Before the pandemic, litigator Marc Williams was one of the many legal professionals who thought remote work was reserved for emergencies. He assumed one had to be at the office to be most productive.
Forced to manage a team in a tense and remote environment, Williams learned to embrace the uninvited reality.
Williams and host Jill Francisco discuss the shift and realization that law practice wouldn’t return to a pre-pandemic normal even with vaccines.
One example: Williams tells Francisco he expects expensive travel for depositions that can be handled remotely will be difficult to justify to clients. And as he’s already experienced, the search for talented paralegals doesn’t have to be limited by geography. Williams notes he hired a veteran litigation paralegal based in South Carolina to work on his team, based in West Virginia. No moves necessary.
The two also discussed how paralegals could distinguish themselves and become invaluable members of legal teams.
Marc Williams is the managing partner of the West Virginia office of Nelson Mullins.
Special thanks to our sponsors, NALA, ServeNow, CourtFiling.net and Legalinc.
The Paralegal Voice
Navigating Law Practice Post-Pandemic
Jill Francisco: Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining me for another fun and exciting and informative episode of The Paralegal Voice on the Legal Talk Network. I am Jill Francisco, an advanced-certified paralegal, immediate past president of NALA, the paralegal association and your host of The Paralegal Voice. I have over 23 years of paralegal experience and I’m so excited to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for the paralegal profession with you. We have an awesome guest for today’s show, but before we welcome him, we’d like to thank our sponsors. Today’s sponsor is ServeNow. ServeNow is a nationwide network of trusted pre-screened process servers, work with the most professional process servers who have experience with high volume serves, who embrace technology and understand the litigation process. Visit servenow.com to learn more.
We would also like to thank Legalinc., makes it easy for paralegals to digitally automate tasks like business formations, corporate filings, and registered agent services nationwide. Visit legalinc.com/podcast to create your free account today. Thank you to NALA, the paralegal association. NALA is a professional association for paralegals providing continuing education, voluntary certification, and professional development programs. NALA has been a sponsor of The Paralegal Voice since its very first episode. And thank you to courtfiling.net. E-file court documents with ease in California, Illinois, Indiana and Texas. To learn mor, visit courtfiling.net to take advantage of a free 30-day trial.
So, I am so excited today to welcome to the show Marc Williams, he’s a managing partner of the West Virginia office of Nelson Mullins. He handles complex cases nationally in an array of litigation areas and has tried more than 100 jury trials and appeals in state and federal courts throughout his career. Now, I’m going to tell you, that’s the total abbreviated version of Marc’s bio because he is a very, very accomplished attorney, leader, we’re on the total the same page in our professional involvement of associations in our career and I mean, clearly, he’s just an all-around fun guy because you know, I have fun on the program, I don’t — if you’re not fun, you’re not getting on the program. So, Marc, like I said, is also a very active in his trade professional associations. He’s a past president of DRI, the voice of the defense bar and like I said, we share that view of the importance of being involved and active in your trade professional associations. And I had the privilege years ago working with Marc during the early years of my paralegal career, I’ve known Marc for many years, so it’s truly an honor and a treat to have him on with me today as we discuss the effects that COVID-19 pandemic has had and continues to have on the practice of law and how that relates and translates to paralegals and other staff. Marc, welcome to The Paralegal Voice.
Marc Williams: Thank you, Jill. I’m glad to be here, thanks for having me.
Jill Francisco: Thank you, I’m super excited. So, Marc, let’s just kind of jump right into it, because you know, we are on a time crunch as I was telling you and we don’t want our listeners to miss out on all the awesome things I know that you’re going to have to share. So, can you just explain a little bit because I want people to know about your background and a little bit more of your experience than I mentioned.
Marc Williams: Sure. As your introduction, very generous introduction indicated, my practice is exclusively litigation, it’s primarily for the defense, primarily involving corporate clients, increasingly, especially in commercial litigation, sometimes we find ourselves as the plaintiff. But I don’t do any personal injury plaintiff’s work, it’s all on the defense side. My clients are medical systems, product manufacturers, chemical companies, insurance companies, although not as much insurance work probably is as a lot of defense lawyers, transportation companies, those sorts of things. So, it’s largely litigation involving large entities. I do a lot of class action work. I do a lot of an increasing amount of appellate work interestingly since it doesn’t seem like I can get a case to go to trial to save my life. So, my courtroom work for the last four or five years has been largely appellate work. But still have a robust practice nationally, handling a bunch of litigation all over the country which is interesting and is never boring although for the last year, as we’re going to discuss, the around-the-country means it’s all done from here in my Zoom room in the office in West Virginia.
Jill Francisco: I know, like what’s happened to us? We used to travel all the time. Like JD and Sean are done with me, like “get out of here, when’s your next trip?”
Marc Williams: Well, yesterday was Groundhog Day and in some ways, the last year has been Groundhog Day.
Jill Francisco: Good, good analogy.
Marc Williams: It’s all the same, and I’m coming up on — it’ll be in about a month, it’ll be a year since I’ve been on an airplane. And considering I flew 150 000 miles in 2019, that’s really weird to not be getting on a plane every week.
