Interview: How Did Your Law Firm Adapt to COVID-19

June 24th, 2020

How Flager & Associates Adapted to COVID-19

Adam Flager was interviewed by Casey Meraz, host of the Lawyer Mastermind Podcast, to discuss how Flager & Associates adapted to COVID-19 and the business restrictions associated with the pandemic. During their conversation, they covered the status of new client intake, the switch from in-office to remote work, case management software, how to effectively communicate internally and with clients, and more.

Watch the conversation between Adam and Casey below:

For the audio-only version, click here.

Read the transcript below:

Casey Meraz:
Hey everyone, I’m Casey Meraz with the Legal Marketing Mastermind Podcast, where we dive into the weeds of practicing attorneys and subject matter experts to find out what’s driving business to successful law firms. And today I’m thankful to be joined by Adam Flager. Adam, thank you for joining me today.

Adam Flager:
Thank you for having me.

Casey Meraz:
Absolutely. And you know, as I understand it, you run a personal injury and municipal law firm, those are your two primary practice areas?

Adam Flager:
Correct? So personal injury being motor vehicle accidents, slip and falls, dangerous products, things like that. And then municipal law being representing local municipalities in Bucks County.

Casey Meraz:
Okay, got it. And then just for purposes of the conversation, are you doing soft tissue cases or serious injury, wrongful death on the personal injury side?

Adam Flager:
We kind of do it all. I’d like if everything was on the serious side, but you get cases that are soft tissue, but you get broken bones, you get surgeries, you get wrongful death and everything in between.

Casey Meraz:
Got it. Okay, cool. So it sounds like you handle a little bit of everything. So let’s dive into that aspect first. How has I guess new client intake been? Have you still been seeing new leads coming in?

Adam Flager:
It’s definitely reduced and that is industry-wide. That’s not just our firm, that’s that’s across the board. Obviously we don’t want people to get into accidents and be injured, but at the end of the day that happens and if that does happen, we want to be the ones that represent them and fight for them. So that’s definitely down, there’s far fewer people on the roads and if there’s less people out and about there’s less people getting into accidents and we’ve definitely seen that. It hasn’t completely stopped, obviously there are still people on the roads, but there has been a noticeable decrease.

Casey Meraz:
Sure. Yeah, and that’s what I’ve heard and seen as well. And so that’s one side of the business. And then of course the other side is just running the firm. Was firm totally based in-office before this happened or did you have any remote employees?

Adam Flager:
No employees were completely remote, but everyone was already able to work remotely and it depended on the employee as to how much they would use remote access. But we were all set up for that because it’s just an inevitable thing that sometimes you do need to work from home and we wanted everyone to have that capability, whether that’s, I would use it personally if I had a hearing in court or something going on in court and did it really make sense for me to go back to the office for maybe two hours at the end of the day? Not really, but it did make sense for me to still work. And so on those days I would take advantage of the fact that I had my set-up at my house and I could still communicate with the office and get my work done, albeit from my house.

Casey Meraz:
Got it. Well, it sounds like you’re a step ahead of the curve than some of the other people that I’ve talked to who are traditionally only in office. So did you find that migration hard for everyone?

Adam Flager:
I think because our office and our staff was so used to having those capabilities and they were comfortable with that, again, some people used it more than others, but every one used it. So for us, it seemed like a lot easier because it’s not a situation where we’re used to working on paper files and suddenly we have to go electronic. We have case management software, we are used to working in a paperless office, even if we’re in that physical office. So moving to your home is just a different workspace. And so everyone was pretty comfortable with using everything and so that transition was not as rigid as it can be for people that aren’t really prepared, who were not comfortable with technology.

Casey Meraz:
Sure. Yeah, definitely. And the technology plays a big part of that and especially on the organizational side and like you were saying, the ability to really work from anywhere, it doesn’t matter where you’re at. What software stack, I guess you’re using for case management or just to stay in contact with your team?

