Episode 2: How Did Your Law Firm Adapt to COVID-19 with Faith Fox

COVID-19 has forced all industries to adapt rapidly in a world of a global pandemic. Law firms were no exception to this change and have had to find ways to continue to serve without risking the health and safety of the firm.

In this episode, Casey is joined by Faith Fox of The Cochran Firm Charlotte to discuss how her office adapted to COVID-19.

As the single mother of two boys, Ms. Fox defied the odds, and not only worked while attending law school part-time, but completed the rigorous program in just two years, graduating cum laude with distinctive honors in pro bono service, and consistently achieving “Best Advocate” during regional competitions on the Trial Team Advocacy Honor Board.

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Interview Transcript

Casey Meraz:

Hi everyone. I’m Casey Meraz with The Legal Marketing Mastermind Podcast where we dive into the weeds with practicing attorneys and subject matter experts to find out what’s driving business to successful law firms. And today I’m thankful to be joined by Faith Fox who is the managing partner at a law firm’s name we all know, The Cochran Firm, at their new flagship office in Charlotte, North Carolina. Faith, thank you for joining me today.

Faith Fox:

Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate being here.

Casey Meraz:

Absolutely. And you know, today we’re going to be talking about how your law firm adapted to COVID 19. So let’s just go ahead and dive right in. My first question is overview, how did your firm adapt to this?

Faith Fox:

Well it’s been kind of rough. I’m really used to being here in my office, I’m in my office now, and at first I really tried to be strong and work from home. It’s very, very difficult. I don’t focus as well as I would like to at home. So I struggled through initially and it was very, very difficult also, communicating with my assistant that way. We’re used to being in the office together, so it was very challenging.

Faith Fox:

I didn’t want to put her in a position where she felt obligated to come in. Obviously it’s safer for everyone to stay at home, but I did ultimately, after a couple of weeks, decide that it was better for me to come into the office. I’m just much more productive here, but my support staff is all still working from home.

Faith Fox:

So it’s been a challenge, just trying to figure out the telephones and obviously you can answer emails from anywhere, but a lot of times the emails require that you do things in the office. So it’s been the process of making a list of things that needs to be done and following up with them later. So everything has kind of been on a delay. We’re not as efficient as we would be without the restrictions.

Faith Fox:

But I think, it’s taken awhile, but we’re finally at a place where we can operate almost at our normal expectation.

Casey Meraz:

Okay. Got it. And how long have you been operating remotely?

Faith Fox:

I would say since around the 16th of March and so from the 16th it was kind of questionable. We started at that point to get everybody comfortable with taking things home. I really don’t like my files to leave the office. So I wanted to make sure that everything was on the Cloud in our software the way it’s supposed to be.

Faith Fox:

We used that first week to make sure that we had everything that we needed at home. So the computers, the printers, the scanners. I actually had to purchase new computers, scanners, copiers for everyone to take home. So it’s been an expense, but I didn’t want to take the chance on anyone getting sick coming in office.

Faith Fox:

So it’s taken some time, but I think we’re finally getting to the point where things are moving a bit more smooth and we’ve all kind of gotten used to the rhythm and the pattern of getting in touch during a certain time of day, having a call a couple times a week. So it’s been a struggle, but we’re managing it.

Casey Meraz:

Awesome. Okay, and before this, did you have any remote capabilities or was it a hundred percent in office?

Faith Fox:

Well, no, I would say we were probably maybe 60/40 with outside of the office. I have one support staff member who actually lives in Florida. So she lived here and then she relocated and so she moved back to Florida and I didn’t want to lose her. So we, before she left, really set her up to work from home. So this has been perfect for her.

Faith Fox:

There haven’t been any real changes or any stagnation in getting the work done with my personal injury portion of my practice. But the more urgent needs like family law, things that I’m in the office for every day, in court for on a regular basis, those are the areas where we really needed to make some changes.

Casey Meraz:

Okay, got it. And so in North Carolina or Charlotte there specifically, how have the courts reacted? Are they open for business remotely? Are they shut down?

Faith Fox:

Our courts have been really aggressive in making sure that the courts remain empty. Most of the courthouses are open from 9 to 12 for court filings. So you can still go to court and file your necessary documents but all of the deadlines have been extended by the court until June 1st. So right now, we are under a directive from the Supreme Court, North Carolina Supreme Court, to basically stay out of court unless there’s some emergent case, emergent hearing, like say a domestic violence protective order or something along those lines, to stay out of the courthouse.

Faith Fox:

So what I’ve been doing is doing the work and things that need to be filed and then picking one day during the week to go and file everything to minimize my own exposure at the courthouse as well and I’m not asking any of my support staff to go to the courthouse. So ordinarily that’s not something that I would have to do, but I just don’t feel comfortable asking other people to put themselves at risk group for work.

