Thank you to the over 700 attendees who joined us this week for the first ever Greenspoon Marder virtual Innovation Summit! Our final day of discussions covered litigation in the era of zoom, how hospitality service providers have adapted to the global pandemic, what’s next for brick and mortar retail and how companies are addressing social justice issues in the workplace. In case you missed it, explore our session recaps below.
Litigation, Client Relations & Cost Savings in the Era of Zoom
For a profession built on ritual and tradition, litigators have had to quickly pivot in response to the challenges brought on by COVID-19. Greenspoon Marder co-managing director Michael Marder and partner Beth-Ann Krimsky discussed what it’s like inside the new virtual courtroom, and how attorneys are adapting new ways to present and advocate for their clients.
“There is a learning curve for all of us to operate in a completely new world,” said Beth-Ann, noting that due to the inability to schedule hearings, depositions and mediation, Zoom has become a standard legal communication tool. In most cases of civil litigation, a Zoom deposition, hearing or bench trial are appropriate for remote video attendance, added Michael, but it does add complexities that have never before been an issue.
A major concern, the panelists agreed, is that of “witness coaching” during a deposition. “The main thing is that since you are not present with the witness, you want to make sure there is no sidebar communication occurring,” said Michael. He suggests to scan the room as much as possible and also ask specific questions about who else is off camera. Additionally, the attorney’s professional demeanor becomes even more important during a Zoom hearing, and litigators should present in the same way they would in a courtroom. Consider whether to stand or sit, do not act excited or defeated and of course always dress appropriately.
While this “new normal” has its challenges, there are also a few silver linings. Beth-Ann commented that there is the potential for tremendous cost savings for clients as travel costs have been reduced, judges are able to make themselves available on shorter notice, and there is much less “wear and tear” on the attorney. “The virtual courtroom will be a thing for years to come,” concluded Michael.
Social Justice in the Workplace
Led by a panel of committed Diversity & Inclusion advocates, this session was a passionate discussion about the significance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and how companies can effectively work towards a more inclusive environment. “What success looks like is a culture where people can be authentically themselves,” said Brandon Wolf, Central Florida Development Officer and Media Relations Manager of Equality Florida. Panelists examined the difficulties that many organizations face when working towards a more diverse and inclusive workplace – many of whom do not know how to get started or how to measure results.
“The key element is trust. You have to create a culture where people trust that they can give honest feedback,” said Brandon. “When you get to really know the person, you can affect more change,” agreed Myrna Maysonet, Chief Diversity Officer and Partner at Greenspoon Marder. The panelists described the process as a journey, and informed viewers that there is no checklist nor a formula. They explained that while diversity is easier to quantify on the front end, it’s inclusion that actually drives results. Furthermore, they clarified that while diversity programs cannot exist without people who are marginalized, they should not expect these same people to solve a problem that they did not create.
The speakers also emphasized the importance of engaging in uncomfortable (but necessary) conversations. “You just have to brace yourself for the idea that when you are talking about issues that deeply impact people and how they move throughout the world, you are going to bring up things that are painful. You are going to have difficult conversations,” said Brandon. “If you are too comfortable, that should be a big red flag that you need to be doing something different,” agreed Nicole Wright, Vice President & Assistant General Counsel of JPMorgan Chase & Co.
They encouraged company leaders to invest in their people and to give them a voice. They also encouraged employees to not be afraid to use their own voices. “The goal is not to become an empty, meaningless hashtag,” said Myrna. “People who see themselves as allies often mute themselves because they don’t want to say the wrong thing. My word of advice is to jump into it. You have to engage in order to affect change,” said Brandon.
Reimagining Commercial Space: A Forced Evolution
As industries across the globe face the many challenges imposed by COVID-19, thought leaders have been forced to adapt to these unprecedented times by developing innovative solutions. The real estate industry, of course, is no exception. “The impact on commercial real estate has been extreme,” said Mark Fawer, Partner at Greenspoon Marder. New York’s real estate market in particular took a considerable toll, with the city’s exorbitant rent prices and large number of retail stores. As such, real estate professionals had to repurpose properties. Luckily, this was not an unfamiliar concept.
“Before COVID we started to see the repurposing of spaces that we hadn’t seen before,” said Mark. “Trends are in place, and COVID is effectively an accelerator to those trends,” said Glenn Brill, Managing Director, Corporate Finance at FTI Consulting. Indeed, real estate agents had already been utilizing this tactic prior to the start of COVID. The pandemic simply sped up the process – and quickly.
“I do think that a lot of what happened was pre-COVID. Some of this is a natural needed correction,” said Robin Abrams, Vice Chairman & Licensed Associate RE Broker of Compass & Abrams Retail Strategies. However, Robin does not see COVID as only a challenge, but also as an opportunity. “There’s no doubt that it’s challenging for many retailers but it creates opportunities for other users,” she asserted. “As investors, it is our view there’s always opportunity in destruction,” agreed Jason Davis, Managing Director at Turnbridge Equities.
The panelists explained that they are not worried about the current state of New York. In fact, they are confident that it will come back bigger and better than ever. They expect to see more businesses run from home, and to see more retailers take omni-channel sales approaches. Additionally, they expect to see more people return to the city and for it to revive the liveliness that it has always been known for. “One thing we’ve learned in history is to never bet against New York,” said Robin.
Hospitality Service Providers in the Time of COVID-19. How Does the Phoenix Rise From the Ashes?
With the hospitality industry taking the brunt of COVID-19’s impact, our panel of industry leaders joined to discuss the challenges hotels, bars, clubs and restaurants have faced and the difficult decisions owners and operators have been obligated to make in order to keep their establishments in business. Chair of Greenspoon Marder’s Hospitality, Alcohol & Leisure Industry Group, Louis J. Terminello, expressed his concern for the industry, providing staggering statistics on the pandemic’s $250 billion impact on restaurant sales, adding, “Restaurant owners have been forced to lay off 2/3 of their staff.” Richard Millard, Chairman & CEO of Trust Hospitality, discussed the impact the pandemic has had on his hotels globally with hotels across the pond being impacted in the exact same way, stating, “This is a worldwide problem. It is what it is, we’ve learned some lessons, and now what we have to do is look forward.”
Many bar and club owners who have been forced to stay closed over the last several months, have found it best to remain closed due to the operating costs of opening back up again. Joe Delaney, Managing Partner of Martini Bar, has decided that until we are sure the pandemic has concluded his business will remain closed, adding, “Rushing to open doesn’t help me if it destroys my brand.” Due to the severe impact on revenue, business owners have struggled to pay the bills with Hector Hurtado, Director of Administration, Vida & Estilo Restaurant Group, commenting, “It’s not just rent, it’s all of the other debt and expenses that come with running a business.”