Adam Flager:
We use a software called Needles and our office has used that almost since Needles was invented, actually since before it was Needles it was called Pins. And so everyone is used to that technology because we’ve been using it for decades. And it’s a great system, it’s specifically designed for personal injury and worker’s compensation firms so it very much meets our needs and is tailored to our needs. And everyone in the office is very, very familiar with using it because that’s what we use day in and day out. And then we have our IT professionals that helped set us up on the Cloud and integrate everything so that way whether it’s email, whether it’s case management software using Dropbox, so that all of that can be seamless and we can do it from our homes, do it from the office, it makes no difference.

Casey Meraz:
Got it. Yeah, and that sounds like a good setup that you have. And so is email your primary communication then between the team and clients? I mean, email and phone, or do you use anything else software wise as that goes?

Adam Flager:
So we do have an instant messaging capability between the office members. It is very rarely used normally because normally you would just buzz them on the phone, through the intercom or walk to their office and say, “Hey, here’s an issue that I’m having. What do you think I should do?” So I know I’ve personally used that more and I think everyone is using that more.

Adam Flager:
As far as communicating about cases, though, we can do that within Needles. And that’s something that we regularly do because if you have a communication via email or in person, it’s not necessarily in the case, whereas if you send messages or notes within the file, then everyone who ever looks at that file can see it and make sure that everything is saved in there, we’re all on the same page, we all know what we’re doing.

Adam Flager:
So I would say for communication between the office, we still have calls, we have a Zoom meeting usually at least once a week. As we would, we would normally have office meetings, we would normally go over cases or, Hey, what should I do here? What should the strategy be? So, that still continues. We have the instant messaging. We do have emails, not that we don’t use it at all, it’s for limited purposes. For communicating with clients, we definitely, for those clients that are great with email, pushing that as much as we can, emails can be automatically saved into a case.

Adam Flager:
So again, anyone else that’s looking on it, hey, I can see that the paralegal touched base with the client on this date about this issue, this is what they discussed. So that’s something we already try to push because it is a great way to communicate and it’s hard to get people on the phone every now and then. But we’re still calling them as well. I mean, it depends on the client and it depends on what type of information you need to give to them. If it’s too heavy for an email, you need to have a phone call. Obviously we would normally sometimes even have a client come into the office. That’s not happening right now, but we can still call them and still email them and still maintain that contact that is so crucial to supporting our clients and answering their questions.

Casey Meraz:
Got it. That’s awesome. So I mean, organization is a big part of it and if you weren’t used to working remote, sending those emails outside of the case management software or keeping all that separate, you could see how that’d be a hassle. It sounds like that’s not really a problem for you guys. Would you say it’s close to business as usual then?

Adam Flager:
By and far, yes. There’s certain complications obviously of the current health crisis. Yesterday though we had a mediation. Normally I would have that mediation, it was supposed to be in our office with the attorneys from all the different sides, our clients, everyone there together. But we still had it. It was via Zoom instead of in person, and Zoom has these capabilities that I didn’t even know about where you can have everyone all together in a virtual room, then you can have breakout rooms where it’s just the plaintiff, just the defendant, then just the attorneys, just the mediator and the attorneys.

Adam Flager:
And so that’s going on, we’ve had depositions and we have a lot more depositions coming up. Once we realized this was going to be a longterm issue and it wasn’t going away in a couple of weeks and it was going to be two, three months at least, we said, okay, well we can’t just sit on our cases. We can’t just let them collect dust, we need to push ahead. And so we very much, we’re trying to be proactive about that. So scheduling the depositions, hey, they have to take place. We’re not just going to go to sleep for a couple months. Our clients deserve better and we need to give them better.

Adam Flager:
So we’re doing everything we can do. One of the biggest challenges I would say is getting our client’s treatment. So there are a number of providers that provide Telehealth and we’ve compiled the list because I might know of a certain doctor, but a certain other attorney or a paralegal may not. And so we’ve compiled a list of here’s all the doctors we know that are seeing people in person and here’s all the ones that are doing Telehealth, and that way our clients can get better because so much of what we do is helping our clients on the legal side, but also making sure they’re getting to their appointments, making sure that they’re getting better, because ultimately that’s the most important thing is their health. And we see that more than ever with this current health crisis. So that’s challenging, but everyone’s working together to make sure that we can get our clients the care that they need.

