Episode 9: How Did Your Law Firm Adapt to COVID-19 with Kay Van Wey

Kay Van Wey is a Board Certified Personal Injury Trial Lawyer and Patient Safety Advocate at her firm Van Wey, Presby & Williams. She has over 30 years of experience and has received many accolades in her time practicing law.

In this episode, Casey talks with Kay about how her law firm adapted to COVID-19 and Kay offers her expertise on how to adapt to the new normal.

Prefer to read? Read The Transcript Below

Interview Transcript

Casey Meraz:

Hi everyone. I’m Casey Meraz with the lawyer mastermind podcast today. Happy to be joined by Kay Van Wey. Kay’s the founder of Van Wey, Presby and Williams based out of Dallas, Texas. Thank you so much for joining us today Kay.

Kay Van Wey:

Thanks for having me.

Casey Meraz:

Absolutely. And today we’re going to be talking about a situation that everybody’s found themselves in now, which is adapting to the challenges of COVID and moving your law firm, if you’ve had to make any changes. So if you don’t mind just telling us, start off with telling us a little bit about your firm and kind of what everything looked like before all of this went down.

Kay Van Wey:

Well, we’re a personal injury litigation firm based in Dallas, but we do work nationwide and we employ about 18 people. I’m proud to say that, knock on wood, we’ve managed to hold pretty steady with that number and keep people employed. So I’m proud of that, but we are very, very busy. We were busy before we’re busy during, I’m hopeful we’ll be busy after the pandemic. And my big joke lately is that I’m going to need a vacation from the pandemic. We’re not sitting on the couch, watching Netflix and eaten bonbons around here.

Casey Meraz:

Got it. I love that. And that’s really refreshing to hear, because it seems like people are in different scenarios. Did the court stay open where you are, did they adapt?

Kay Van Wey:

Well, yes, they for the most part stayed open. Of course, things slowed down a little bit. It wasn’t as easy to get things done. But the courts throughout Texas in Dallas in particular have adjusted very easily. Myself and my partners have had Zoom hearings. We’ve had virtual mediations. The only thing we can’t do is a jury trial. And for our line of work, that is frustrating because the end point of any case for our clients is jury trial and holding the defendant’s feet to the fire. So that’s been a little difficult. They don’t know exactly in Dallas when we’re going to return to that. But most people are hoping for maybe July or August with some modifications of perhaps even doing six person juries so that people can spread out a little bit.

Casey Meraz:

Okay. Got it. Well, that’s good that they were able to adapt. I was talking to an attorney in Chicago in Cook County. They hadn’t even switched to Zoom in any capacity and they were just staying shut. So that’s good to hear that things are going a little bit better there in Dallas. As far as your office goes, did you have to go remote or were you able to stay in the office? What happened there?

Kay Van Wey:

Technically we could have remained open the entire time and required people to come to work because in Dallas we were considered an essential business, but we didn’t. And we all had a little bit of time to prepare. We saw the tsunami coming. So I’d say the week before we could tell everything was going to shut down, we literally sent people home with computers, with printers. Do you have plenty of printer paper? Do you have plenty of toner? So we prepared for everyone to work remotely. And of course we’re virtual anyway, everything that we have is cloud-based, everybody can access all of their files. So really we’ve worked without a hitch in that respect, just this past week, we started letting people return as they wanted to. We haven’t required anyone to come work if they’re not comfortable with it, but we’ve allowed people to come back and work. But people are fortunate, I feel to work for us in the sense that most everyone has a confined office as it is. And so we’re also doing all of the cleaning protocol just the same as any other business would.

Casey Meraz:

Awesome. Okay. Well, that’s good. So that sounds like that wasn’t a big challenge for you then, going remote.

