As many of you know, our firm has been around for two-thirds of a century, well before the web, smart phones and electric cars. It has been our privilege to represent labor unions, workers, the injured and the disabled throughout the State of Illinois and in our region for generations. We are grateful for being recognized for our excellence in the courts and in the legal community. Even in a year beset by many challenges due to the pandemic, we celebrate being honored with top ratings by Best Lawyers of U.S. News and World Report and four of our partners continuing to be recognized by Super Lawyers and two associates as Rising Stars. As news of the Covid Delta Variant continues to raise concern, we are committed to continuing our high level of service and are optimistic that changes to our practice will serve our clients well.
In mid-March 2020 the Courts, Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, National Labor Relations Board and Social Security Administration all abruptly shut down most, if not all, in-person hearings and trials. As many of you know, our firm has longstanding in-person client meetings, including, hotel conference room meetings in Quincy, IEA-REA teachers and school support staff workers meetings in Rockford, Law Enforcement and Firefighter office meetings, and with UAW workers at their locals throughout the State of Illinois. Additionally, we meet with airline workers especially flight attendants and pilots who come to our Chicago office when brought to our city for IMEs or Commission hearings. All came to a halt. Hospitals, doctors, and medical providers dealing with an overload of new patients and caring for the health of their own employees had difficulty providing us medical records and bills for our clients. Doctors cancelled in-person depositions. There was also significant concern about reducing the amount of paper documents due to the fear of contamination. Many law firms struggled with setting up reduced office staffing and work-from-home technology. As a result of all of the above, labor unions, and many injured and disabled may have experienced delays in their claims.
At Katz, Friedman we quickly adapted. Our attorneys remained accessible whether working in the office or working from home and our firm’s web portal provides an around-the-clock opportunity to communicate with us. The transition to working from home was assisted by the law firm’s long-term commitment to technology as means of providing improved service to our clients. We have long utilized a mainframe computer which we are able to access remotely via a Virtual Private Network connection, a highly secure communication channel design to provide confidentiality but permitting all of the members of the law firm to work from home on our clients’ matters. Our state-of-the-art telephone technology allowed incoming office telephone calls to be seamlessly routed directly to lawyers and staff who were working remotely.
The Social Security Administration has adapted to the pandemic. When in person hearings became impossible telephonic hearing were scheduled. The judge, claimant and attorney would each be in their own homes and participating by telephone. In 2021 the Administration began holding video hearings using Microsoft Teams. You can have a hearing without risking infection.
There is a positive and negative to this. An in-person hearing allows the judge to see how you move around the room, how uncomfortable you may be in your chair. This is not possible with a telephonic hearing but is better with a video hearing. However, there is no travel. Disabled people do not have to sit in a car to get to a hearing or find a ride to the hearing. We have been able to assist clients not only across the State of Illinois, but across the country.
The Administration has no current plans to return to in person hearings. Telephonic and video hearings will be held for the foreseeable future. We are urging clients to have video hearings to get some of the benefit of an in person hearing without the need to get dressed, get out the door, and travel to an in-person hearing. We will make sure you are comfortable and prepared for your telephonic or video hearing. We have held dozens of these new “virtual” hearings since the Pandemic began with great success for our clients.
We have found that the administration of Social Security has been slower since the pandemic began as employees are all working from home. Local offices are not moving very fast and the initial stages of a claim have taken more time because of this. However, the judges’ decisions have not been any slower than they were before the pandemic.
Labor & Employment
State and Federal courts have embraced virtual Zoom hearings; the NLRB, EEOC, and IDHR have also embraced remote work, virtual hearings etc., with the NLRB also utilizing mail-ballot elections in most representation elections. Our labor attorneys have been both in the office and working remotely, utilizing Zoom and other video-conferencing services for arbitration hearings, mediations, and bargaining. Regardless of the physical location of the work, whether in the office or remote, our labor attorneys have continued to assist our various union clients in responding to the changes affecting each of them in their respective industries.
Although the majority of the insurance defense attorneys and Cook County judges stopped coming into work and remain so due to what they claim are pandemic-related reasons, our office has been working to resolve filed personal injury cases through other means such as mediation and arbitration. Our first personal injury binding arbitration will take place in October. This process will speed up our clients’ cases by at least one year. Many of our clients’ cases have been worked on throughout the pandemic via Zoom depositions so that as courts re-open, our clients’ cases will proceed to trial more quickly. Moreover, as the backlog of cases grows, we have been filing even more cases so that our clients’ cases get priority in the growing queue. As for downstate personal injury cases, it’s been our experience that barely anything has changed in the timing that it takes to reach resolution and to go to trial. In fact, our office has settled sizable cases in Livingston and Adams Counties in 2021 and we will go to trial in St. Clair County in January 2022. While there remains some uncertainty as to how society will weather this storm, Katz Friedman is confident that our clients’ cases will be in the best position for solid resolutions.
At the commission, in-person hearings were suspended for many months. However, out attorneys diligently monitored our clients’ cases and participated in arbitration conferences and commission appellate arguments.
Less paper more speed. Our firm also utilized DocuSign software to allow us to expeditiously send retainer contracts to our new clients via email, eliminating potential issues with paper or delays from postal interruptions. Our attorneys have completed many doctor’s depositions over Zoom or other video services to secure necessary opinions to advance our clients’ cases.
To eliminate the need for paper settlement contracts, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission launched CompFile, which allows attorneys to send settlement contracts electronically to our clients and also opposing attorneys and the Arbitrators of the Workers’ Compensation Commission with great speed. This has expedited our ability to secure settlements for our clients in the safest manner possible. Additionally, many of our clients choose to have their settlement funds sent to their own banks via wire transfer which is a more commonly available service offered by our bank for a small service fee.
Fortunately, as conditions improved in Illinois, we have been able to return to in-person client meetings and some arbitrations hearings and trials. Additionally, our attorneys have completed many arbitrations, mediations, administrative hearings, and depositions over Zoom to ensure that our clients have access to justice.
There is more work to do and no matter what challenges our firm may face, our commitment to our clients is second to none. We have an amazing staff and hope that you have found your experiences with them to be helpful. We want to thank Rosa, Deanna, Jonah, Phyllis, Cheryl, Laketa, Jessica, Amelia, Ebony, Jasmine, Andrea, Lorena, Ericka, Marlean, Erica, Arielle, Deborah and Reageu for ensuring that your case or claim is handled in an exceptionally professional manner. We also wish to thank you, our clients, for your patience and understanding and also your continued confidence that no matter what challenges may present themselves to Katz, Friedman, we will remain your trusted attorneys and counselors of law. We wish you, your family and your coworkers the best of health and prosperity.