks and gloves while at work? Should desks be moved farther apart? Should staff work in shifts? For some of us, the transition might be easy. But for others, it could be more challenging to adjust. Be sure to reach out to your brothers and sisters and see if they need a hand. Give back to the older generation lawyers (who might not be tech savvy) by offering them some guidance on technological resources to help them keep their practices going.

The world has changed and our profession must adapt. Hopefully we will soon see one another in the halls of the courthouses and at opposite sides of tables for depositions. But until then, we must work together to help our firms survive and keep the wheels of justice moving. 

Robert E. Mazow is a principal in the law firm of Mazow & McCullough PC in Salem, which was established in 2003. He practices exclusively personal injury and class action law on behalf of plaintiffs. Prior to that, he was an assistant district attorney in Essex County. He received his Juris Doctorate from New England School of Law in 1994 and his Bachelor of Science from Union College in 1990.

Robert J. Hartigan has been litigating personal injury matters since being admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 2016. He is a graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been an associate at Mazow | McCullough in Salem since 2018, where his practice focuses on personal injury litigation and trials. He represents individuals and their families in a variety of cases involving motor vehicle collisions, premises liability and wrongful death.