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.
Shayla Louise Maatuka was the first African-American woman to open a sole-ownership law firm in Champaign County. She currently serves as managing partner for Maatuka Al-Heeti Emkes LLC, where she combines her expertise as an entrepreneur – successfully establishing four businesses – with the practice of law, concentrating on civil and commercial litigation, personal injury, workers’ compensation, as well as business litigation.
Her passion for the community helps others achieve their goals through entrepreneurship. She formerly sat on the boards of the East Central Illinois Women Attorneys Association, the Executive Club of Champaign County, and the Champaign County Urban League. Shayla earned her law degree from the University of Illinois and has been practicing law since 2004.
How is your organization adapting to the changing work environment?
We have been extremely flexible. In a pandemic, employers must be willing to accommodate each employee’s specific needs. Employees who have school-aged children are primarily working from home. Employees with immunocompromised family members are also permitted to work from home. We have also been flexible with hours, and employees are allowed to change their schedules to accommodate their needs. The staff appreciates our flexibility and we have seen an increase in productivity.
What challenges do attorneys in civil litigation and general practice face in navigating COVID-19?
Each court has drastically changed its local rules, policies, and standard procedures. Moreover, several areas of law have been halted due to the governor’s moratorium on evictions.
Banks reverifying financial information, due to rampant unemployment caused by COVID, has drastically slowed the real estate practice. We have also implemented a POA program that creates more work for us in each transaction but helps keep us and our clients safe.
We try to keep up with the ever-changing rules and keep our clients informed the best we can. There are many frustrated landlords and plaintiffs, but we all must accept the things we cannot control.
How do you maintain civility in your practice during stressful situations?
I am keenly aware that I live in a small town with a relatively small legal community. I treat everyone with respect even if I don’t agree with them. I also don’t burn bridges. We often see the same lawyers repeatedly; therefore, it is unwise to ruin a relationship over a tough transaction. I have found that I can advocate for my clients while remaining calm and professional.
What long-term impacts will COVID-19 have on the legal profession?
I think COVID-19 has forced us to be more open to technology and virtual work. Personally, I hope that some of the changes are permanent. It’s convenient to avoid winter weather and travel when I have a deposition or hearing in another county.
How are you maintaining your work-life balance during the pandemic?
It has been harder because I work more during the pandemic. I try to use the time I save from not traveling to read more books for pleasure, spend time zooming with friends and family, working out at home, and spending quality time with my husband. With both of us working from home, we have to decide to turn the phones and laptops off and spend time together doing something fun, playing cards, watching a movie, doing a puzzle. I long to travel again soon.
Our Lawyer Spotlight recognizes attorneys throughout Illinois who are admired for their professionalism and civility. Check out more interviews with attorneys like Shayla Maatuka here.