Impact Report from the Small Law Firm Committee’s COVID-19 Task Force Subcommittee

In the wake of the global pandemic that continues its destructive course through New York City and around the world, the City Bar’s Small Law Firm Committee established a subcommittee to examine the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on solo practitioners and small law firm attorneys. The COVID-19 Task Force Subcommittee has issued a report that presents the results of a survey it conducted of nearly all of the committee’s members identifying personal and practice management challenges, and impacts on their clients, of the current public health crisis, and offers recommendations to address some of these issues. While acknowledging that the survey’s sample size is small, the report describes experiences and concerns that undoubtedly are shared among the wider community of New York City-metropolitan area solo practitioners and small law firms.

Among members surveyed, a significant majority reported being “personally affected” by the public health crisis, including those who had contracted the disease and/or had family members, friends or clients who had gotten ill or died, and others who reported suffering from increased stress due to, inter alia, having to delay treatment for other health issues, work-family issues related to the stay-at-home order, inability to exercise, and fear of COVID-19 itself. The survey also revealed concerns about financial uncertainty among members, with many reporting that their ability to weather the crisis depended on Paycheck Protection Program loans. Loss of revenue from reduction in demand for services combined with clients’ inability to pay, inability to conduct in-person networking and marketing activities, loss of access to mail and files, technological problems associated with working remotely, and changes in court procedures and closures were also identified as prevailing concerns.

The report also raises concerns about “supply chain shock” when social distancing orders are eventually lifted, including anticipated court back logs, increases in controversies arising from rent and mortgage payment delinquencies and other contract breaches, and bankruptcies, at a time when small law firms and their clients are—and will continue to be— financially distressed.

The report offers a number of recommendations, including preserving and strengthening the sense of community among solo practitioners and members of small law firms through remote networking opportunities and, after social distancing requirements are lifted, in-person events; developing CLE and non-CLE programs to keep practitioners current on changes in the law and advances in information technology; and addressing known and anticipated deficiencies in regulations and legislation to address the unique circumstances imposed by the pandemic.

As stay-at-home orders are lifted and the legal profession reopens, the COVID-19 Task Force Subcommittee will continue to monitor and report on these and other problems and challenges faced by solo practitioners and small law firms.