Article originally appeared in The Buffalo News on July 3, 2020.
It’s hard to believe 40 years have passed since I chose to start a law practice rather than work in the family business, Kaufman’s Bakery. The bakery provided me the summer job I needed while I was in school, but it didn’t provide the human interaction I wanted. You don’t see many people when you start work at 2 a.m. The law, however, promised me as many hours a day as I wanted of people contact.
When I handled bankruptcy cases I heard folks tell how they got over their heads in debt. Sometimes it was poor money management; usually, it was medical expenses, a job loss, or divorce. I kept a large jar in my office and it continually filled with cut-up credit cards. My main goal when helping these clients was to reassure them they would come out the other side of bankruptcy with a fresh start.
I also helped people who had been injured or had become too ill to work get Social Security Disability benefits. One of the cases that made me chuckle: In 1980 I had a Social Security Disability hearing with an administrative law judge who flew in from South Carolina, a very Southern gentleman in a white suit and a huge handlebar mustache. He was skeptical of my client. The hearing wasn’t going well until the catheter bag she wore broke (I leave the result to your imagination) – fully favorable decision granted.
And then there was the client who robbed a bank, dropping my business card as he fled the scene. You can probably guess the outcome of that case.
As my practice grew, so did my staff. It was always nice to go to work, knowing I’d spend the day with people who sincerely wanted to help clients. We didn’t have a water cooler, but we had a coffee room where we would catch up.
Frankly, when we and the rest of the world had to close our offices and work remotely, I questioned if anything would get done. I pictured clients giving up on their cases and staff members succumbing to the temptations of doing laundry or playing with the kids or the dog. I couldn’t imagine SSD clients on video or phone hearings getting justice, even if their catheter bag broke in the middle of the hearing.
Happily, I was wrong. Clients, many of whom find it difficult to get out, actually prefer talking on the phone and provide the information we need just as they always have. My staff gets as much done as they did before. Administrative judges adjusted their procedures so, although they aren’t face-to-face with clients, decisions are handed out fairly.
Staying home for three months would never have been my choice, but I’ve worked out more, read more, and walked the dog more. I miss the human interaction of the office, but I’m thankful my firm was among the industries that could work remotely.
My heart goes out to businesses dependent on face-to-face contact. As things open up, I urge you to open your wallets and support people who couldn’t work remotely. Just watch your budget – I don’t want to have to dust off that big glass jar.
Jeffrey Freedman is the managing attorney of Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, PLLC, founded in 1980.