Maintaining forward progress in work, home life despite COVID-19

August 27, 2020

Chicago Daily Law Bulletin – August, 2020
by Jeffery J. Kroll
Jeffrey J. Kroll is a founding partner of Kaveny + Kroll LLC. He has achieved settlements and verdicts in a wide range of cases, from trucking accidents to medical malpractice to sports safety cases. He can be reached at jeffrey@kavenykroll.com.

In my pre-COVID-19 life, I found myself as a trial lawyer, business owner (of a firm of trial lawyers), husband and father of two children, one college-bound and one middle-schooler (both of whom I enjoy bragging about!).

Keeping the peace and my sanity at all of the above was, at times, difficult, but I had a ‘stride’ — a workable routine. Today, five months after COVID-19 entered our lives and livelihoods, these roles have been expanded into areas that are new, different and beyond challenging to say the least.

Keeping myself and my family safe is and has always been my priority. But, now, that ‘family’ has grown to include the extremely smart associates and a hard-working staff, in our growing firm, Kaveny + Kroll Trial Lawyers.

Today, I prepare to bring my son Jack to the University of Michigan where a very unorthodox freshman year will hopefully play out, amid masks, social distancing and in some instances, virtual isolations. With Jack going away, out of sight will never be out of mind. Similarly, as COVID-19 rises and offices tend to remain closed and work-from-home policies have been implemented, as a business owner, I always have my firm in mind even when out of sight.

While I am confident that everyone in the firm is doing the right things to help avoid the virus, we have offered (strong) suggestions for staying safe during the pandemic with our employees, as we do regularly with our families. While I can’t exert the same watchfulness over the people they spend time with, the establishments they frequent or the precautions they take, I have the utmost confidence in their decision-making during these unprecedented times.

So much has been said regarding the potential liability of employers who may put their employees in harm’s way through unsafe working conditions. Beth Kaveny and I discussed this at length and made our plans accordingly: strict mask rules in the office, one-way traffic and extensive cleaning of surfaces and shared areas. Truth be told, our office is cleaner than my home (most likely because my kids share in the cleaning responsibilities). Yet, that responsibility for safety is not a one-way street. Employees can affect their employers, colleagues and place of business through their choices as well. Communication is critical since, as with most things pandemic, we are essentially building the plane while flying it. As trial lawyers and business owners, we must school ourselves and our employees in epidemiology. Fortunately, as students of a number of specialties to best serve our clientele, we are used to learning on the fly. And, in the same way our learning curve is crucial to our clients’ success, it is now just as important to our own health and safety.

In this COVID-19 era, we no longer have the “luxury” of the normalcy we have experienced for decades. Heck, I don’t even have a bellwether to define “normalcy” over these last several months! We must pivot continuously to serve our clients, our companies, our staff and our loved ones.

While the court system struggles to retain the status quo of jury trials, we must work alongside them to support and assist in any way we can. Case management conferences are occurring more frequently. The need for judicial assistance involving an emergency situation has been in place since the pandemic caused the courts to close.

What does this mean to our practice, our clients, our families?

It sounds cliché, but we need to stay the course, follow the rules, wear the masks, social distance and practice near perfect hygiene.

The other necessary element?

Patience, which can, understandably, be in short supply during these times amongst ourselves and our clients. We are in uncharted waters in every area of our lives. It also propels us to constantly seek means to accommodate our clients’ needs through available resources including mediation and bench trials. And it can all change, and often does on any given day — in COVID-19 time.

Yes, our plates have gotten fuller, our responsibilities greater to fulfill our expanding and changing roles. Sure, I have voiced frustration with my brethren on the other side of the aisle about the failure to have depositions proceed because their client won’t allow a Zoom deposition — the same firms having Zoom meetings with their clients. But, on the bright side, at least my own kids don’t always feel the brunt of my admonitions anymore.

And we will prevail with the proper amount of vigilance and understanding. A friend, who had listened to me as I questioned my ability to handle it all, reminded me of our new state of being with the simple question “How did you do in the last pandemic?” In the silence that was my answer, I found the peace and confidence to move.