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.
Daniel M. Kotin is a shareholder and trial lawyer in the Chicago law firm of Tomasik Kotin Kasserman. Prior to founding this firm, Dan was a partner with the prominent firm Corboy & Demetrio.
How is your firm adapting to the changing work environment?
Although our office is open and most of us are at our desks, interaction with the outside world has been almost entirely virtual since last March. Thank goodness for Zoom! Routine court appearances, depositions, and even many new case meetings are all being done virtually.
Client meetings via Zoom lack the interpersonal connection that we make when face-to-face, and I think it is dangerous to present a client for a deposition when not in the same room. Otherwise, considering the limitations we face, everyone here seems to be adapting quite well.
In an interesting reversal of positions, we senior lawyers seem to be looking to the younger generation for help in navigating this virtual world.
What challenges do attorneys in civil trial practice face in navigating COVID-19?
As plaintiff’s trial lawyers, our biggest challenge in dealing with the pandemic is the sad reality that courts are largely closed and jury trials are essentially not happening. Although discovery in cases is progressing and some settlements are happening, most lawyers know that an approaching trial date is the greatest incentive to settle a case.
With no trial dates on the books, many cases are essentially stalled. This is the greatest challenge for plaintiff firms and our clients who are seeking justice. For those who suggest that this problem could be solved through virtual jury trials, I strongly object – both on constitutional and practical grounds. The pandemic will be behind us. Live trials will resume. At that point, we’ll all be under great pressure to get through the backlog. But all it will take is long hours and hard work.
How do you maintain civility in your practice during stressful situations?
The COVID pandemic has created unbelievable stress for the world. Like everyone else, trial lawyers are feeling this stress professionally as well as in our personal lives.
This pressure may be amplified in our trial practice since the nature of our work is inherently adversarial. Whenever I hear of one of our lawyers or opponents reacting in a hostile or uncivil manner, my first reaction is to dismiss this as a product of pandemic stress.
I feel myself reacting that way at times as well. I have said to our younger lawyers that everyone deserves one free pass during this pandemic If the behavior continues, then there may be a problem.
What long-term impacts will COVID-19 have on the legal profession?
The COVID pandemic will certainly have a long-term impact on the legal professional – both good and bad. On the positive side, the discovery of Zoom will make meetings with out-of-state experts as simple as logging on and sharing documents. This will forever save the 2-days of time and expense of packing boxes of records and flying to Seattle for a 90-minute sit-down with an expert.
On the negative side, I worry about the loss of the in-person legal community that is such an important part of our lives and our culture. Bar association events, CLE programs, and fundraisers were all just as important for the one-on-one social interaction and business development as they were for the underlying purpose of the events.
Conversations in courthouse hallways are often more productive than in any formal setting. I worry that if those activities all remain virtual, an important part of our legal culture will be lost.
How are you maintaining your work-life balance during the pandemic?
I have found that during COVID, the work-life balance tends to tip more toward work. That is simply because many of the things that we normally do outside of work are closed or otherwise not happening. So, we might as well work.
When the pandemic ends, we will not only have to catch up on the many delayed trials but also on the things that have been halted in our personal lives.