Jill Francisco: I know, I know. We were busy. It’s funny how it switches your focus. So yeah, let’s get into this a little bit more. So, like we know, COVID-19 is definitely having an impact on the legal industry as a whole and the practice of law. And what are some of the things that to you stand out that are making the biggest impacts right now in our profession?
Marc Williams: Well, first of all, it required us to totally rethink how we’d handle cases. In the past, your relationships with clients, your handling of a matter, especially complex matters where you may have experts from around the country or if you’re like me and you had a national practice that required you to be in various states, all those sorts of things had to change. You almost instantaneously from about this time last year, we had to make a decision how are we going to handle these cases, are we able to handle these cases, it was frankly the question we were asking a year ago, is everything going to come to a dead stop?
Jill Francisco: Right.
Marc Williams: As an example, about this time last year, was the last significant in-person hearing that I held, that I was a part of. And it was in Charleston, West Virginia, it was an extraordinarily large set of cases and there were lawyers from all over the country that had come for this hearing, they’re probably close to 100 lawyers in the courtroom. They had to have it in the ceremonial courtroom in Charleston because that was the only courtroom large enough to hold everything.
Jill Francisco: Fit everybody.
Marc Williams: And little did we know, but that a paralegal, as it turns out, for one of the plaintiff’s firms had COVID. Now, at that point, we all sort of understood or we knew about the possibility that there was a virus out there that we needed to be careful about, but you know, it didn’t stop us from having a hundred people shoulder to shoulder in a courtroom. And you know, we were still shaking hands or hugging people that we knew because a lot of these lawyers, you know, we see all the time and we’re friends with. And there was an asymptomatic paralegal from an out-of-state plaintiff’s firm that was there in the courtroom providing support for her lawyers and she didn’t realize that she had the virus. And there were several people who tested positive after that and we suspect probably because they, you know, she transmitted it. But at the time, nobody knew. No one knew. Now, after that, there was a sort of a transition of well what can we do, do we have to not be together, should we be careful about being together, the whole masks issue was something that we had —
Jill Francisco: Wear them, don’t wear them.
Marc Williams: But it also became apparent almost immediately that there were going to be changes in the way that courts were dealing with us. So, most of the courts around the country started imposing orders that would limit what you could do, it created problems with especially firms that had corporate clients because a lot of the clients, especially if they were product manufacturers of some kind, they weren’t able to move products. So, they wanted their cases put on hold to the extent possible to try to save money. So, there was just a tremendous amount of uncertainty. And what happened was that it ended up forcing all of us in law firms around the country to reach an understanding of how we were going to do this, how we were going to proceed with these cases and frankly embrace some things that maybe we weren’t willing or prepared to embrace prior to that. And technology played a huge part in that and I’m sure we’ll talk more about that as we go forward. But you know, if you think about all the things that are given today that we never thought about then, first of all, who had heard of Zoom before January of 2020?
Jill Francisco: Right, right.
Marc Williams: Right?
Jill Francisco: I mean, we had the technology. I always say that, we had the technology, we just never used it. I mean, I’m sure you do the same thing. I have a — I don’t know, quarterly, you know, thing now with my friends, you know, friends in Florida, and I’m like, “why didn’t we do this before?” We could have, we just didn’t use the technology.
Marc Williams: Well, I mean, we all had conference calls. We all spent way too much time on conference calls, especially like when we’re involved in professional organizations, they sort of exist on conference calls because you get people from around the country that are trying to get involved. And it was one of the friends I — tell my kids, they’re like, “what does dad do?” Well, that dad talks on the phone, that’s what he does, he talks on the phone all day.
Jill Francisco: Constantly.
Marc Williams: That’s it? You talk on the phone? I’m like, yeah, that’s pretty much it. I talked on the phone. But now, I talk on Zoom. So, it’s just a more sophisticated version, the same thing.
Jill Francisco: It is amazing and I like how you mentioned that things that, you know, we are going to have to embrace, I mean, we had to embrace. I mean, I think if you were going still be successful and still maintain, you know, do your job for your clients, I think that you had to embrace it and I think it’s definitely stuff I like what you said that it was stuff that just you wouldn’t have done before. I mean, you know, I just think I compare the working from home or working remotely. I mean, think about how law firms and whatever companies, not just law firms but companies whatever would have never allowed that. And now, they’ve seen it over the months, I mean, I hope this is the case that it’s just as productive, some cases more productive, staff’s happy, workers are happy, I don’t know. But I just think that you would have never maybe seeing that, you would have only had to select small you know cluster of companies and places that were given that a go before this.
Marc Williams: Yeah, I would like to think that I was progressive enough to say that I understood that people working from home could be as productive as if they were at the office and that would be a lie. I mean, that would — that would not be the case because like most lawyers, my assumption was that you need to be at the office. I understood if people had to take time off or they had issues or they had, you know, kid issues or things like that that they had to deal with and manage. I’ve always been a believer that you have to have the flexibility for that sort of thing. But the concept of working from home being as productive as being in the office, I bet there probably was less than 10% of the workforce in the legal field that thought that that could happen, that thought that’s possible.
Jill Francisco: I think you’re totally right.
Marc Williams: And you know, what we found out was we can be as productive.
