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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, August 21, 2020

Tales from new normal of working from home


Attorneys’ woes are a reflection of what many of us are going through



Attorney Mack Lundy was on the phone with a LexisNexis research representative when he heard a concerning noise outside his home. Cracking the window blinds in his office, he saw his 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son playing in the street.

After muting the call, Lundy did what many parents would do. “I opened the window and screamed at them to get out of the street,” he says, laughing in hindsight.

Litigation lawyer Susie Lodico sees Lundy’s story and raises him a boy on a dirt bike. She was on the phone with an associate from her firm when she saw her 6-year-old son, Henry, circling the house faster than he was allowed.

Without muting the call, Lodico did what many parents would do. “I opened the window and yelled at him to slow down,” she recalls, also laughing at her memory.

Business attorney John Templeton, however, produces the winning hand with his story about the time his 2-year-old son crashed a conference call with several colleagues.

“My kids had been away with my wife, and when my son saw me through the window, he came bursting in to tell me about something. When I tried to quiet him down, he lost it,” Templeton remembers. “I missed two minutes of people talking to me. There was no calming him down or explaining I was on a call.”

Each of these attorneys with Patrick, Beard, Schulman & Jacoway found themselves caught between the opposing forces of family and work after the coronavirus pandemic reared its disruptive head earlier this year and sent them home.

This was no staycation, however, but work in the midst of unusual circumstances. While lawyers often toil at home at night, Lundy and others at Patrick Beard no longer had the luxury of being in the office during the day – not because the firm said they weren’t allowed to but because their young children were home.

When schools and day cares in Hamilton County closed in March, Lundy began practicing full-time from home, as his wife, Laura Lundy, the director of finance at the Tennessee Aquarium, had to attend to pressing matters at her office.

He soon found himself juggling a pressing appellate practice with supervising his daughter’s homework and entertaining his son. “I became Trillium’s part-time substitute teacher while I was Forrester’s dad and a full-time attorney,” he says, sounding exhausted at the memory. “It reinforced how big of a job it is to take care of children.”

By comparison, one might think Lodico has had it easy, as she’s worked from the office throughout most of the pandemic. “I worked from home for two or three weeks, but I found myself having to come in for one reason or another, so I finally decided to just work in the office,” she says.

Lodico says her husband has a demanding job as a financial planner, so they hired a nanny to watch their children over the summer. However, now that school is beginning again, Lodico and her husband face a fresh set of challenges.

“It’s been hard to figure out how Hamilton County Schools is handling the new school year because I don’t think Hamilton County Schools knows how it’s handling the new school year,” Lodico explains. “Right now, kids are doing two days on and three days off, or vise versa, and there are remote learning obligations.”

Lodico says the patchwork schedule has made arranging for child care difficult. “I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on the phone with our sitter and a grandmother, and then interviewing another sitter because the first sitter is in school. This has created a hodgepodge of child care for our kids, which is less than ideal.”

Of the three Patrick Beard attorneys with war stories of caring for children while elbow-deep in work, perhaps Templeton has had it the easiest. With his wife working part-time from home, he’s been free to come and go as he pleases.

“My wife has borne the brunt of this,” he confesses. “My life has been more normal than hers because I’ve been able to work full time, whether it’s in the office, where I’ve spent most of my time, or at home, where I’ve generally been able to quarantine myself from the screaming children.

“Still, it’s been an adjustment. Working with a 2- and a 1-year-old within earshot is not easy.”

Patrick Beard litigator Ellie Hill has circumstances similar to Templeton’s, as her husband is a teacher at the school their daughters attend. So, when the girls were sent home, so was he, freeing Hill to work from the office.

But Hill says no matter where an attorney sets up shop, he or she is having to deal with a number of nuisances the pandemic has forced on legal practitioners, not the least of which is the tedious nature of conducting motions, hearings and mediations online.

But, Hill says, the courts and her firm have found ways to continue to function and serve the public.

“I want to brag on our management team because we were talking about coronavirus long before a lot of people were,” Hill says. “Our IT team had everybody ready to work at home before it became necessary, and we had procedures and policies in place for where people would spend their time.

