A year ago, the Covid pandemic shut down the world. At the time, I am not sure anyone knew how it would all play out. I certainly did not. The death toll has been awful, but nowhere near as bad as some of the predictions at the time. The disease has largely spared children and young people, but it has been devastating on the elderly. The economic impact on businesses and individuals has ranged from devastation to windfall. Social patterns have been disrupted, to put it mildly. On the bright side, with the development of vaccines in record time, we have witnessed a true miracle of government, industry and science. Still, overall, I think almost everyone can agree that it’s been a strange twelve months.
From a personal perspective, the pandemic has certainly impacted my life and law practice. Our Federal Tort Claims practice is nationwide. In handling these cases, I typically travelled all over the country two or three times per month. I have not been on an airplane since February of last year, nor have I spent a single night in a hotel room. What is surprising is that I quickly figured out ways to cope and it turns out that a lot of that travel may not really have been needed after all. That’s a savings to us, and ultimately to our clients. And what is funny is that while I have missed my travels – I actually love being on the go – I have not missed it as much as I expected. It’s not so bad to be a boring homebody – and my dog certainly likes the added attention.
Many of our FTCA cases are resolved administratively. That is, we don’t have to file suit. Interestingly, it seems to us that some government agencies, like the VA, have functioned better in the last year, at least after the initial shock of the shutdown. On the other hand, our vaccine injury practice has seen the process slow down. Both our state and federal litigation cases slowed hugely. The state court system, where jury trials are the norm, is not surprising, but in our Federal court cases the slowdown is both something of a surprise and certainly a disappointment. Those are all bench trials.
Perversely, the start of the pandemic will always be associated with a very positive event: Exactly one year ago, I obtained a $6,500,000 verdict in a malpractice case I tried in the City of Richmond. Had the case been set a week later, it would not have happened.
There is no question that the pandemic has changed both our thinking and our ways of doing business. The extent to which those exchanges persist remains to be seen. But there will be changes.
What has been fascinating about the last year is the response of institutions and businesses, as well as individuals. Some have risen to the occasion and figured out how to make things work – or, at least, work as well as they can. Some have not. Some have been scrupulously fair. Others have taken unfair advantage of the situation. I suppose all this is just a reminder or lesson about human nature and culture.
Our firm has survived okay. Looking back, I can say that it could have been a lot worse – and it certainly has been for other law firms. This year has confirmed for me that I work with a great group, people who are absolutely committed to our clients and our mission. I am hugely grateful for that. I have also been impressed with the resilience and good humor that has pervaded our group. We figured out ways to get things done and there was almost no complaining ever. I am super grateful for that as well!
We will all look back on this period and have tales to tell. Hopefully, we have learned valuable lessons as well.