Jill Francisco: Yeah, and I think even like you said, I think even more so. I’ve tried to find the positives and I think you’re the same type of person. You know, we try to find the positives or whatever situation it is and I think that’s what I keep saying. I’m like there are a lot of opportunities that are coming from this too in addition to, you know, things that aren’t so awesome and aren’t so great for us. You know, you got to take the good with the bad.
Marc Williams: Well, it’s kind of in some ways, it’s a mixed bag. On the one hand working from home is easier, on the other hand working from home is always there
and it’s, you know, when you leave the office and go home, then you’ve gone home. When you get up from your computer at home and go into another room and walk back into that room, the computer is still there. So, essentially, your work never leaves you. And one of the things I had to remind my staff and another thing that we can talk about is the need as a manager and a leader to try to be more engaged with people who aren’t — who you’re not seeing in the office every day. But one of the things I had to remind them was you got to get up and go outside. You got to get away from the laptop and do some things for yourself. Every day, you need to make a commitment to I’m going to go walk outside. I don’t care if it’s 30 degrees outside or I’m going to go make something for myself. I’m going to go cook or I’m going to go read a book or I’m going to go play with the kids or the dogs, whatever it is that can remove you from work so that you’re not constantly at any point when something isn’t happening, you’re not in front of the computer looking at emails.
Jill Francisco: Yeah, and I agree with you that and it’s funny because I had to kind of do that too because we all were thrown into it and I remember thinking well, I want to be there all the time because I don’t want them to think I’m not working. And it’s like, you know, you have to find it’s like, okay, I’m still getting the task done, I’m still doing them, it’s just you just have that thing about, well I want them to know I’m here, I’m always online. But anyway, well, Marc, before we move on to our second little segment there, when we talk about things that are needed, I don’t want the listeners to miss. Let’s take a quick commercial break and we’ll be right back.
Male: NALA members receive exclusive content such as the paralegal utilization and
compensation survey report, access to members-only collaboration site, discounts on office products and car rental, access and preferred placement on a web platform for paralegal contract jobs and access to the member-only career center. NALA members also receive discounted education and products. Join NALA today and become a part of our community. Learn more at nala.org.
Today’s episode is brought to you by Legalinc. Legalinc is empowering paralegals to embrace their inner legal rock star by automating the everyday tasks that hold them back. Through their free dashboard solution, paralegals can quickly and easily automate services like business formations, corporate filings, registered agent services and more. Visit legalinc.com to create a free account and check out legalinc.com/podcast for a chance to win legal rock star swag.
Jill Francisco: Welcome back to The Paralegal Voice. I’m Jill Francisco and my guest today is Marc Williams. And today, we are discussing the COVID pandemic and how it has had some effects on the practice of law. We’re going to jump right back in there and, you know, Marc, as we were talking about — as a consequence of the pandemic, paralegals, other legal staff, you know, we’ve all seen changes to tasks — I mean, attorneys too, really everybody that’s working in the law practice, tasks and skills required to perform our usual work duties as they were before. What jumps out at you as being some imperative things and skills that paralegals and other staff need to know to really be on top of it right now, the way that we’re having to practice law?
Marc Williams: Well, I suspect that for a lot of your listeners probably from spring of last year until early summer, they may have been working primarily at home or some sort of split arrangement where they were at home sometime and at the office sometime. And that was really difficult for all of us to sort of understand if that was going to be possible. How could you have litigation support if the people weren’t there to handle things? And what we found was is that with a few exceptions where for instance, maybe there might need to be things that were done in person, preparation of notebooks that — or documents or things like that for a deposition that’s going to be done remotely or a hearing notebook which we use paralegals to do those. The vast majority of things could be done remotely. And it occurred to me that at that point, it really doesn’t matter where these people are. I mean, it’s helpful if they’re close by so they can come in the office. But realistically, it doesn’t matter if they’re 10 miles away or 100 miles away. And so, to that extent, it provided some flexibility in terms of staffing that made it a lot easier I think for the paralegals that work at least on our team and our firm is divided into teams. And in my team, which is primarily made up of people from the West Virginia office but also has people from Columbia, South Carolina and Charlotte and will soon be from the Washington DC office. It doesn’t really matter. So, I have a paralegal who’s working for me now, who’s in Columbia, South Carolina. She’s never been to this office, she’s got, you know, 25 years of experience and we hired her because we were lucky to get somebody with that level of experience handling litigation that could instantaneously get started on things.
But one of the reasons that I was comfortable in making that hire was that I knew it didn’t matter if that she wasn’t here in the office with me. So, to that extent, one of the things that a paralegal needs to be thinking about as we go into this new area which I’m sure we’ll talk about in the future but I don’t think it’s going to change, I’ll tease that at this point.
Jill Francisco: Yeah. Throw that out there.
