Message From the Executive Committee
As we approach the end of 2021 and turn the page towards 2022, I will be marking my 35th anniversary at Marshall Dennehey. Indeed, it has been 35 years since that cold, snowy January morning in 1987 when I walked through the Marshall Dennehey doors for the very first time. And while I thought I was joining a large firm, I look back and realize that there were less than 50 lawyers at Marshall Dennehey at that time.
I have seen many changes during this time period. There have been changes in the insurance industry, changes in the practice of civil defense litigation, and changes overall in the practice of law. Back then, there were no personal computers, no handheld devices, and all court hearings, depositions, and conferences were in person.
I often look back at the first few years of my tenure at Marshall Dennehey with fondness and nostalgia. Personal, one-on-one guidance, mentorship, and tutorials were a constant, daily occurrence. As a young lawyer at Marshall Dennehey, I learned at the heels of some of the most senior trial lawyers at the firm, including Bob Goggin, Jack Penders, John Walter, and Paul Bechtel. I watched them in court, and I watched them in heated negotiations on the phone with opposing counsel, and I watched them work with clients. Strategizing, sportsmanship, competitiveness, and legal prowess were the name of the game. There was no Zoom then, of course, and thus coming into the office on a daily basis (and weekends, too) provided the day-to-day, fundamental building of a career. Working from home was never an option.
At some point a few years before the pandemic, there was a slow movement towards some lawyers wanting to work from home from time-to-time. With the advance of technology, Wi-Fi, and VPN, working from home periodically made some sense, especially if a lawyer was preparing for trial or working on a difficult brief. In fact, several years before the pandemic, Marshall Dennehey instituted a firmwide remote work policy that allowed lawyers to work from home from time-to-time. Many lawyers in the firm took advantage of the policy, which helped contribute to a well rounded, well-balanced career. In many ways, Marshall Dennehey was ahead of the curve with this policy, and it also prepared us well for 2020, when we shifted to a full work-from-home arrangement in compliance with various governmental orders.
Indeed, in March 2020, the world “shut down,” and we transitioned to full work-from-home, but only for a relatively short period of time. By June of that year, we began emerging from the full-time practice of working from home and slowly came back to the office environment. While lawyers and staff were not required to return to the office, all 20 of our offices were open and operational. New safety protocols were put in place in compliance with CDC guidelines and other governmental mandates. But we were back, working together, collaborating on cases, strategizing, and moving towards as normal a year as possible. All of this was accomplished safely and without community spread of the virus. We were one of the few firms to do this.
Fast forward to the spring of 2021, all governmental entities, including the County of Philadelphia, lifted all remote work requirements, and while mask mandates continued in some locations, there were no longer any restrictions for returning to the office. Accordingly, in May, Marshall Dennehey required its work staff to be back in the office on a hybrid model. Lawyers came back at least three days a week with the support staff at four. This hybrid model has worked very well since then as the safety protocols put in place at the beginning of the pandemic continue to keep all employees safe while allowing our work force to be back in the office to work together and in person.
However, as I write these words, many businesses, including many law firms, are still not back at the office, at all. Some firms had planned for a September re-opening, but because of the Delta variant, that was postponed to later in the Autumn, and for many others, not until the first quarter of 2022. For many of these firms, lawyers and support staff have not stepped foot into their offices for over nineteen months, and counting.
Over the summer, I had a conversation with a young attorney who is a first year associate at one of the major “all service” law firms in Philadelphia. He is a corporate lawyer who graduated (virtually) in the spring of 2021, took the delayed Pennsylvania Bar in September 2021, passed, and became admitted to the Bar in December. He lives in a small apartment in Center City Philadelphia and comes into the office every day because his apartment is so small. What he told me was startling.
When this lawyer walks into the office, he finds that he is the only human there. There are no lawyers, no paralegals, and no support staff. Other than the security guards in the lobby of the building, this lawyer has a choice between working alone by himself in his small apartment or working alone in his office in a large office building. This has been going on, day after day, since last September and continues to this present day. He has never met his supervisors, his colleagues, or even his administrative assistant, unless it is on Zoom. Because he has never had any in-person interaction with others at his firm, he has yet to learn about its history or culture or stories that he would have otherwise learned from being around others in his firm. We are now past the one-year mark of this total isolation. This lawyer also told me that he feels no loyalty or “belonging” to the firm that he works for, other than the money that is directly deposited into his bank account. He realizes that if this is to continue, he could easily change employers, perhaps to make more money, without changing any of this new lifestyle of total isolation. Indeed, nobody at the firm has taken an interest in his development, education, and grooming because this type of personal interaction cannot be done over Zoom.
What’s happened here? Why is it that, although all government entities have allowed employees to return to offices (with some restrictions, depending on the location), so many law firms have unilaterally decided to not bring their work force back at all, without an end in sight? What is this going to do to the culture and history of these firms, that could possibly go two years or more without some type of return to the office? How will this affect the education and development of these lawyers to be future leaders of these firms and the industry? I, of course, do not have answers to these questions. Nobody does. However, I believe that every day these firms continue to require full remote work, is another day that the foundation of a loyal, hardworking, talented workforce will be chipped away.
I am proud of the hybrid model Marshall Dennehey has adopted. A hybrid model allows lawyers and support staff to come in several days a week so they can continue to work together, in person, for the benefit of our clients as well as the benefit of the individual lawyers. Each week also allows for work from home; thus, one can choose which type work is better suited for the work-from-home day or the office day. Nevertheless, our clients can count on us to be at our desks, to answer our phones, and to respond to emails, while also working together to strategize on best practices for the handling of the cases entrusted to us. And while all of this is going on, employee safety is of paramount importance. We have proven since the very beginning of the pandemic that we can operate in person, in a safe environment without the spread of the virus.
Unlike the young lawyer I met over the summer, our first-year associates—all of our associates—meet with the members of their teams and work with their supervisors to discuss strategy, to roundtable cases, and to otherwise learn the nuances of being a civil defense lawyer while maintaining the flexibility to work from home up to two days a week.
So, as we reach Thanksgiving 2021 and the end of the calendar year, I believe that it is beyond anyone’s imagination that we would still be wrestling with COVID and learning the best ways of practicing law while maintaining the safety of all of our employees. Yet, at Marshall Dennehey, we are doing that to the best of our ability and for the benefit of our clients and the industry. As such, on behalf of Mark Thompson and Craig Hudson, we give our wholehearted thanks to all of our employees who come into the office on a regular basis. We are thankful to our clients for entrusting us with their cases, where we do our very, very best to obtain the overall finest outcome for them. We wish everyone a warm, healthy and safe Holiday Season, and we look forward to turning the page to 2022.
Defense Digest, Vol. 27, No. 5, December 2021 is prepared by Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin to provide information on recent legal developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. ATTORNEY ADVERTISING pursuant to New York RPC 7.1. © 2021 Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm. For reprints, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.