Nevada attorneys are at the forefront of many issues, from litigating court cases to helping businesses navigate these trying times. Recently, attorneys across the Silver State met in a virtual roundtable, sponsored by City National Bank, to discuss their industry and what the future holds.
Connie Brennan, publisher and CEO of Nevada Business Magazine, served as moderator for the event. These monthly roundtables bring together industry leaders to discuss relevant issues and solutions.
How has the COVID-19 Pandemic Changed your Industry?
Ellen Schulhofer: Figuring out how to maintain contact with clients and do business development without being able to be face to face or go to conferences or events [has been challenging]. You can write lots of articles, do Zoom calls and presentations that way, but it isn’t the same. Keeping contact, mentoring, training and developing associates, [is important].
Connie Akridge: In terms of serving clients, there’s been some issues because you can’t see them in person. You can’t really meet with them. I do think people have gotten used to working at home. It’s going to be a thing in the future, to have some folks working from home. Back when we were renewing our lease it caused us to think about if we really need all this space. Those are things you think about and how COIVD changed us.
Michael Feder: From our office perspective, there are some people who already stated they realized that there are certain people within their team that do not have to come to the office every day. There is already talk in terms of who really needs be in the office on a daily basis. It’s going to be a continuing discussion with respect to the ongoing aspects of the pandemic.
Alex Fugazzi: One unintended or surprising consequence that I have observed with COIVD is, I have had new clients reach out, be very interested in and willing to pay the required fees. Provided we can ensure them that, although we are remote, we can get this task done on a very expedited basis. We can get four or five, six people to work seamlessly on a temporary restraining order, an injunction request with pretty high stakes in a 24-to36-hour basis. Fees were discussed less, on those type of emergent large cases, than how are we are going to do it, and do we have the capacity to take that on and get it done in a very finite period of time seamlessly?
John Steffen: I think some permanent changes have come with COVID. Everyone, both clients and staff, have reevaluated their priorities in life. People want to spend more time getting in better shape, protecting their health, spending time with family. People are going to grow more accustomed to working from home and there’s going to be some permanent changes, revolving around people’s health, their hobbies, spending more time with family and spouses. Those are good things because, in our profession, we tend to work too hard and don’t spend enough time on our marriages and family.
What Unexpected Change Has Working from Home Brought?
Schulhofer: [Employees] have more flexibility but that has disproportionately impacted those with young families. If you have two and four-year old’s running around your house, whether they’re in school or not, while you’re trying to work [it can be distracting]. Frankly it disproportionately falls on, whether you have two working parents or not, the mom. Many of the working parents felt relief when their kids are at least in school a couple days a week so they can focus on work. It’s been a tremendous burden. For those of us whose kids are grown up and gone it’s a lot easier, we don’t have those distractions. It’s really hard to work from home with kids underfoot, it’s a mixed bag.
William Ugra: We have court hearings on Zoom almost exclusively. Unless somebody sits there and listens through all of them, once your case over, you get off [the call]. The old way is, we had to go down to the courthouse, sit and watch and we had to see the judge’s reaction. You could see their facial expressions and get a better feel for how the case was going, or somebody was arguing and how other people were reacting to it. Plus, you had a chance to see other people. It’s really hard for me to see that you can’t have somebody down at the courthouse. I worry about that from a professionalism standpoint. If you aren’t dealing with people face to face, having some sort of relationship with them and its always on a telephone or trying to look at a screen, I don’t know how that going to affect people, with respect to people being professional. We need to be professional in our practice.
Fugazzi: Some opportunities have presented themselves that weren’t there in the past with training. If there was a hearing out of state, or even in northern Nevada, you wouldn’t fly up a young associate to observe you argue or handle a deposition because it was cost prohibitive. Now, with Zoom, you can do a hearing in the Northern District of California from your Nevada office. It’s just a matter of allowing colleagues to click on, observe, learn and mentor that way. It’s different but, to be frank, I don’t think any of those things are replacements for in person. The stickiness and collusions in the conference room, showing briefs, revisions and edits and working through those issues with your colleagues is extremely difficult to replace remotely.
How is the Next Generation of Attorneys shaping up?
Fugazzi: Our firm has taken a lot of pride in the last six or seven months at staying collegial, doing good work, having younger associates, being available and still having a core competency. A lot of that is based on the hard work we did when we were in person and building relationships. When we have our first-year associates and staff turnover starting in the New Year, that really is a concern. Figuring how-to on-board people who haven’t spent lots of face-to-face time with you [is a challenge], Zoom just isn’t a replacement.