Casey Meraz:

I’m sure your team appreciates that strong commitment to leadership. That’s awesome.

Faith Fox:

Yeah, I think it’s important. I’m a single mom, but most of the people, in fact, everyone that works for me, is also a parent, not necessarily single. And so they’re doing homeschooling right now. Thankfully my children are old enough that I don’t have to stand over them while they do their schoolwork but some of the other people have younger kids. It’s just a lot. It’s a lot to put on someone.

Casey Meraz:

Sure. No, I understand that. So tell me a little bit about your infrastructure. You mentioned the case files too, having to go into the office, but it can be in your case management software. What are you using and have you found that effective?

Faith Fox:

I use a program called Clio, C-L-I-O. Clio is pretty user friendly but I’ve been using it for years. So pretty much my entire caseload is in Clio in one way or another. And then I have my actual work computer, so with Cleo, everyone is able to access the documents that they need just by going into the software. So that’s been great and I’m really glad that I invested in that early in opening my office.

Faith Fox:

As a solo practitioner, it really made the difference in getting help from outside of the office and getting help from people who don’t necessarily have time to come to the office every day, but can do research, can draft a brief and go on and see what documents are available, what evidence we have to support our claims. So that’s been amazing and I haven’t had to make any real adjustments there.

Casey Meraz:

Got it. Okay. Well that’s cool. What other software are you using that you can’t live without right now during this transition?

Faith Fox:

With regards to work, I really enjoy Zoom. It’s nice just to see everybody, but for the most part, Clio has been my saving grace. I don’t use a whole lot of other programs, especially right now. There are programs that I use for trial and in court, but none of those are necessary right now. So Clio and Zoom are the main areas where I’m spending most of my time right now.

Casey Meraz:

Sure, and anything for office communication, how do you stay on top of that?

Faith Fox:

Well, I have an answering service, which has been really helpful. They’re able to still take calls 24 hours a day. So [inaudible 00:11:26] we’re missing any of the calls, they go directly to the answering service. So I have a work cell phone that I keep on me and I can forward those calls to my assistant if I need to. But for the most part, I’m handling all of the incoming calls because more times than not, people are calling to speak to counsel.

Faith Fox:

Right now is a really lucky time, I guess, for people calling the office because I’m generally going to answer the phone. [crosstalk 00:11:51]. It’s a distraction for me because I end up getting caught up in conversations that I wouldn’t normally be having. I feel it’s important that people have access to their counsel during this time. It’s a rough time.

Casey Meraz:

Okay. Yeah. Crazy. So now let’s talk a little bit more about that transition. I know you said that it was a little rough maybe around the edges when you first got started. What would you have changed or maybe done differently to prepare if you knew that this was going to be coming and you were going to have to suddenly go remote?

Faith Fox:

Well I think looking back, one of the biggest problems, one of the biggest issues, was making sure everyone had the equipment they needed. It was kind of a huge expense to all of a sudden out of the blue needs to purchase everyone a computer to have at home and printers and scanners and things like that to have in their possession at home that they already have here in the office.

Faith Fox:

So I wish that I was better prepared in that sense, but now I will be, so when we go back to work, I’ll always have this other option in terms of people being able to necessarily take it. If they need to go out of town and still feel the need to work, they’ll have everything that they need on them. But aside from that, I don’t know how much preparing you could do for the world to shut down.

Casey Meraz:

That’s true.

Faith Fox:

I mean this doesn’t happen every day. So I think that just making sure that… One of the things that has been a challenge is being behind already and now having this other lag where on one hand, it gives you the opportunity to catch up but because everyone can’t come in the office, it’s not true catch up time because things are still happening on these cases.

Faith Fox:

The work hasn’t stopped even though the world has. So just accommodating for… You have to have the room to make the mistakes that are going to be made and still not lose you’re footing with all the work that needs to be done.

Casey Meraz:

Exactly. And so it sounds like that obviously the work hasn’t slowed down for you. You guys are working through all of this. What about new clients and new leads? Has there been an impact there?

Faith Fox:

You know, I have probably, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve probably only picked up about maybe three or four new cases, but I’ve had an enormous amount of calls, most of which have been employment law issues. Unfortunately, in the area of employment law, it’s one of those areas of law where you just have to monitor what’s happening. You can’t really do anything about it until things have already hit the fan.

Faith Fox:

So what I’ve advised people who have been calling with employment issues where employers are drawing very definitive lines in the sand about who can work from home, who can come into the office, what the requirements are, what the salary will be and how many hours you may or may not get. North Carolina is an at will state. So there really is no reason that an employer needs to terminate or keep staff members.