Marc Williams: Yeah, in the next block, we’re going to talk about it. But I don’t think it’s going to change that much, is how can you make yourself valuable to somebody without being in the office, being able to walk in and ask them questions. What are the sorts of things that I need to be able to do in terms of accessibility, in terms of communicating quickly? And as a result, there’s so many technology tools that are available to you that it’s really a lot easier than it’s ever been. People complain about the fact, I’ve got a phone on me now that’s 24/7 and clients can always get a hold of me. I try to think of it in a different way. It gives me the flexibility that I don’t have to be in the office all the time by the phone. Because I do carry that thing, everybody has that number, you have my number, everybody I’ve ever known has my number. And they can get a hold of me no matter where I am. So, if I leave to go to my son’s soccer practice, and it’s really urgent that someone get a hold of me, they can do that. I had a plaintiff’s lawyer text me at 1 AM the other night. I wasn’t awake but it was something that, you know, I saw — when I woke up the next day, that’s okay, I don’t mind that. I’m probably one of the few people that doesn’t mind those sorts of intrusions because I’m pretty good at ignoring things that I don’t need to deal with immediately. But from the support staff component of paralegals and other professional staff, I always want them to be thinking about how can I make myself invaluable for the person that I work for. Their job is to do the things that’s going to make it easier for me and that’s why I’ve always considered the paralegal job, the hardest in the office and the most valuable in the office
And why we take great pride in hiring really good paralegals and training them up and giving them responsibility and rewarding them for their work. Because frankly, with the cases that we handle and the complexity of the matters that we’re dealing with, we have to have that kind of help.
Jill Francisco: Yeah, I love that you said that you looked at it a different way where you have your phone on you or whatever, it could be like you said, your iPad or whatever. But people I chose because, you know, the firm doesn’t pay for our phone
service so I don’t have to have my email on there but I do because — and like you said, it’s not because they make me but because I feel like I can be more helpful to use and it creates flexibility for me. If I’m out running some errands and, you know, I mean, it’s fine but then if you need something real quick and I can answer your question, that just makes — like you said, that just increases my value to you. And so, why wouldn’t I want to do that? But you have staff and paralegals on both sides of that. But I do look at it exactly how you look at it. I look at it, that helps me to be more flexible but then also it increases the value because if I can just take 10 minutes and you need the information and you don’t have to wait time back in the office or whatever, I think it’s just a win-win for both sides.
Marc Williams: Well, there has to be a trusting relationship between the attorney and the paralegal. The attorney is abusing it by saying, my golly, I want you to be online 24/7 and anytime I ask for something, I want an instantaneous response. But one, that’s unrealistic and two, that person’s not going to work for you very long. And you should quit that job because that person’s a phrase that I can’t say on a podcast. But you have to have some respect between the attorney and the paralegals so that i understand the sorts of things you’re trying to do and the issues you’re dealing with because frankly, one of the things that that came apparent to me in this pandemic was that you had a lot of young parents that were trying to juggle child care or children who weren’t going to be at school and now we’re home all the time or some split schedule, like your child and my child are both on split schedules now, so we know they’re going to be home certain number of days and at school a certain number of days and you have to account for the fact that people have to deal with that. And if you don’t, then you’re not — first of all, you’re not understanding the reality of what your staff is dealing with and you have to account for the pressures that they’re under in trying to manage that. I mean, we had some young parents that were — child care that they traditionally relied on wasn’t available and what are they going to do? Bring them to the office? No. We were able to work out arrangements for them to work from home even after we came back in June, where we were largely back full time in June. But, you know, having gone through several months of letting people work from home, I knew at that point, well, it was possible that you could work from home and be productive. So, if someone said, look, my childcare arrangement isn’t there, the kid’s out of school, someone has to be with him and I would like to work from home. I was able to say, sure, you can do that. And it worked out.
Jill Francisco: Yeah, and I think you’re exactly right. And I also think I’ve said this before to some paralegals. I’m like, this is really telling of your employer, you know, how does your employer — you know, you liked your job before the pandemic? You thought it was fun? How did they treat you during this? What was really the reaction? And like you said, things that are beyond my control, I can’t help that, no matter how committed I am to my work, and I think that it was very telling for some. So, you know, maybe some will be looking for other jobs and then some may really step up their game and just be even more dedicated and loyal because they’ve seen their employer really step up for them.
Marc Williams: Well, and I think most firms are going to have an understanding whether it’s a small firm or a large firm like we work for. They’re going to be understanding that there is a difference, that things that they may have anticipated a year ago as being problematic, but not necessarily so. I get much in the same way that we were talking about technology, that no lawyer wanted to be forced to take a deposition remotely because it was always, “Oh, I have to be across the table from the witness. I had to be able to look them in the eye and be able to see their soul.” Well, then, when all of a sudden that wasn’t possible, it’s like, “oh, yeah, okay. I can do it over Zoom.”
Jill Francisco: And then you do it and it’s great.
Marc Williams: Yeah, and it works out fine. Once you’ve done it 10 times and you learned how to manage documents over a computer, it’s fine. It’s not that big of a deal.
It’s the same way with managing a staff and understanding that they’re not
always going to be there and sometimes they have to work from home. That it’s okay, yeah, it’s workable. And if you’ve hired correctly, if you’ve made the right hire and you’ve trained
them the right way it’s going to be as fine if they’re working from home than if they were in your office.
Jill Francisco: Yeah, and i still say and I tell this to people. I still say, “Hey, I feel like and obviously there’s exception, but I feel like if you’re a good worker in the office, you’re going be a good worker at home. If you were slacking already, you’re just going to slack some more.