Mark Hawkins: What we are seeing from our associates is, even before COVID, they were looking for some flexibility. Now this pandemic has allowed them that flexibility to work remotely from any place they choose. It’s the flexibility that they’re keen on. There is no replacement for face to face or being able to interact with somebody. We’ve been trying to hold more video calls to get to know each other, even if it is remotely during this period of COIVD. Younger associates, and people like that, are just really looking for flexibility and COVID has really provided them that platform.
Feder: I do believe the younger generation come to the practice with a different expectation than when a lot of us started to practice. When we all started practicing, you had to earn that time off. The expectation was to be available 24/7 and you felt like you were working 24/7 at times. I respect a lot of the younger generation. They let me know, at the forefront, that their expectation is a little different. They want balance, that element of trying to have a balance in the work/life perspective. For whatever reason they are perceived as not working as hard. In today’s world of everything being virtual, that has given them more of an opportunity. For our younger generation they realized that, even now from home, they can be more efficient. They could get things done in a quicker, more efficient way and that gives them flexibility to have the work/life balance. That’s why they’re leaning more to wanting, in the future, to continue having the flexibility of work from home.
Fugazzi: I don’t think you can overly generalize about this generation. While there are certainly some folks looking to shut it down at five o’clock, we have some extraordinary ambitious young folks that put my work ethic to shame.
Akridge: One of the things, that was sort of surprising is people wanting to move from the East Coast. We’ve seen a number of really high-quality candidates arrive in Nevada. That has given us an opportunity, in terms of staffing, that we didn’t have before. There are people, that are very highly experienced and still working with larger firms, working from their parents’ house in Las Vegs. They are looking for opportunities in our community. If you have work for those individuals and can add them to your staff, it’s a real opportunity.
Shauna Brennan: I brought in even more young attorneys and interns. I had seven over the summer and I let them set a pace for me which I was not accustomed to. They would say things like, “We want to Zoom and meet twice a week and we want to get to know each other.” They weren’t even working together but I went with their suggestions because they’re used to the technology. I let them pull me into that and it really helped me in my practice. We got a lot of unbelievable projects done for a small firm because I invested in them, in the sense that I let them take some leadership.
Urga: There has been a change and COVID may change it even more because people now aren’t even in the offices. It may be easier for [young associates] to say, “I like a life at home.” The younger people probably do have a little more of an idea trying to balance the law with their social life or their personal life. Unfortunately, I come from the old school and when you took that oath it said you represented your client to the best of your ability. Your ability doesn’t run from nine to five. Your ability may take you till the next morning or at least till midnight the night before a big hearing or a big deposition or whatever it is. As an owner, you have to be more willing to give them a little more freedom because this is what they have been raised with. They expect a little bit more. I do agree a lot of the people coming out of law school today are much more capable of getting on and doing things from home or doing things electronically.
Do you Think Judges should be Elected or Appointed?
Schulhofer: I do not think they should be elected. The people who know them are the people like us. [In elections], it is just name recognition and it’s not quality. It’s whoever does the most ads or puts the most signs out, so people recognize their names. It is just a terrible system.
Alan Sklar: I have a more painful point. It is very difficult when, as a law firm, we’re asked to make donations to these campaigns. This puts all of us into an untenable, unwinnable position. But, skipping that unique problem for the lawyers, it’s a really unwholesome thing to do. If there is a big case for a client, I never know if someone has bundled donations and walked into the judge’s office with a $51,000 check. I just don’t know, and no one should be asking that. It is name recognition, it’s really driven by their budget, and that’s just a terrible way to pick our judges.
Brennan: I do transactional as well as commercial litigation. I did have a case where the judge was involved in the second longest running trial in their court and she wasn’t able to campaign and wasn’t re-elected. She dedicated so much time to this case, it’s very important as it is precedent. But, she literally lost her campaign because she was doing her job. It’s a problem for them to run and do their job.
Feder: There are pros and cons to both [appointment and election]. There is one hybrid that I have seen where the position is appointed and there’s a retention election. It seems that you do get the right people appointed then the community gets to speak when they don’t think the person is doing a good enough job.
Urga: I have been here a long time. I have seen it go from where we only had six judges up to where, I don’t even know what the number is, I even have trouble knowing everybody. You still have to have the ability to elect the judge and then maybe it’s a process. They’ve discussed before [having a system] where you get appointed and then, after two years or some period of time, you maybe have to run, if people in some manner say we think you’re not being a good judge.
Marco Semeraro: I do feel like it would be much better to have people appointed. All I really have to go off is attorneys I know and [the ones I see] driving up Rampart. I’m probably what you would call the problem. I am seeing these signs on Rampart and I am like, “Hey, I like the way he looks I am going to vote for that person.” That’s kind of the way it runs.