Casey Meraz:
And that’s awesome that you’re able to help people and not just sit around and kind of wait for this to happen. Are the courts open in your area?

Adam Flager:
The courts are not open and the earliest they will open is June. Every couple of weeks or so they will issue a new order extending the emergency declaration another couple of weeks or another month. So I think currently in Pennsylvania it’s until at least June 1st. Having said that it could very well continue beyond that. And that’s why when we knew this wasn’t going away anytime soon, we said, these cases need to go forward.

Adam Flager:
Some things we can do, other things we obviously, if an arbitration was scheduled, a trial date was scheduled, a settlement conference with the court was scheduled, that can’t happen. But depositions can happen, mediations can happen, discovery can happen, and by discovery, I mean exchanging documents, having depositions, interrogatories, all of those things that we can do, we are doing because they need to happen. And the courts want that to happen. The courts have said, this isn’t a ticket for you to just sit on your cases. We still expect you to engage in discovery and to push your cases as much as you can while the courts are closed.

Casey Meraz:
Got it. Well, I mean, that’s good that you’re able to get some things done and it seems like it depends on where you are, different jurisdictions have adapted differently and we’ve seen some taking on Zoom. What is the biggest challenges that you think you faced having to go, I mean, already having some experience with the remote working, what are the biggest challenges that you’re facing or have you?

Adam Flager:
As far as working remotely?

Casey Meraz:
Yeah, as far as working remotely goes, just making that transition a little bit more, or just with the current situation too. Maybe you were already working remotely, but something else was affecting you like the court’s closing, you already mentioned that.

Adam Flager:
Yeah, one of the things that comes to mind is obviously with not having the courts, certain things cannot happen. If we have motions pending, things like that, they’re just sitting. And I think the courts will hopefully start getting things moving along as they realize this is going to last as long as it’s going to last. Sometimes just that instantaneous contact you can have between members of our team while we’re in the office. For instance, my father handles a lot of the pre-litigation cases and a lot of the settlement of cases.

Adam Flager:
And while he’s on the phone with an adjuster, he might want to talk to the handling paralegal to say, hey, where’s this document that they’re asking about or did we send this to them? And what are they talking about this or that? And they he can buzz them right there, right? And he can say, get me this information right away. He can still do that, we can still do that, but it’s not instantaneous as it once was.

Casey Meraz:
Sure.

Adam Flager:
The other thing is we all in the office have double-wide monitors, I happen to have two double wide monitors in my home office, because I wanted to be able to be efficient long before this. So changing to a single laptop from two double wide monitors, you just don’t have the same… You still have the same capabilities, but you don’t have the same ease of use. You can still do everything, it might take you a little bit longer, but you can do it. And one of the things when I set up my home office was I wanted to have everything the same.

Adam Flager:
But we all have our scanners, we all have printers, we can all do everything we can do. Just this week we were in the office. Those things are more convenience than they are anything else. It’s not that we can’t do it, it’s just that we can’t do it as blazing fast, but it’s still pretty fast.

Casey Meraz:
Yeah. Got it. Okay. So it’s good that you have that setup. What about your work hours too? Have those remained the same.

Adam Flager:
Yep. By and large it’s the same, but if anything comes up, because at the end of the day, people have their kids home and all the things that we don’t have to worry about necessarily in the office, you have that added to the mix. So there’s times that I might not have as much time during the day but then I’m just going to work at night. I have a two year old son, so if I need to put a couple hours in after he goes to bed, then that’s what I have to do and it’s fine.

Adam Flager:
I find actually you always have distractions, you have distractions at home and you have distractions in the office. That’s just inevitable. But if I can have those moments where I can really not have too many distractions and I can hyper-focus, in some ways I can be more efficient at home than I can in the office, because I don’t have 10, 12 coworkers that I’m also dealing with. I don’t have as many calls coming in and I can hyper-focus and get a lot of work done.