“That helped our firm throughout this transition and allowed our staff to feel at peace with coming here.”

Lodico echoes Hill’s praise for how Patrick Beard responded to the pandemic, suggesting that a firm’s willingness to work with its attorneys is crucial to them being able to continue to practice effectively.

“We’re blessed with a family-friendly atmosphere at this firm,” she says. “One of our founding partners, Gary Patrick, has been adamant about us having a play room for our kids. So, those of us who are trying to balance family and work have that option, which makes me feel good about having my children here.”

“The nature of what I do makes it hard to anticipate what a workday is going to consist of, and the kids are a wild card,” Lundy adds. “But the firm has been great about acknowledging the severity of what’s happening and its impact on everyone’s lives, especially those with small children.”

Attorney Lance Pope, who does civil litigation and criminal defense work at Patrick Beard, goes as far as saying having children at the office has helped to loosen up the serious-minded climate at the firm.

“Some of the things we discuss are very intense and heavy. We were having a meeting yesterday, and Henry was in the room being good, and he laughed at a video he was watching,” Pope, who does civil litigation and criminal defense work at Patrick Beard, says. “It lightened the mood and gave us an opportunity to step back and realize we’re all in the same place and doing the best we can.”

Lodico agrees, adding her clients have been more understanding, as well. “Before COVID, I would have been beside myself if my kids had interrupted something, but everyone has been sympathetic.”

Templeton has even found that the pandemic has made some clients and other non-attorneys more understanding of the delays that sometimes occur in the legal arena.

“I hope that sticks around after the pandemic,” he says. “We often deal with people who want things done as soon as they call and don’t realize you not only have other clients to take care of but also your personal life. But sometimes, a deadline can wait.”

As businesses have modified their operations in response to the pandemic, some have found they can operate effectively with many of their employees working from home. While the Patrick Beard attorneys say they have been able to complete their work – despite disruptions – no one is suggesting they shutter the office and permanently work from home.

For starters, the firm just invested considerable money and manpower in its first move in 30 years. When the firm took up residence on the second floor of the Market Court building in 1990 (just after owner Bob Corker renovated the former Sears building), it consisted of five attorneys.

It now includes 17 lawyers and a pair of associates. “We were landlocked and crawling all over each other,” says Steve Jacoway, a partner in the firm. “When we moved to the third flood in June, we more than doubled our space.”

So, pandemic or no pandemic, Patrick Beard has a spanking new office and wants to use it. And that’s fine with Lodico, who’s looking forward to things returning to normal.

“Working with kids at home is always hard, and so much of what happens in the courtroom and during a deposition involves reading and interacting with people,” she notes. “You can do it on Zoom, but it’s not the same experience. I prefer to be in the room with the person I’m cross-examining or putting on the stand.

“I think a lot of businesses will change how they operate based on what’s happened during COVID, but I don’t see the legal profession ever going remote.”

That will suit attorney Jeremy Cothern, who does a variety of work at Patrick Beard, just fine, as he’s looking forward to being back in the trenches with his colleagues. But he’ll miss the extra time he’s been able to spend with his three children.

“We’ve spent more time together taking walks and doing other outdoor activities, since the things they normally do haven’t been available or have been less safe,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed that.”

That said, Cothern points out that the pandemic has been hard on children, too, and while his children have enjoyed the extra dad time, their lack of interaction with their peers was taxing them.

“When we started doing isolated play dates, you could see how it lifted their spirits,” Cothern says. “It underscored for me how important interactions are for children.”

Assuming life someday returns to something resembling what it looked like before the pandemic, Lodico says she’ll miss babysitting stuffed animals for her 4-year-old daughter during the rare days when she works at home, and Lundy says he might even pine for the sprawl of Legos that extends from his laptop across his dining room table. But he’ll be glad to be back at the firm.

“I haven’t worn a suit since March. That will be a change. But spending my days with a 4- and a 6-year-old has probably altered my mind in ways I don’t care to admit, and it will be nice to have adult company.”