Kay Van Wey:

Well, it wasn’t, we had to do some adjusting. We had some clients that just wanted to come drop things off at the office or whatever. We were like, “Oh, that won’t be necessary.” So there have been some adjustments, but like I said, we’ve been able to take virtual depositions. We’ve done virtual mediations. We hold our team meetings. I’m on the phone, just like everybody else on phone and on Zoom all day, every day. And we miss seeing one another, but I feel that we were able to pivot pretty efficiently. We had a few employees who were not able to shift with us and that didn’t work out so well because people have to be self motivated. They have to be self accountable if there’s no one standing over them, watching them. And we have a great team, but there are one or two people that just couldn’t couldn’t get themselves there.

Casey Meraz:

Got it. Yeah. People are the hardest part of any business. It seems. And sometimes the most unpredictable as well. So I can definitely relate to that challenge. Now, as far as documents go and all the information that people needed on a daily basis, were you already on the cloud or was that any sort of migration as well?

Kay Van Wey:

We were already on the cloud. Our entire files are accessible by any staff member anywhere, any time. So that was pretty easy. And like with experts, I’m old so I’ve started in the day where we used to make the expert notebooks and pile them up in big boxes and ship them to the expert and all of that stuff. But we haven’t missed a beat there with share file and things of that nature.

Casey Meraz:

That’s awesome. And then you talked about maybe not everybody was a good fit for working remotely. Overall would you say that that most of the other employees responded well to that and that they’re still doing the same amount of work that they would do in the office or?

Kay Van Wey:

Yes, I will say it varies by circumstance. It varies by employee and it varies by circumstance. So I’ll give you an example. We have a wonderful young associate who is such an asset to the firm and she wants to do everything that she can, but she has two toddlers at home and no daycare and she’s a single mother, so she cannot be as productive as she would be if the kids were at daycare and she was in the office, but we understand that, we make accommodations for that. I think as an employer, the thing that I appreciate the most are the people who say, “What else can I be doing?”

Kay Van Wey:

So by way of example, we have two people that comprise our intake department. One’s a registered nurse and the other one is a certified medical tech. And they talk to all of the people who call on a daily basis inquiring about whether they had a case. So across the board, not just us, everybody’s intakes had slowed down. So I asked, “Hey, would you be willing to cross train to learn how to order medical records or summarize medical records or do this, that, or the other.” And I have so appreciated the attitude of those who have said, “Absolutely. What can I do? I’m in.” That’s what an employer wants to hear.

Casey Meraz:

Yeah, absolutely. And having that self discipline while being able to work from home is also an important part of that. So that’s great. It sounds like you have the right people in the right seats in your organization there and that they were able to adapt as well. So that’s really great. And then-

Kay Van Wey:

Sorry, I was just going to say-

Casey Meraz:

No go ahead. Sorry. I cut you off.

Kay Van Wey:

No, I was just going to say what you said previously about employees. We do have a great staff and it’s been a painful process to get there. And once you get the right people and the right mix of people, you want to hold onto them.

Casey Meraz:

Absolutely. Yeah, no, I can relate to that and good people are hard to find and especially people that can adapt as well and have that self discipline and being able to kind of pivot, I guess, as needed. That sounds like that that has definitely been important. You mentioned that case intake has changed. How has that changed? Has it changed a lot dramatically or subtly?

Kay Van Wey:

Okay. Well, my observation is that the quantity of people calling is down and it’s surprising to me because oftentimes in our business, people don’t call right away when something happens, there might be a long period of recovery and they’re waiting for the dust to settle to say, “I wonder if I should call a lawyer about that.” And it kind of surprised me because you would think that with people being home, they could finally get around to doing some of these things. So I don’t really have an explanation for it. Maybe they think businesses like ours aren’t open. Maybe they think that because of COVID, that it’s no longer feasible to sue a healthcare provider. I don’t have an explanation for it, but it’s definitely down.

Casey Meraz:

Got it. And do you take just a serious injury cases or soft tissue?

Kay Van Wey:

Well, what I call us as a full service personal injury law firm. So we take everything from a soft tissue car wreck case. We have a team that does those kind of cases all the way up to the biggest thing you can imagine. I tell people with the team I have assembled and my law partners as well, that I don’t feel like there’s anything we can’t take on, which might sound like a bold statement, but my law partner, Ellen Presby has been national trial counsel on big pharmaceutical cases and things of that nature. So we truly run the gamut. We do a lot of catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases. Medical malpractice is a major core of our business. And then we also do certain mass torts.