Marc Williams: That’s right.
Jill Francisco: I mean, the slacking will probably increase at home but I feel like if you’re a good worker you’re going to be still be a good worker. So, but let’s get past COVID because I think we’re trying to get on that. We’re getting on that horse. I think like we’re — I mean we know we’re going to get past it. I think we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel because of the vaccine.
Marc Williams: Yeah. We’re definitely closer to the end than the beginning.
Jill Francisco: I am not vaccinated. Sean is vaccinated even with second dose because he is essential even before the pandemic.
Marc Williams: Well, I am.
Jill Francisco: He was essential.
Marc Williams: You think he is essential but I might have an argument on that.
Jill Francisco: You might have that. That’s funny. But anyway, so he is vaccinated. We’re getting more vaccines out there. So once we get passed COVID, because we’re going to get past it. Hopefully, later this year I think you and I were talking about the timing. What do you see happening to the practice of law like big picture because I think you were saying, “we’re not going to go back the way it was?”
Marc Williams: I don’t think we are. And I based that not on my crystal ball which is not very effective.
Jill Francisco: Malfunctions at times.
Marc Williams: Yeah. If you look at my selection history on super balls, it’s very foggy. But it’s from talking with clients, primarily.
Jill Francisco: Yeah.
Marc Williams: And clients have come to realize that the way the practice of law has changed over the last year is more efficient and is leveraging technology in a way that was always possible but which we were reluctant to do for the reasons that we talked about. It was only when we were forced to use Zoom and other similar whether it’s Webex or BlueJeans or Teams whatever.
Jill Francisco: Yeah.
Marc Williams: Only when we were forced to use that, did we realize how flexible and convenient it was. Two years ago, I flew to the West Coast for a hearings more than 20 times. Once, twice in one week. Flew to the West Coast came back, had a hearing in West Virginia then flew back at the end of the week. It was crazy. Now, you just have them by Zoom, or the California court system has adopted BlueJeans which is a Verizon product which is very similar to Zoom but very easy to use and I was sitting in a hearing with a judge in Oakland California, plaintiff’s lawyer in San Francisco, plaintiff’s lawyer in New Jersey, me in West Virginia and it was just like being in the courtroom. There was no difference. And at that point I realized, this this is not going to change. So in the course of over the last six months or so I’ve been talking with clients about what their expectations are going forward and universally they’ve said, “We’re not going back.” So for instance, Mediations, you’re not going to be able to get a client to fly from Chicago to wherever the case is being mediated because the court requires somebody to be in person. They’ll be done remotely. It’ll be a lot easier to schedule. It’ll be a lot easier to manage. And frankly, the technology is only going to get better in terms of bandwidth and the products that are available. Zoom is going to be more sophisticated. Teams is going to get better and it’s going to make it easier to do that. And I think the same with judges on how they manage their docket. Like most hearings will be done remotely. There will still be some judge that’ll insist on everybody being in person but
I think that’s going to be the exception. I think depositions are going to be the same.
Jill Francisco: Yeah, you’re right. And the cost which you know how it is bottom line. That’s going to be hard to argue.
Marc Williams: Right. Well, it’s like —
Jill Francisco: Especially, when you’ve done a good job like you’ve had a Mediation, it’s been successful, even I’m not saying successful as in terms of it settled or whatever your result, but successful as the process. You’ve been successful, you could do it.
Marc Williams: Yeah. I mean we’ve done 115 depositions or so.
Jill Francisco: Just a few.
Marc Williams: Remotely over the past year and it takes I’m getting used to. I mean it’s not as easy as just handing to witness the document and asking them to look at it but after about five or six of those it’s really a difference. And frankly, if a client were to ask you why do you need to go? Why is it so important that you fly to Texas to do that experts or Florida to do that expert’s deposition. I think most lawyers if they were honest is going to be difficult for them to justify it.
Jill Francisco: Yeah, I think you’re right.
Marc Williams: And the clients aren’t going to want to pay for it. So what one other things I think that we’re going to see is the differences that clients are going to adjust their
billing guidelines for those who wants to do defense work for companies, and the billing guidelines are going to set forth that the presumption is going to be that things are done remotely. It’s only going to be in a rare circumstance where you can make a showing of a significant advantage for why you have to do it in person. Now, if the judge says, I want the people there in person, you go you show up in person.
Jill Francisco: Yeah, right.
Marc Williams: I mean that’s you don’t have a choice on that.
Jill Francisco: Right.
Marc Williams: But when you’re talking about Mediations or depositions, Arbitrations those are all going to be done remotely. I suspect. Just because it’s so much more efficient and the corollary to that for a paralegal is going to be — and really this is the same for lawyers too. It doesn’t matter where you live. You can live where you want and if I find somebody who’s talented and can advance the ball on my cases and is helpful to me, it’s not going to matter whether they’re in West Virginia or Charlotte or living at the beach. You know?
Jill Francisco: Yeah. And again, that’s one of the positive opportunities that I was saying. That’s something that’s almost like a perk. I mean that’s been —
Marc Williams: Yeah, well, think about that. If you could live anywhere you wanted and I remember a lawyer that I dealt with back in the 90s who flew all the time. When we were handling the Ashland Oil litigation.
