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.
Deane B. Brown is a shareholder at Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd. in Chicago. Her primary practice area is employment law, including severance negotiations, employment discrimination claims, and retaliatory discharge cases.
How is your firm adapting to the changing work environment?
My firm is adapting very well. We are all working remotely as our top priority is keeping everyone safe and healthy. Lawyers (wearing masks) are allowed to be in the office if absolutely necessary and we have staff come to the office periodically to check for mail and deliveries. We have a messenger delivering documents and packages to our homes when needed.
To keep in touch, we have had a number of all-firm Zoom meetings and our different practice groups meet frequently on Zoom to check in with each other. I definitely miss the office camaraderie but working remotely is the best option for our firm at this point.
What challenges do attorneys in employment law face in navigating COVID-19?
It has been an interesting time to be an employment lawyer during a pandemic. In addition to the challenge of understanding the various laws enacted to protect employees during the pandemic, I have been working with an unusually large number of employees who have been terminated.
As I represent high-level employees and executives, I have done my best to assist them in negotiating enhanced separation agreements since it may take longer than usual for them to find comparable employment due to the recession.
My goal has been to secure for my clients increased severance, COBRA health insurance premiums paid for by their former employer for as long as possible, outplacement assistance, and other benefits. While I have been largely successful in doing so, it has been a challenge since many companies are struggling financially due to the pandemic.
How do you maintain civility in your practice during stressful situations?
I have been a lawyer for 30 years and strongly believe that nothing is more important than your reputation. To that end, it is critical to be civil, honest, and reasonable with respect to everyone with whom you interact, including your clients, opposing counsel, staff, and judges. This includes thinking twice before sending an email when you are upset, waiting a bit to call opposing counsel until you are calm and thinking clearly, and always being polite. Saying please and thank you goes a long way.
I also believe that you have to be more understanding and accommodating to others during this pandemic, which has caused so many people to be stressed out, especially those with young children who are trying to balance caregiving with work responsibilities.
What long-term impacts will COVID-19 have on the legal profession?
As law firms are learning to function remotely and lawyers have been conducting meetings by videoconference, I think in the long run, there will be fewer lawyers and staff working in a physical law office every day.
I also believe that there will be substantially less business travel, whether to take depositions, conduct mediations, attend court hearings, or meet with clients, as we have discovered how well video conferencing works.
As an extrovert, I hope this won’t be the case, as I really miss in-person interaction. Time will tell.
How are you maintaining your work-life balance during the pandemic?
At first, it was a challenge, as I was never someone who worked from home. I always went into my office, even on the weekends, as I really enjoyed the separation between work and home. But as humans, we naturally adapt to our surroundings. So even though I have been working from my dining room table since the middle of March, I have tried hard to maintain the same work hours as if I were in the office.
In addition, I have used the time that I would have spent commuting to the office to get more exercise at home or go outside for a walk to get some fresh air. I have also played a lot of golf this year, as it is a great “socially distanced” sport where I can still socialize with friends and clients.
Our Lawyer Spotlight recognizes attorneys throughout Illinois who are admired for their professionalism and civility. Check out more interviews with attorneys like Deane B. Brown here.