Business for employment and workers’ compensation attorneys has skyrocketed for local firms, with employers keeping counsel on speed dial when it comes to handling COVID-related regulations.Throughout the pandemic, employment lawyers have been working 18-hour days to keep up with demand while still finding time to send email blasts and participate in seminars to educate existing clients on changing operating rules, firms told the Business Journal.“We probably had one of our best years last year, financially, but one of the most difficult years in terms of running a law firm,” said Nick Roxborough, partner at Roxborough Pomerance Nye & Adreani, No. 26 on the Business Jounal’s list of Law Firms.
Managing a remote firm across dozens of households, he said, can be a logistical nightmare, especially with a massive workload.“Our clients fortunately have still been in business and still maintain a significant part of their workforce, but sometimes they’ve had to lay people off and so they have faced a backlash in employment lawsuits from those that may have felt the squeeze of the pandemic,” added Drew Pomerance, also partner at RPNA. “Because of that, we’re getting as many if not more calls from our employer clients to help defend some of these employer claims.”Sometimes, referrals from insurance brokerages have turned into workers’ compensation business for the firm, Roxborough said.Insurance carriers are delaying coverage to employers who don’t go through workers’ compensation first for COVID treatment, based on a California law which assumes an employee got the virus from work; employers need to prove otherwise.“We had one (agricultural) client who had a self-insured program. They’re very large in the Central Valley, and the carrier says, ‘We’re not going to pay any medical claims for COVID until first there’s an order denying workers’ comp coverage,’” explained Roxborough. “Carriers are pointing fingers and putting roadblocks out there for employers, like delaying coverage.”RPNA represented this particular client, the employer, in a workers’ comp claim.As with any other practice, employment litigation has struggled with closed courthouses, partly mitigated with virtual court appearances when available. Criminal and family court cases took precedent for in-person court dates when stay-at-home orders lifted.“I have some cases that were scheduled to go to trial in April and May of last year … of course they couldn’t,” said Pomerance. “That has caused difficulty with compliance, it’s wreaked havoc on keeping witnesses engaged and making sure they’ll be available. July got pushed to September and September got pushed to December.”Cases that cross state lines have caused a slew of other issues for law firms too.The RPNA team recalled a case in the Illinois court system in January, when two of its attorneys fell ill with the virus. The arbitration panel refused to issue a postponement of 30 to 45 days for the case until RPNA representatives got an opinion from a judge in that state and presented it to the panel.“We had to go to court in Illinois to basically tell the panel, ‘What you’re doing is denying RPNA’s client of effective representation,’” Roxborough told the Business Journal. “In Los Angeles, we weren’t allowed to be in the office, we weren’t allowed to be together as a trial team, we had to be in different houses, in different counties. The other side had a very large law firm based out of Illinois where they didn’t have the same restrictions.” – Amy Stulick