Jill Francisco: Yeah.
Marc Williams: He flew probably 250 days a year away from home, and it was a headquarter in Atlanta but he never was there. And he said that he decided “why do I need to live in Atlanta, I’m never there.” So he picked, he decided he was going to live at the beach but he picked a beach location that was close to a reasonably good airport so he could get to where he needed to be and he would just fly to wherever he was going and then fly home and be at the beach.
Jill Francisco: It was all set.
Marc Williams: Yeah. Well, that was 30 years ago. But now we’re all able to enjoy that because realistically, it doesn’t matter where we live.
Jill Francisco: You’re right, you’re right. All right, well, before we move on to our last little thing that we’re going to talk about, we’re going to take a short break. So, will be right back.
Male: Looking for a process server you can trust, ServeNow.com is a nationwide network of local pre-screen process servers. ServeNow works with the most professional process servers in the industry. Connecting your firm with process servers who embrace technology, have experience with high volume serves and understand the litigation process and rules of properly effectuating service. Find a pre-screen process server today. Visit www.ServeNow.com. This episode of Paralegal Voice is brought to you by CourtFiling.net,
your solution for electronic filing in California, Illinois, Indiana and Texas. CourtFiling.net provides a better e-filing experience so you can spend more time helping clients because they know that work sometimes happens after hours. CourtFiling.net offers 24/7 phone email and chat support. Visit CourtFiling.net to receive30 days of unlimited free electronic filings and see how you too can e-file court documents with ease.
Jill Francisco: Welcome back to the Paralegal Voice, I’m Jill Francisco and my guest today is Marc Williams and before the break we were wrapping up our discussion on the changes and the tasks and the skills and the things that paralegals and other staff need to be aware during the pandemic because as Marc and I think both agree we’re not going to be going back to how we practiced before the pandemic occurred. So let’s try to shift gears just a little bit and let’s talk about like — so we’re going to prepare for the shift in the Practice Law because as you said Marc, it’s definitely going to happen. How can paralegals be prepared for the new normal? I think we talked about being accessible, doing the things that will make you valuable to your attorney and to your employer, but what else do you think that we can really get ahead of on that?
Marc Williams: Well, there’s one thing that I wanted to be sure to mention and this is not pandemic related but it reflects the change in the profession and it’s the blurring of lines between administrative professional help and a paralegal providing assistance. And it’s probably more prevalent in defense firms that are focusing so much on trying to increase the ratio of administrative assistance to billing units. There’s a lot of pressure especially in larger firms to have a ratio of how many how many lawyers — basically, it’s usually lawyers but you got to count for paralegals too.
Jill Francisco: Yeah.
Marc Williams: How many lawyers are there per administrative assistant, what we used to call secretaries? And as that increases as that pressure increases there’s a less time available that an administrative assistant can do purely administrative tasks in support of the lawyers in the paralegals that they work for. And as a result, a lot of that ends up being handled by the paralegal but then clients are pushing back on that because it’s perceived as purely administrative tasks. Most of the clients don’t want to pay for something that they think a secretary should be doing for free. And increasingly, I’m seeing with corporate clients, a lot of conflict and pressure to reduce the amount of work that a paralegal would do that should be or could be done by administrative assistant. And frankly, it’s a gray area I mean there’s not clearly defined lines where it’s like “okay everything to the right of this line is something that a secretary should do and everything to the left of the line is something a paralegal should do. It’s difficult to be able to discern exactly where that sits and as firms are under more pressure to reduce the number of non-billing units that they have in the firm then it makes it harder for a paralegal to do what they’re required to do because they’re doing tasks which the client may not want to pay for. Now, the importance of that is that the lawyer has to make sure that the paralegal understands what is allowed by the client under the billing guidelines and what’s not, how the descriptions if you’re billing by the hour are written so that they’re not losing credit for the work that they do. But also, as a partner that has building relationships with a lot of clients, sometimes I have to try to figure out a more creative way of doing that work and getting paid for it that doesn’t subject me to appealing billing entries or reviewing billing entries. And with some clients, I’ve gone to them and said, “look, why don’t we just put all the paralegal time on a flat fee?” In that way you don’t have to worry about it and we’ll account for the fact that some months we’re going to go over and some months were not, but let’s try to figure out what a number would be that would be that would be fair that you’re comfortable with paying with. So you don’t have to spend a lot of time reviewing those bills and that way we can we can commit the necessary staff to get the job done without this paralegal worrying about whether or not she’s going to get paid for it.
Jill Francisco: Right. Yeah and also — and I’m with you.
Marc Williams: And that’s been somewhat effective but I think you’re going to see more of that as we go forward because of the pressures that these clients see.
Jill Francisco: Yeah and I think also it goes with the new ways of doing those things like you said the paralegal is adjusting. You know everybody is adjusting because there are new tasks and there’s also tasks that you had to do that you don’t have to do it anymore or there’s new task that have come along. And the thing is you know like as a paralegal, it’s like, you know, our rule what did it used to be? Though do anything you can’t bill for. I think was our role because like you said, there’s no list, there’s no like magical list. At least if there is, I’ve not found it. But you know it’s like —
Marc Williams: Well, there were some paralegals that are so good. They’re more valuable than associates, let’s be honest.