Faith Fox:

So it’s hard because you’re dealing with these extra issues that don’t normally come up. But as an employer, is it easier for me to terminate my staff and work with the skeleton crew or try and keep the staff on so that when everything goes back to normal, you can just go back to where you were.

Faith Fox:

Unfortunately, a lot of people are really dealing with employers who are cherry picking, who gets to work from home based on discriminatory reasons. I’ve had a mom call me and tell me that her employer decided that of the eight people on her team, there were three people that he was not allowing to work from home because they had small children at home and now you’re going to have to homeschool so you’re not going to be able to work and making that decision for the employee.

Faith Fox:

To the extent that male parents on that same team, were not given that extra requirement because they had wives at home who were assumed to be dealing with the homeschooling. So obviously that’s a huge problem. You’re now discriminating against moms with young kids versus dads because the dad has a wife. Well, who’s to say that the wife’s husband isn’t going to take care of school while the mom is working, but employers are making that decision for their staff, which is, I’d say, that’s discriminatory and illegal.

Faith Fox:

But also, we have executive orders coming down from, unfortunately, Washington, that tell employers if they’re going to get a waiver on a lot of the equal protection laws that are put in place to prevent discrimination. So not only are people being discriminated against the employers are pretty much going to get a pass in a lot of situations, a lot of cases, because there’s an executive order that says, “If you’re not able to adhere to all these pesky equal protection laws, don’t worry about it. You won’t get in trouble.”

Casey Meraz:

That seems crazy to me.

Faith Fox:

It’s a pain, it’s unconstitutional, but it’s par for the course with who’s in office right now. So it’s unfortunate, but he has just really put us in a position to suffer in so many different areas. It’s really unbelievable.

Casey Meraz:

Well I’m sure we’re going to see a lot of people in those situations, and that was something that I hadn’t really put a lot of thought into because it’s not in my day to day. But that’s incredible and I appreciate you sharing that because man, that’s really unfortunate for those people and it’s just so wrong. I can’t believe that we live that world. But here we are.

Faith Fox:

It’s amazing. All of the many, many creative ways employers can come up with to discriminate against their staff. Every call is a new experience I’ve never heard of before. It’s unfortunate because, like I said, with employment law, there’s really nothing you can do about it until it’s over. And so these people that are not being allowed to work from home, there’s nothing they can really do about it until they can file a complaint about it later.

Faith Fox:

And so since it’s something that continues, it’s premature to file it now. So it’s just really unfortunate, what people on top of the worries about your health and your family, now you have to also worry about your job and being discriminated against and then at the end of the day, all of that being okay because our president decided, no, don’t worry about equal protection or discrimination right now. Let’s just do what we need to do to make things work.

Casey Meraz:

Yeah, it’s hard to believe that that’s reality right now and yet we have tons of people that are facing that situation. I guess one thought that I have from that, it’s good that law firms like yours, you’re still working and available to at least start to field those calls and start understanding what’s happening out there so that people, hopefully when this is all over, can get some sort of justice.

Faith Fox:

I hope so. I really do. Sometimes I hate to not have the confidence in our system the way that I should, but when you have executive orders with all these miscellaneous waivers, albeit unconstitutional, we don’t know how much weight that’s going to hold later to know whether or not all of these people are going to have any justice at the end of the day, unfortunately. We just have to wait and see what happens.

Casey Meraz:

Got it. Well hopefully it plays out and can benefit the people that are in that situation. And that’s definitely a topic that we should explore again, deeper in the future. And just segwaying back into this, I think a lot of law firms should be hopefully avoiding those situations. But then again, I heard of a story of a law firm potentially taking PPP money and then reducing their employee’s hours, their lawyer’s hours but it’s a different type of firm, and they were… Anyway, there’s going to be a lot of shady stuff happening but outside of that, what advice would you give to somebody that’s maybe a smaller firm right now? What they can do just to facilitate this transition and then think in the future?

Faith Fox:

Well, I think it’s really important that even as a small firm, that you have software to manage your practice. A lot of the software, in fact Clio is software specific, specifically designed for the smaller firms where you have less users and less need for… You’re not tracking thousands of cases. It may be hundreds, it may be less than a hundred.

Faith Fox:

But regardless, you need to have everything in one place and so that you or someone on your staff or even if you have an attorney who’s going to cover for you one day, giving them access to the files so that they even have just a little bit more background. Being able to have everything in one place. You don’t necessarily need to have the hard copy. People can print from there, open the documents, preview, download to their phone. You can even take payments through the software program.

