September 18, 2020

Shovels, not gavels, in snowy Boston

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Boston-BlizzardBy Sheri Qualters, From The National Law Journal

Suffice it to say that the snow in Boston has lost its appeal. The three-week onslaught has hampered road and transit travel, forced court closures and tested law firms’ ability to keep their businesses running.

Boston has received nearly 66 inches of snow starting with the Jan. 27 blizzard, according to National Weather Service data. The city’s average for an entire season is 44 inches.

Ongoing Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority delays and closures, stemming from its aging fleet and weather-related glitches on above-ground lines, have created hurdles for lawyers, judges and staffers trying to do their jobs.

The transit system’s Tuesday closure prompted McDermott Will & Emery’s Boston office to close its offices, said the office’s partner-in-charge, Mark Pearlstein.

“We weren’t about to ask them to risk life and limb to get in,” Pearlstein said.

Lawyers have worked “reasonably productively from their homes,” and other firm offices are helping with document review, document production and legal research, he added.

The Boston federal court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which share a building, have each closed for three full days and operated with a skeleton crew on a fourth day in the past few weeks, said circuit executive Susan Goldberg.

The First Circuit also moved the Feb. 2 oral arguments to Feb. 4 by convening two panels to hear cases in different courtrooms that day.

“It just creates an enormous amount of additional work to rearrange things,” Goldberg said.

The Boston federal court also suspended juror selection in the trial of accused Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on six different days.

The federal courts encourage telework, but “you can’t substitute for the trial courts and the clerk’s offices being open to walk-in traffic,” Goldberg said.

The state court system had one full day of closures, three other days when courts in most or many counties were closed and a different day that involved some full-day closings and a systemwide early closure.

The court weighs travel conditions, not just its own snow-removal capacity, said John Bello, the facilities director for the trial court of Massachusetts.

“We look at the whole system, not just the 101 locations,” Bello said. The biggest impact of bad weather is the cancellation of first-day juror pools, he said.

To weather the deluge, law firms are using creative coping strategies. Goulston & Storrs has closed several times this season, including twice this week, said director of human resources Marianne Monagle. Staffers who made it into the office during Tuesday’s transit shutdown and the firm’s “soft” shutdown got an extra vacation day, she said.

“It was a good way to keep the client stream moving,” Monagle said.

Burns & Levinson of Boston closed the first two days of this week, but remote work has kept business on track, said chief operating officer Paul Morton.

Managing partner David Rosenblatt personally made a pizza run for the small cadre of lawyers who made it to the office and passed out his wife’s homemade cookies, Morton said.

“It creates that kind of tone and leadership and showing of appreciation that makes people want to go above and beyond,” Morton said.

Dechert’s Boston office has closed two days, including the day of the blizzard, said Boston managing partner Tim Blank.

The office stayed open on Tuesday while recognizing that people would have “a difficult time or impossible time getting in,” he said. He estimated that about a quarter of attorneys and 10 percent of staffers were in that day. Remote work and help from other offices is easing the strain, he said.

“We’re getting it done but it’s a tremendous challenge,” Blank said.

IMAGE: Snow-covered vehicles in the North End neighborhood of Boston this year.

Photo: Denis Tangney Jr/iStockphoto.com

For more on this story go to: http://www.nationallawjournal.com/id=1202717784836/Shovels-Not-Gavels-in-Snowy-Boston#ixzz3SP7tl77c

 

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