Casey Meraz:
Yeah. And I can relate to that, I feel like I have to do that. I have a two year old son and a two month old daughter. So it’s kind of snippets sometimes of working, but if you can get your focus then you can get a lot done.

Adam Flager:
Correct.

Casey Meraz:
And yeah, that’s definitely one of the things I enjoy about working remotely. So I guess just before we close up here, what advice would you give to other firms that might be struggling with this transition? Maybe weren’t quite as prepared for you in what they should kind of focus on and can do in this time.

Adam Flager:
Sure. We’ve always been at the forefront of available technology. And so I remember long before I was an attorney my father going to training seminars to learn how to use the software that we still use, albeit a slightly newer version.

Casey Meraz:
Okay.

Adam Flager:
I think there’s always some hesitation among certain people of technology in general. And you don’t have to be good at technology to be good at your case management and software or whatever software you need at work, right? There’s a lot of people in my office that if I asked them to do other computer tasks, they would say, I have no idea what you’re asking me, but they know how to use our system. And so I would say, don’t be afraid, do it because at the end of the day, it makes you more efficient. And we are incredibly efficient because we use it and we don’t just have it, we know how to use it.

Adam Flager:
That’s the other thing. Don’t just buy the software and try to figure it out yourself. If it costs a little bit more money, do it, because ultimately you’re wasting all this money that you’re going to spend on it if you don’t know how to use it properly, if you’re not properly trained. And make sure everyone in your office is set up, trained, and is using it. Because a lot of firms may say, well, we’re just going to get that for the lawyers, we’re only going to do that for the lawyers. We’re not going to do it for the paralegals, we’re not going to do it for the secretaries. And those firms have by and large laid off their support staff right now. Well, how are you getting as much done if half your office or more than half your office isn’t working?

Adam Flager:
So invest in that technology. It’s not an expense as much as it is a key to make your firm better, more productive, more efficient, and make sure everyone can do it. So that way our paralegals are still in contact with our clients, they’re still putting demand packages together. My paralegal who’s come in litigation department, she’s still preparing lawsuits that we have to get filed or were helping me with discovery.

Adam Flager:
Everyone can do it. If it’s just some people and you kind of compartmentalize who has access to the technology, then everyone suffers as a result. Everyone needs to be on the same page, everyone has to have the training and the capabilities, and if you do that, you can run a successful company and a successful firm.

Casey Meraz:
Wow Adam, that was really good advice. Thank you for sharing that. And I think that you really hit the nail on the head there talking about doing it right, setting it up, making that investment. It’s an investment, it’s not an expense. And that’s what’s really going to help your firm run and grow because you’re right, we’ve seen a lot of firms lay off people or cut salaries or do multiple of these things or even shut down because they can’t even operate. So putting in that time to make sure everybody knows it and doing it right ahead of time is going to save a lot of money and time in the long run anyway.

Adam Flager:
Yeah, no, we got a message yesterday from an attorney who didn’t have access to his files, he couldn’t get into his office and we’re talking to each other saying, how do you function like this normally?

Casey Meraz:
Yeah.

Adam Flager:
And add a pandemic in the mix. And it’s just no way to go. So we always had that, we didn’t need to always use it the way we’re using it now, but we were set up to do it, whether it’s a snowstorm and you’re out for a day or two or something else, these things happen. Or like I said, I have to go to court, I’m not, I don’t want to waste that time traveling, I just want to get to work. You always have to be ahead of technology so that way you can wield it as a great tool. And almost as a weapon against the other side.

Casey Meraz:
It’s a force multiplier, really.

Adam Flager:
Yeah, definitely.

Casey Meraz:
There’s firms working in Excel as case management, and that is not the way that you should be doing that.

Adam Flager:
Correct.

Casey Meraz:
Well again Adam, thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate your time and yeah, look forward to talking again in the future after this is all boiled down to see how things are going.

Adam Flager:
Thank you. I appreciate you having me.

Casey Meraz:
Absolutely. Take care.

Adam Flager:
All right. Be well, buh-bye.

Contact Flager & Associates, PC

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