As COVID-19 accompanies us into a new season, with temperatures falling, leaves now off the trees, and sundown at 4:30 p.m., it is only natural that a certain weariness sets in. When will this be over? And, when it is, what will the new normal look like?
com mark goldsteinsc Mark Goldstein, U.W. 1994, is president of Goldstein Law Group S.C., Milwaukee, a law firm serving as outside general counsel to businesses with a focus on labor and employment law, business law, and litigation.
Although nobody knows the answer to the first question, the answer to the second is beginning to come clear – and yielding provocative new questions, too. So what will the new normal look like? As devastating as this pandemic has been, there are some positive developments that likely will be with us post-COVID-19. Consider the following:
Clearly Zoom (and Teams, GoToMeeting, and the other teleconference platforms) are here to stay. In addition to the efficiencies of such platforms (for example, no travel required for a 10-minute scheduling conference with the court clerk), anecdotal evidence suggests a sharp decrease in party nonappearances and default judgments. In other words, this technological innovation helps those challenged getting to the courthouse (and serves a reminder as to how big, and common, a challenge that can be).
During the COVID-19 era, one can practice law from just about anywhere in the world that has reliable Wi-Fi. Money previously spent on triple crown molding, expensive furniture, and art is now repurposed to software and apps relative to legal research, project management, and data security (with money left over).
So this begs new questions. Post-COVID-19, when are in-person meetings preferable? When do we go into the office or meet face-to-face with clients and others? The answer, I believe, lies in first acknowledging the gift the COVID-19 era has bestowed on us by revealing the bounds of technology. As Leon Wieseltier (former editor of The New Republic) observed of the current culture: “Too much digital, not enough critical thinking, more physical reality.” The same is true for the practice of law. I do not believe it is “old timey” to suggest that a trial, a defendant’s allocution and sentencing, and an initial client conference are different if not in person – and not in a good way. A deposition by phone or video may be appropriate in some circumstances but is less than optimal in many ways.
With that realization, we see that we’re entering a new humanic era. To paraphrase Jamie Bristow (of the Mindfulness Initiative), “As we get all the other stuff taken off us, we get to see what is really, truly, specially human.” So what about the justice system is “really, truly, specially human?” A lot, I would submit, which should bode well for our profession and especially for those of us who stop and appreciate all that this means.
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What was your funniest or oddest experience in a legal context?
I am a proud graduate of the U.W. Law School and also proud that I caught my cane at halftime of the 1993 Homecoming football game (the year the Badgers broke their 30-year Rose Bowl drought). For those who do not know, catching one’s cane is supposed to signify that you will win your first case as a practicing lawyer. And it worked – the other side failed to show up, and my client was awarded a default judgment. A good thing, too, as the client in my second case showed up with alcohol on his breath and, despite my best efforts, never had a chance. As discouraging as that experience was, it would have been far worse had I not already had a “win” under my belt.
I have also found some “silver linings” during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are several. A clear calendar and less frenzy has meant space and time to work differently and the opportunity to dress casually, bike to and from the office, and go for long walks over the lunch hour. There has been the challenge of interpreting and applying new law (for example, FFCRA, Cares Act). Also, the honor to work intimately with clients on thorny issues of employee health and safety and existential business questions – making me an essential worker of sorts and reminding me of the important role we play in all this. And, of course, the surprise gift of having the college-aged kids home, family dinners, and game night … every night.
com mark goldsteinsc Mark Goldstein, Goldstein Law Group S.C., Milwaukee.
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Cite to 93. Wis. Law. 80 (December 2020).