Faith Fox:

So I think that that is one of the most important things you can do as a small practice is really invest in software that can really help you stay on top of things so that… Unfortunately, the turnover in our offices is also, can be pretty high, so a lot of paralegals would prefer to work for the larger firms for a number of different reasons. You want to make sure that when someone leaves the firm, that there’s no break in your service to your clients. So having the software where everything’s in one place is really helpful to make sure that that doesn’t happen.

Casey Meraz:

And that’s really solid advice. Clio, yeah, they’re awesome. They do great work. And I’ve worked with law firms that are still using spreadsheets to track cases and things like that and that presents so many issues and they’re the ones that are going to struggle the most right now.

Faith Fox:

I really like having user friendly options. I’m not a fan of Excel, although people that… I think people that excel at Excel are geniuses because I think it’s a crazy program. I can never quite figure out exactly how it all supposed to happen and when I do, it just takes forever. So I love Clio that I don’t have to deal with the independent Excel spreadsheets with all the pages and the columns and the addition and the math. It’s just too much. I really love Clio and I mean there’s other programs, Practice Panther and MyCase and all kinds of software that is so much better than anything like just an Excel spreadsheet.

Casey Meraz:

Yeah, absolutely. And so it sounds like some of that advice that you’re giving is really working on the business during this time, if you don’t have this in place, because that’s what’s going to get you through not only short term but the long term.

Faith Fox:

Yes. One thing that’s been really helpful to me too is just about everything that I need is on the Cloud. So my fax service is Cloud-based. I have PDF converters and word converters that’s also Cloud based so that I’m not necessarily having to come into the office to make copies to print to, to transpose documents. So it makes things a lot easier when you have a lot of things that are available on the Cloud.

Casey Meraz:

Absolutely, yeah. You don’t have to run in and get those big file boxes and there’s a firm that I was thinking of right now that they didn’t even firm email until like a year ago and everything was boxed and anyway, hopefully those people are not… I’m sure they’re struggling the most, but anyway.

Casey Meraz:

So thank you so much for joining us today. Do you have any other parting advice, Faith, that you would give to any law firms that are navigating the situation as well?

Faith Fox:

I think we’re kind of flying by the seat of our pants every day with what’s happening with Corona. Just really, I guess for me, it’s important for me to just pay attention and stay on top of my deadlines. The statutes of limitations. Even though we’ve been granted a reprieve on a lot of these deadlines through June 1st and that also may get extended depending on where we are come June 1st, I think it’s still important to try and maintain the deadlines that you have.

Faith Fox:

So discovery that I have do, I’m just trying to turn it in at the normal time that it would have been due, and I think it’s important to try and stay on top of all of those. Even though you have this extra time, you don’t want it to turn in, or I don’t want it to turn into me being behind the eight ball come June 1st when, I mean, I already have four hearings that week, the first week of June. And so preparing for those hearings and continuing to stay on top of what’s already due, already necessary.

Faith Fox:

I think it’s just really important to keep up with the statutes of limitations and all of the deadlines for discovery and filing appeals. All of those things really need to be maintained as if Corona doesn’t exist because otherwise I think a lot of people are going to… June 1st is going to be like tomorrow and you’re going to have all this work that still needs to be done.

Casey Meraz:

Exactly.

Faith Fox:

That would be my biggest advice. I mean I’ve been still working like normal. Coming into the office or starting work early at home. Working until like six, seven o’clock at night. I’m really trying to make the most of this time. Unfortunately, people are suffering right now and I feel like the least I could do is make the most of the time that we have right now, not take it for granted by just laying around and hanging out for two months.

Casey Meraz:

No, I admire that. It’s easy to shut down and do nothing really, but you’re full steam ahead and I think that’s going to pay a lot of dividends in the end when this is all over. And that was just really great advice too about the deadlines, not letting that slip and wait because if you’re a procrastinator, I can see how you’re going to be in a lot trouble when things start lifting here and you need to schedule anyway. You need to stay active and doing something, otherwise you’re going to burn out or you’re going to be affected by this even more.

Faith Fox:

I agree. I think it’s really important to stay on top of everything. It’s hard to stay on top of things when things are always moving. So now that things have kind of slowed down a little bit, it’s been really helpful to me not to have to go to court two or three times a week, all the different hearings and the trials. So reclaiming that time to make sure that I have everything that I need that has to be written, that has to be filed and getting those things where they need to be has been really important.

Casey Meraz:

Yeah. That’s awesome. Well good. Well again, thank you so much for joining us today, Faith. You’re doing great things at the Cochran Firm and I think you’re leading by example and really helping people out. I appreciate you taking the time and sharing your expertise with us today.

Faith Fox:

Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a really good talk.

Casey Meraz:

Yeah, thank you. Take care.

Faith Fox:

Thank you. Bye bye.

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