Casey Meraz:

Okay. Got it. All right. I wonder if people not being on the roads as much or issues like that would relate to getting, I guess maybe less inquiries I’m not sure. What’s your take on that?

Kay Van Wey:

Well, I know that my friends and colleagues who run those types of law firms, where they do a high volume of car wreck type cases, they’re really suffering. For us, we tend to handle more significant car wreck cases. And so we haven’t seen a huge downturn in that, and we haven’t seen a huge downturn in the mass tort cases. For some reason, and I don’t know why, the volume of people who are calling about medical malpractice cases is down.

Casey Meraz:

Okay. Interesting.

Kay Van Wey:

But, Oh, sorry.

Casey Meraz:

No, go ahead. Sorry.

Kay Van Wey:

The thing about medical malpractice is any malpractice lawyer may review a hundred leads, a hundred inquiries and take one case anyway. The bar is so high. We, we screen a very large volume of those cases before we get to the cases that we can help people with, so.

Casey Meraz:

Okay. Do you think people are getting less treatment as well right now, maybe afraid to go to hospitals?

Kay Van Wey:

No doubt. And it’s kind of funny because my boys are home and they were going to get on the ladder and clean the gutters. And I was like, you know what? This is what happens when you have a mom that’s personal injury lawyer. I cited some statistic about the number of emergency room visits that occur every year because of people falling from ladders. And I was like, you know what, we’re not going to clean the gutters because the last thing we need is somebody going to the emergency room from falling off the ladder. But yes, part of the situation is that a lot of medical malpractice cases arise from elective medical procedures and certainly that’s down.

Casey Meraz:

Okay. Wow. Yeah, no, and I mean, that makes sense. And people might be being more cautious too to kind of avoid those situations. So I think that’s an interesting perspective as well. And then as far as the firm operations go, you mentioned obviously your employees were working remotely. One thing I forgot to ask was, did you implement anything new that you hadn’t done before? Like Zoom or Slack for internal team communications, or maybe you already had something in place or maybe that wasn’t even a concern?

Kay Van Wey:

Well, we really weren’t using Zoom much internally before. And so that’s really fun. We’ve actually even had a firm Zoom happy hour. That was really fun. But it’s pretty amazing how much lawyers can do with a cell phone and a laptop. I mean, and having everything cloud-based.

Casey Meraz:

Yeah, no, definitely no doubt. Okay. And is there any weaknesses or things that you think that you would improve upon now in the situation that you’re in? Any areas of opportunity maybe?

Kay Van Wey:

Well, areas of opportunity. I don’t know if this is what you’re asking me or not, but mindset is so critical because like other lawyers, I’m on all these lists serves. And it’s kind of like watching the news, you can get really depressed if you buy into the woe is me and Chicken Little, the sky is falling. And something that I read many, many years ago is you’re kind of the sum of the three people you hang around with the most, or the three people that are in your ear the most. And what I tell the staff all the time is we are here to help people. We’re not here to push files or have inventory. We are here to help people. Yes. Do we need to pay the overhead? Yes. Would we like to be profitable? Of course, but I’ve tried to keep everyone focused on that during this COVID crisis, as well to say, we may not be able to help everyone, but let’s remember our mission, which is to help people.

Kay Van Wey:

And rather than focusing on ourselves and woe is me. Let’s figure out how we can help people during this time. And we’re actually doing some pretty creative cases. We’ll see how that works out, but we’re trying to be a contributor to the good of society and that may sound kind of pollyannaish or whatever, but that’s what we’re all about. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a personal injury lawyer or a probate lawyer or a family lawyer, I think as a profession, if we think in those terms during this time, how can I be of service? How can I help? That lawyers might find that there’s new avenues of business they haven’t even thought about before.