Jill Francisco: Yeah.
Marc Williams: I mean, if you have a paralegal who has worked for you for 20 something years, they probably know more about Practice Law than a new associate who just passed the bar, right?
Jill Francisco: Yeah, I know. I know that’s fair to say that.
Marc Williams: You have to appreciate that and you have to take the care and feeding of the staff who are so integral for your success is important as a lawyer. If you don’t take care of them, they’re not going to take care of you, basically.
Jill Francisco: Right and that’s not going to go. That’s not going to go, but what I was going to say too is like I get in the habit now like I see this more like I’m doing the substantive task that the attorney has asked me to do and then there’s like you said, “some of those gray areas are portions like doing the whole task like drafting something and then maybe e-filing it, preparing the Exhibits, redacting.” I mean, all these little components on something and it’s like to me it’s more problematic to say “okay, you know the client is not going to pay for this one thing here,” I’m just going to get this flow because you don’t want mistakes that’s what I always worry about. You know then some gets missed, some gets you know because you’re just not. You can’t complete the whole task. So I think that’s a pressure that the paralegal is on, and I agree with you that it’s hard sometimes and that they’re changing.
Marc Williams: Well, especially as courts require more things like filing in certain ways with e-filing, redactions that have to be done in certain ways, otherwise you can get in a lot of trouble if the redactions aren’t done correctly. And for a client to somehow assume that those are administrative tasks that should be done by someone else maybe and maybe not. We had a situation where we had to remove 115 cases to federal court. Over the court and we had to do it by a date certain.
So we had two days to prepare 115 removals, pay for those, get them ready, and file them and they all were e-filed. It was a gargantuan task and we had to basically pull all hands on deck in the office. So we’re pulling secretaries and paralegals from all over and having them work on these and associates, everybody and we had like an assembly line to get this done. And we got it done but it required a case that normally would have had four billers on it all of a sudden, I had 20.
Jill Francisco: Yeah.
Marc Williams: Which you know clients hate. I mean if there’s one thing that they hate it’s when a four billing file turns into a 20-billing file.
Jill Francisco: Yeah. Like I remember those days. Everybody on the first floor was working on this project.
Marc Williams: And I had to get into the client and say, “okay look, you need to understand this is a one-time thing that happened that you decided you wanted this done and we did it and we got it done and everything was done right, but we had to pull a lot of extra people on.” And they understood but if you don’t have that conversation with them, they’re going to be understandably upset when they see the bill.
Jill Francisco: Yeah. So, I think we’ve kind of touched on. We have two more things I wanted to kind of address with you and I think we kind of touched on a little bit how the firms and the clients are going to adjust to the new realities that COVID has shown us. But did you have anything else you want to mention there because like I said I think it’s very true what you said that you’re not going to go back because of the clients. I mean they’re just not and I like how you talked about billing guidelines that they’re going to be that’s going to be in there, and that’s what we have to do. We got to follow those guidelines.
Marc Williams: Yeah. The biggest thing that’s going to come out of this is more flexibility. Firms are going to be — not because they feel like they’re forced to but they know they can be. So there’s going to be more flexibility in terms of when you come to work, where you’re working from, we now know that it’s possible to arrange for technology for all the people, I mean your firm is similar to mine. When the pandemic happened all of a sudden, we had to make arrangements for instead of just the 800 lawyers who —
Jill Francisco: Right.
Marc Williams: Some number of which would work remotely because they travel. Now it was 1,500 people we had to make arrangements for remote working. Once you sort of wrap that up and understand how that process works and you recognize how it works then it’s easy. So now, as people are hired and brought in, we can make arrangements for that and it’s going to make it easier to do the job. It’s going to make it easier for you to be a paralegal or a paralegal assistant and get the work done and take care of your family and have a life outside of your job. And that flexibility I think is good for everybody.
Jill Francisco: Yeah and I think it’s good for the profession. I did in one episode about a remote working because I felt like it was imperative when we were deep in that because myself, I was thrown into it. I never work from home and I’ve interviewed a paralegal that was in Florida that negotiated. She had left this firm because of a hour, you know, one-way drive so two hours round trip drive and she took another job. She couldn’t deal with it anymore and they wanted her back because of what you said skill wise, helpful. She was awesome employee, and then that’s part where she negotiated. She went in the office two days a week, so she had been doing it for I think six years. And the one thing that resonated that she said to me on our show of all the tips and tricks. She was giving me that kind of information which we needed though she said, “I’m just happier.”
Marc Williams: Sure.
Jill Francisco: She said, “I’m just happier.” Like she said on my 10-minute break I can go out and walk my dog. I can go out and pick some flowers. I can go fix a cup of tea and I don’t have to worry that I bring it to work, just happier. And I believe and I’m sure you agree that that translates into goodness for the employer.
Marc Williams: That’s right. And if you make that flexibility available for your employees you will reap the benefits from it. It requires training. It requires engagement. I have to engage with my people more, working with them, working remotely than if was seeing them in the office. So we would have Zoom calls where we didn’t talk about work. Where we’re just talking about what’s going on and how things were.
