Law in the Time of COVID-19

The Workload for Many Coral Gables Attorneys is Greater than Ever, Especially in Key Sectors

While some sectors of the economy are being devastated by the shutdown, the legal profession is not among them – at least not yet. Faced with multiple health and economic challenges, a wide range of business and individual clients are turning to Coral Gables law firms for legal guidance. While shifting operations from their offices to today’s work from home (WFH) settings, many attorneys are busier than ever, especially in the areas of employment, estate planning and most painfully, financing.

“No matter how big or how small a firm, the COVID-19 outbreak is having an impact on everyone,” says Paul Scanziani (pictured above), principal, Scanziani Law, and president of the Coral Gables Bar Association. “Revenue has dried up for all levels of businesses, and clients are having a hard time paying their bills.”

In his foreclosure defense practice, Scanziani has been helping clients apply for loan modifications, including forbearance of payments under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. “There is a lot of financial stress on lenders these days, especially when everyone is asking for mortgage relief at the same time,” he says.

Protecting Paychecks

Lillian Ser, founder of Ser & Associates, has been assisting small businesses apply for federal loans, such as the Small Business Administration’s new Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). “I’ve also been providing clients with pro bono advice on how to hold on during this difficult time by renegotiating contracts and leases,” she says. 

“Everyone is in the same position, so businesses should try to be flexible, find a creative financial solution and preserve your relationship,” she says. “In the meantime, it’s important to support the restaurants, stores and other small businesses in our community during this difficult time.”

Lillian Ser

Aliette D. Rodz, partner in the Business Litigation Group of Shutts & Bowen, has worked closely with businesses and banks to smooth the application process for PPP loans. “Our response team had everything lined up for our clients, and as a result we were able to assist them in getting funds they needed to operate.”

Aliette D. Rodz

She has also advised businesses on their insurance coverage, as well as labor and employment issues. “It’s been very busy for us,” she says. “Many of our clients are in survival mode, and we’ve been helping them every step of the way… We keep our clients informed of what’s happening with regular updates on the COVID-19 situation.”

Responding to the changing legal environment, Luis Salazar, founding principal of Salazar Law, joined forces with other firms and professionals in related fields to launch the Florida Business Continuity Task Force.

Law in Time of Covid-19
Luis Salazar

It functions as a kind of pop-up service to advise local businesses with mini seminars and to pool expertise from different firms. “The challenges presented by this pandemic are unprecedented,” he says. “To overcome this crisis, our community must pull together.”

Salazar also emphasizes the importance of finding workable solutions. “We get a lot of questions about contracts and leases,” he says. “They are all written differently, but most do not address a pandemic situation. So, take a practical approach to the issue. If you are a commercial landlord, for instance, it may be better to help get your tenant back up and running than trying to find someone to take their place.”

Other Hot Topics

Diane P. Perez, who focuses her practice on labor and employment law, says employers are concerned about paying for workers’ leaves under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act – as well as requests from employees whose pre-existing health conditions put them at high risk for COVID-19. “Those who are still operating essential businesses want to keep their workplaces safe and employee morale high,” she says. “My employee clients are mostly concerned about remaining healthy while bringing some income in the door.”

Perez says she is doing more advising than litigating these days. “We are in unchartered territory right now,” she says. “Once employers gradually begin opening their doors, they will face difficult decisions on who will return to work first. They should consider making those decisions based on objective criteria, such as seniority or risk having to defend against employee discrimination claims.”

Estate planning is another legal service in high demand these days according to Charles Morgan and Laura Horton, partners at Morgan & Horton Law. “The shutdown has given people time to think about their mortality,” says Morgan. “We have had many calls from clients about changing their wills, creating trusts or preparing health directives.”

Law in Time of Covid-19
Charles Morgan

Horton says it’s important to plan for the future, such as empowering someone to pay your bills if you become disabled, or setting money aside for yourself or your dependants. “We talk with clients about their goals and educate them about how these legal documents work,” she says. “Once you have a plan in place, you can live your life without those clouds hanging over you.”

Law in Time of Covid-19
Laura Horton


While legal advice is in high demand, COVID-19 has pushed the pause button on many types of litigation. Jury trials are on hold due to social distancing requirements, but attorneys are using videoconferencing technology to present motions, conduct depositions and keep their cases moving forward.

Shutts’ Rodz says that the normal volume of business litigation slowed in March and early April, as South Florida judges moved to implement videoconferencing technology. Now, however, “the courts are getting up and running with protocols for virtual hearings,” she says.

Michael T. Moore, principal, Moore & Co., said the three attorneys in his firm worked through the weekend recently to address a conflict of legal matters before a three-judge panel in Seoul, Korea. “We continue to work on our cases and little has changed, except that trial schedules have been pushed into the future,” he says.

Law in Time of Covid-19
Michael T. Moore

Moore, whose practice specializes in maritime cases, says COVID-19 poses a severe challenge to the cruise industry. “There will be lots of lawsuits and finger-pointing from the coronavirus pandemic,” he says.

Personal injury and medical malpractice case filings may, however, be slowing down, according to Scanziani. “Plaintiff’s firms that handle matters on a contingency basis have to weigh the costs and length of time until a potential recovery,” he says. “Right now, those timelines are delayed, making it difficult to invest in a case.”

Future Recovery Work

Robert Torricella, whose practice focuses on civil and commercial litigation, as well as on business guidance, expects his firm’s caseload to increase in the months ahead. “Litigation work likely will experience a hiccup as courts and firms adjust to videoconferencing,” he says. “In time, we anticipate assisting clients in areas like bankruptcy and employment law, as well as in commercial litigation and dispute resolution. In fact, we have already received calls from clients with needs in those areas.”

Michael D. Katz, founding partner of Katz Barron Squitero Faust, says the COVID-19 slowdown is very different than the 2008-09 recession. “Our real estate activity remains very strong,” he says. The firm’s workload includes commercial mortgage matters, insurance issues, landlord-tenant agreements, residential sales, and construction litigation.

In addition, Katz is starting to see interest from clients looking to acquire properties in the downturn. “It’s a little early in the cycle to find distressed pricing now, but they are looking around,” he says. “In general, we are very positive about what we see in terms of deal flow. The real questions are the duration of the recession and the timing of the recovery.”

Robert Torricella from Torricella Law

WFH – Legal Style

When Robert Torricella opened Torricella Law in 2014, he empowered employees to work at the office and remotely, as circumstances required. That’s made the recent transition to work from home (WFH) relatively seamless, he says. 

“Personally, there have been challenges to fully remote working,” he says. “I have two college-aged sons, one with high-functioning autism, and my wife is completing an advanced education program.”

Managing things at home while also working remotely on a full-time basis has been a balancing act, Torricella says. “Everyone is at home all of the time now and all of them are completing online coursework at different times. Finding a new type of work-life balance certainly has been a challenge. I’m hoping that learning to work through these issues personally will help the firm in fashioning updated remote-working practices.”