Casey Meraz:

Yeah, absolutely. And you know, I think that’s really, that’s an important business lesson in general. I think just helping people out and being there for them. People right now don’t want to be inundated with like advertising, but if you’re there for them and you’re helping them in a time of need and that’s your brand and what you’re doing, you’re going to resonate with them. They’re going to be able to connect with you. And I mean, I think you’re right about also that being another source of a new clients as well.

Kay Van Wey:

Exactly lead with the, how can we help you?

Casey Meraz:

I love that. And I’ve talked to some law firms that do that. So I’ve worked with law firms that don’t do that. And maybe somebody calls in and they can’t help them with their case. And just kind of maybe try to shut that call off right away. Whereas others have taken the opposite approach and maybe gone out of their way to help them a little bit, even over the phone and that’s resulted in good reviews and of course, good PR. So you can really see that in practice as well, which is really interesting. So I’m glad you brought that up.

Kay Van Wey:

Yeah, absolutely.

Casey Meraz:

So Kay, it sounds like the things have gone really well for you, which is really awesome.

Kay Van Wey:

Well, we’re hanging in there. I mean, I’m not going to say it’s easy. I mean, I’m human and sometimes the monotony of getting up and getting out of your pajamas or your sweats every day and putting on a happy face for the rest of the world, it’s, challenging at times. But I’ve found that keeping my health myself mentally and physically healthy allows me to be a better leader.

Kay Van Wey:

And I’ve done some of the craziest things such as every Tuesday and Thursday. We have a two hour medical malpractice docket team meeting. We go over every case, we talk strategy or whatever, and I’ve got these noise canceling headphones. And I put on my tennis shoes and walk during those calls. And so on docket review days, I get in six or seven miles walking. And I’m not even thinking about the fact that I’m getting exercise, cause I’m focused and concentrated. I’m engaged in conversations or whatever, but that’s helped so much with my stress and my mindset and keeping a gratitude list and realizing that it’s like being a parent, that your children are listening and watching. Well, your staff is listening and watching and if they start seeing you crack, then they’re going to lose confidence, so.

Casey Meraz:

Man, that’s great night. You do have to take care of yourself. And I think that kind of leads into the last question I was going to ask you as well, which is what advice would you give to other managing attorneys or law firm owners that are finding themselves in this situation and are having a hard time to adapt?

Kay Van Wey:

Well so much. I mean, taking care of yourself is the number one thing. And it may not be the same thing for everyone, but drinking a bottle of wine every night may feel good and I’m not judging cause I love my wine too, but whatever it is for you, be healthy, take care of yourself number one. Find ways to be grateful. The work that we do, we can always look at somebody else who has it a trillion times worse than us, right? And to not panic and realize that this too shall pass. And that even if some law firms need to make adjustments, they can make adjustments and they can come out of this stronger and better. My whole thing is I want to come out of this stronger and better. I want to come out of it leaner. There’s opportunities to examine things and get leaner and get better.

Kay Van Wey:

I follow this horseman, his name’s Pat Parelli and he’s just got this good old common horse sense. And he says, good, better, best, never let it rest. Get your good, better and your better best. And I probably drive my staff crazy because this is what I live by. And I drive myself to always every day, well, I did my best yesterday, today I’m going to try to do even better. And so in addition to running the business and taking care of our clients and all of the things that go into the day to day of a law firm every day, we’re looking at things, how can we tweak this? How could we improve that?

Casey Meraz:

Wow, well, that’s awesome advice. And I think that’s really applicable for anybody to use. So I really appreciate you sharing that and also I appreciate you taking the time to come on and talk with us today, it’s been really insightful.

Kay Van Wey:

You bet. Well, I appreciate you having me and I hope that some of my rambling musings are helpful to somebody who maybe is struggling a little bit right now. I think it’s going to all be all right.

Casey Meraz:

Awesome. Thanks for that encouraging statement there and I feel the same way and hopefully it’s sooner rather than later, but again, I’m glad that things are going decent for you. And I appreciate you taking the time today. I look forward to catching up again in the future.

Kay Van Wey:

You bet. Thank you so much.

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