Akridge: I am against electing judges, but I think the problem is, it requires a constitutional amendment. Every time we have tried it before, the electorate has turned it down. They want a voice in selecting judges for whatever reason. I think that’s been the obstacle in Nevada of getting that change.
What new Practice Areas are you seeing and what’s on your Horizon?
Brennan: There is a new bankruptcy type – sub-chapter five – that was approved in February, even before COVID. We are seeing initial filings of sub-chapter five, it’s for small businesses, seven and a half million or less in assets. It is a very nice option for clients, but because it is a new practice area, we expect to see more.
Steffen: There has been an uptick in our employment section and counselling with business owners on how to become more efficient and reduce workforce. We’ve also received a lot of phone calls from people who have been laid off, in their minds, unfairly. That’s going to be an area that’s going to explode in the coming months and it already has in employment law.
Sklar: In terms of practices, it is completely idiosyncratic. COVID is rich man/ poor man for our clients. The restaurant, bar or gaming industry sectors of our practice is really hurt. You look at other industries, healthcare, in particular, is the obvious one, they aren’t just alive and well, they’re thriving.
What is a PEO – and how can it help your business?
Are you bogged down by employee paperwork? Is your payroll a pain in the neck? Or maybe, attracting and retaining good employees is a constant struggle because your benefits aren’t up to par.
Whatever the cause may be, HR challenges can be a real hindrance to your business’ growth. It’s easy to overlook key revenue-generating opportunities when you’re distracted by your HR to-dos.
The good news: There’s help out there – it’s called a professional employer organization (PEO).
PEOs, like Insperity, can work with your company to provide comprehensive and affordable payroll, benefits and human resource services through a business-to-business relationship called “co-employment.”
What is co-employment?
As a business leader, you may cringe a little when you hear the term co-employment. But it’s not as intrusive as it may sound. Through the co-employment relationship, a PEO takes on many of your employee-related employer responsibilities, while you continue to manage and run your business. You’ll still maintain control over managing your employees’ daily to-dos and core job functions as well as maintaining your organizational structure.
As the co-employer, the PEO takes on certain, specific employer obligations, as set forth in your service agreement. This allows the PEO to handle functions such as payroll, benefits, tax remittance and related government filings. Because it acts as an employer for those purposes, the PEO can assume a greater amount of responsibility than, for example, a payroll company. Typically, a PEO can manage many of the HR jobs that you would have to outsource to multiple service providers – like payroll processing, benefit plan management and administration, recruiting and training, and more. This way you can spend less time managing various vendor relationships.
What’s more – through this co-employment relationship with a PEO – your company can effectively and efficiently mitigate a substantial portion of the risk and responsibility associated with having employees. Most PEOs employ specialists who are responsible for monitoring many employer-related state and federal laws. Armed with this knowledge, the specialist stays abreast of constantly shifting laws, regulations and reporting requirements that impact the services the PEO provides to your business.
A PEO does NOT
Control your business. PEOs provide access to seasoned HR professionals whose guidance and advice you can solicit when you need assistance.
Replace your internal HR staff. PEOs align with your company’s existing HR department or staff to provide complimentary expertise, such as support in administering workplace policies and making shifts in company culture. A good PEO will employ seasoned HR staff who are certified HR professionals who have experience with various industries.
Cause disruption to your workplace. There is minimal, if any, disruption to employees when you work with a PEO. They will see the PEO’s name on their paycheck and other documents, but will likely appreciate the greater depth and breadth of benefits offered as a result.
Summing it all up
Being an employer has never been more challenging, highly regulated and time consuming than it is today. The good news is that you don’t have to go it alone. Now that you can answer the question “What is a PEO?” you can begin your search for a reputable PEO that can help drive your business forward.
To learn more about the advantages a PEO like Insperity has to offer your business and how to determine if a co-employment relationship is the right decision for your company, download our free e-book, HR Outsourcing: A Step-by-Step Guide to Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs).
Insperity, a trusted advisor to America’s best businesses since 1986, provides an array of human resource services and technology designed to help you minimize risk and maximize profitability in your business. Along with insight from our Business Performance Advisors, you’ll receive the most comprehensive suite of HR products and services available in the marketplace. Through our premier Workforce Optimization® solution, we deliver administrative relief, better benefits, reduced liabilities and a systematic way to improve productivity. Insperity operates in more than 70 offices throughout the United States. Our business performance solutions support more than 100,000 businesses with over 2 million employees. For more information, visit insperity.com.