Our Lawyer Spotlight series highlights Illinois lawyers who are demonstrating the ideals of professionalism in their daily lives. These attorneys are teaching us how to adapt and thrive in the changing legal environment.
Carl R. Draper is a partner at FeldmanWasser in Springfield, Ill., where he practices employment and administrative law, focusing specifically on individuals who are having legal issues with state agencies. He has also practiced civil rights law, representing individuals on civil rights claims, matters involving state government regulation, and many types of administrative hearings.
How is FeldmanWasser adapting to the changing work environment?
Working through this period of seclusion because of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for me and our firm. The biggest challenge is that we had to reduce staff to very limited hours initially and have gradually started allowing them to return to work. I have worked at home as well as at the office. I have been fortunate that in my office, I can seclude myself from much contact with others to safely comply with health recommendations. The bigger challenge, however, is dealing with clients.
What unique challenges do employment and administrative law attorneys face in navigating COVID-19?
This time of economic uncertainty has led to various disruptions in employment for many people. I had to become quickly familiar with the changes in federal law expanding employment protections and rights as well as expanded benefits for those who are unemployed. I have had an increasing number of new clients contact me about this economic crisis which, for each individual, is very personal. Not being able to meet in the office has had some impact. Clients turn to attorneys in a time of trouble and look to them for reassurance. Empathy is harder to convey in a telephone conversation and email.
Unique challenges for the administrative law part of my practice has been the difficulty of conducting timely hearings. I represent individuals who face disciplinary action by state regulatory bodies. For the professions of those individuals, it is vital to resolve all regulatory issues as quickly as possible. The uncertainty of having state governmental action impacting a professional license is not only distressing but can be very disruptive to an individual’s career. I have participated in some video conferencing with success but would hope to avoid that for any final hearings. Other colleagues of mine who do administrative hearings have had almost no opportunity to conduct hearings for their clients. This led to a complete disruption of their law practice. Because that has not happened to me, I feel blessed.
How do you maintain civility in your practice during stressful situations?
Civility in the practice of law is always important. During the times of enhanced stress, I have found it even more important. I was fortunate as a young law school student to have a mentor advise me that building good working relationships with other attorneys or judges was vital to career success.
It is even more important in terms of achieving the goals of clients to resolve their disputes. I have been able over the years to work with state government attorneys, particularly those in the attorney general’s office who often are my opposing counsel. Because of my prior experience in that office, I always try to make that connection with lawyers representing state officials. Having a good working relationship allows advance preparation for trials with cooperative exchange of discovery and legal theory. I think it has enhanced my ability to get cases settled and avoid trial. At the same time, when trials are necessary it has helped both sides present the case in a manner focused on the triable issues that have to be resolved.
What long-term impacts will COVID-19 have on the legal profession?
The impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic will probably have some longer-term impacts on the legal profession. Initially, it may be months before society is able to return to “the way it was before.” It has accelerated efforts by the judiciary to explore ways to more expeditiously handle case management. I predict that it will lead to more court hearings conducted by video conference or telephone calls on routine matters like case management, discovery issues, and pre-trial motions. Hopefully, we will not replace all personal contact with these technology tools. Personal contact, face to face with other attorneys and judges, is important to build relationships of trust that enhance the profession.
How are you maintaining your work-life balance during the pandemic?
Trying to work through the balance of personal concerns and the pressures from the law office has been challenging. Working from home is far from productive. In practicing law for over 30 years, I am quite accustomed to having everything within my reach in my office – something that is not possible to duplicate at home. To make it more challenging, my spouse has been required to work from home during this time making that environment more distracting for both of us. I did not know how much the opportunity for us to go out to eat in the evening helped reduce stress and made personal life more enjoyable. I very much look forward to being able to do that and to visit with friends personally as we work through the recovery process.
Our Lawyer Spotlight recognizes attorneys throughout Illinois who are admired for their professionalism and civility. Check out more interviews with attorneys like Carl R. Draper here.