Jill Francisco: Yeah, catching up.
Marc Williams: All those sorts of things had to be done in order to make sure that they understood that we cared about them. But also, I wanted them to reach out to me if there were some things going on in their life. If a family member got COVID and they were going to have to care for them. I wanted to know that and I didn’t want them to just say, “Well, I’ll just manage it without telling him.” I wanted to know it because that’s going to impact how I deal with them and how they work for me.
Jill Francisco: Yeah and I think you’re right. I think it’s looked upon as a perk
like those things and I think it enables you to get, like you said, you’re not going to be now discouraged to hire a paralegal that isn’t right here in front of you. And you’re going to know that it’s going to be possible. I mean I do work for other attorneys and other offices. I’ve never seen them. I mean I see their picture and it’s like so really essentially, I was working remotely anyway.
I wasn’t — you know it didn’t matter where I was. I mean now if I’m at home or I’m somewhere else I still was working remotely there. Well, I have to say this Marc because you were laughing about how to work in a funny story and I feel like that we have so many funny stories, but my all-time favorite people are the paralegals. They always think well and bring up the time that they were excelling and so great. But I love to bring up the time that I sent you exactly what was it a month early?
Marc Williams: Yes.
Jill Francisco: To a very remote location for a hearing and I was —
Marc Williams: I guess I should pay more attention to my calendar.
Jill Francisco: I think my response after you calm down was, “hey, better early than missing it.”
Marc Williams: Well, when I show up and it’s like there’s no one here, and I go into the judge’s office and the secretary looks at me and she’s like, “what are you doing here?” I’m like I’m here for hearing. She goes, “We don’t have any hearings today, judge not even here.” And you know what she told me that what the reason the judge wasn’t there. She said, “it was a s.”
Jill Francisco: Oh! Gosh!
Marc Williams: She goes, “Judge aren’t here. It’s not trading day.” Like I should have known that.
Jill Francisco: That is that is what you get in some rural West Virginia locations.
Marc Williams: Like of course, it’s knife trading day. What was I thinking?
Jill Francisco: But I always remember that and I think that you instilled on me to check my calendar, keep my dates straight. I don’t think I’ve done something like that since but no. You know I enjoyed working with you when we were in the same office. I mean I like you for a lot of reasons but one, I said I love your love as you share with mine for the professional associations.
Marc Williams: Well, and I’m really proud of you and what you’ve done NALA. I mean for you to be the president of NALA coming from West Virginia is really cool and the fact that you do this podcast which is so well done, I might add. Although, this might be the exception. This might be the one you just throw on the shelf and say maybe we’ll just skip that episode. But you know we’re obviously very proud of you and what you’ve accomplished and your continued contributions to the profession.
Jill Francisco: I appreciate that Marc. I really do. The only thing I want to do that I haven’t got yet to do and I know you’ve done in the past is teach. I was all set to teach at Mountwest and then pandemic and so obviously, enrollments down and things like that. So I think we’re going to give it a go next Fall. Teach on that intro to paralegalism, so hopefully I’ll get to do that.
Marc Williams: Well, I think you’ll love it. It’s a lot of fun, really is.
Jill Francisco: Yeah. But anyway, I appreciate you Marc so much for coming on and you’ve talked about a lot of any things and I know you talked about your accessibility and for any of our listeners that would like to get in contact with you and maybe have a follow-up or get some more of the information that you talked about. What is the best way to contact you?
Marc Williams: My email address is, if you google Marc Williams, you can get my email address. It’s [email protected]. So, I’d be happy to answer any questions and if anybody wants to reach out, they’re welcome to do so.
Jill Francisco: I appreciate it Marc. And I said, I know you mean it because I know like I said you’re always helpful. I like it when I run into you every once in a while, at Starbucks and we get to catch up and chat, or getting pizza. We’re in the same — like literally, you’re just down the street. I was telling Evan, I guess we could have done the show together, I don’t know how it would worked. But anyway, I do appreciate your time, I appreciate your dedication also as always. I know you’re awesome like I loved the recently — I’ve watched one of your arguments before up there at the Supreme Court of Appeals in the West Virginia. I was waiting on another one and there you were. I was like, “yes.” I mean it’s awesome. I mean you do as great job. You’ve done that and like you said it is surprising that you’re doing a lot more of those but trial time is down, so that makes sense.
Marc Williams: Well, it’s just nice to be in the courtroom and I’ve always said that oral argument on appeal is about as much fun as a lawyer can have so.
Jill Francisco: I think you’re right on that, but anyway, I do appreciate your time today. I appreciate you coming on, so thank you so much again for joining me.
Marc Williams: Glad to be here. Thanks for asking.
Jill Francisco: And also thank you to all our listeners who joined in today and if you have any questions or comments for me, please contact meat at [email protected]. I hope you will join me for a next episode. I’m Jill Francisco signing off for the Paralegal Voice.
Male: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, it’s officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders or subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.
<a href=”https://www.tech-synergy.com/podcast-transcription” target=”_blank”>Podcast transcription</a> by <a href=”https://www.tech-synergy.com” target=”_blank”>Tech-Synergy.com</a>