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COVID-19 and Family Law Practice: Q&A with Ryan Kelly (Audio File)

By Maximillian (Max) H. Matthies posted 03-27-2020 17:29

Ryan Kelly from Kelly &  Kelly PC in Northville spoke to John Swift and I about how her practice is responding to COVID-19.  You can hear that conversation by clicking the audio player. Below is a transcript of our conversation.


JOHN: Hello, this is John Swift.

MAX: And this is Max Matthies.

JOHN: We're two of the staff attorneys at ICLE. We're talking to other Michigan attorneys about how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting them and their clients.

MAX: We thought it might be helpful to share how our colleagues and their firms are responding to the COVID crisis and provide some insight on how you might do the same.

RYAN: Hi, my name is Ryan Kelly. I'm a family law attorney based out of Northville. I work with a team of lawyers there, including my family, and my practice focuses on custody, parenting time, and divorce matters.

JOHN: We really appreciate you talking to us today. I understand that you actually had a hearing telephonically this week. How was that?

RYAN: Yeah, as crazy as it is, one of the circuit court judges implemented a Zoom conference hearing, and she was actually in her courtroom. I was in my office, the other party was either at home or in their office, and did that by the phone. It was an interesting experience. I've used Zoom before, but I'm glad that the court was open to doing it. I think one of the things that was really hard about it is that you can't see any of the obviously physical cues, [like] the judge has heard enough or needs to hear more, or was intrigued by something that you're saying, as well as, not knowing when the other party is really going to talk or say something in that particular instance. That was a little tricky.

JOHN: You know it’s hard to figure out what the judge wants you to do anyway, even when you are face to face.

RYAN: Exactly.

JOHN: Was this an emergency motion or something that you had already scheduled and just wanted to do it over the phone?

RYAN: It was already scheduled. It wasn't an emergency, so I was a little bit surprised that the court decided to take it in that fashion, but I think there were a couple of reasons for that. I think the court wanted to keep their docket moving, and because both parties were willing to appear in that fashion, I think that the court thought, well, let's try it. Let's try to handle it in this fashion. And I really want to commend the court for trying to do that. I think that that's progressive use of technology that's beneficial to the parties. I mean it only took me about 45 minutes to hold that hearing from my office without any travel time, no waiting around, and things like that. I thought it was great.

MAX: You know I'm from California, and I started practicing out there. They've been doing telephonic motions for a number of years, and it really does—it cuts down on travel time. It's really efficient for clients. It really seems to be efficient for the court as well. So I'm really heartened to hear that Michigan is moving in this direction, notwithstanding the fact that we had to have a pandemic to do it.

RYAN: I know, right, I'm totally with you. This has been a big wake-up call for things that we could change or improvise, and sometimes it does unfortunately require a crisis to kind of reevaluate what you're doing and how your systems are working.

MAX: So speaking of emergencies, how are you handling emergency issues for clients, especially involving kids?

RYAN: The first thing that I'm trying to do is to determine whether or not it's actually an emergency because a lot of people [are] calling that are just in a heightened sense of panic about whatever their issue might be because of everything that's going on. So the first thing is determining whether it's really an emergency or somebody [who] just needs to be talked through something or [who is] having some sort of issue. Then, if it really is an emergency, how can we deal with that and navigat[e] some of the court closures. Obviously if they have an attorney, that's the way that we're going to be able to work with that attorney and try to get that resolved. But if it's an unrepresented person on the other side, I haven't had to do this yet, but I have some colleagues at some other firms that have already had to file some emergency motions, and I've been hearing good responses about how the court is quickly handling those issues.

JOHN: Now, you guys are a relatively small firm. So how has it been dealing with working remotely and interacting with the other attorneys?

RYAN: It's definitely interesting. We're a smaller firm, and our attorneys have already been wired up for a couple of years to be able to work remotely if they need to, which is great. I've been a big person pushing that because as I have young kids always on the go, it's great to be able to log on to my computer [and] access items on the server that I might need to access. So our attorneys have been able to use that, but using that and implementing it with the staff has been has been a challenge. We tried to first think about can we just close our office to the public and then maybe that would limit people's exposures, but as the days have gone by, we've decided the best thing to do is to transition people to working remotely. So we're able to do that with some of our staff with some of the technology we had in our office. And also we have a great IT staff that was able to get us up and running relatively quickly. So far it's going great. I think it requires a lot of communication. It requires a lot of flexibility in our staff, and our experience has been awesome.

JOHN: Did you have sort of an emergency plan in place before any of this happened?

RYAN: We didn't really, other than I live about two minutes from my office and so does my brother, who's another attorney at the office, and so do my parents that are also attorneys at my office. But we always say, my parents have a place in Arizona, we always say that whenever they go to Arizona something happens. We just didn't expect it to be like this. But our emergency strategy is basically one of us runs over to the office and sees what's going on. But this has definitely made us reevaluate some of those processes that are in place or need to be in place.

MAX: And how are your clients responding?

RYAN: My clients have been wonderful. I don't think one of them has said to me when I said, let's do an in-person or phone conference, I don't think one of them has had any pushback. I think if anything, they're a little bit relieved that I'm the one bringing up the issue instead of them having to raise it. I have a mediation scheduled for tomorrow that's going to be a virtual mediation. We're going to try it and see how it goes, and everybody really has to be flexible on that, be accommodating. We’ll all be from the safety and security of our homes and see how that works. So, when my clients are calm, which is tough in the circumstance, they're totally understandable.

JOHN: That's really good advice about being proactive about it and kind of putting people at ease.
For yourself, though, do you have any advice for other attorneys as far as keeping yourself healthy, physically and emotionally?

RYAN: I think the most important thing right now is thinking that this will pass and staying as positive as you can. For me that's making sure I get some exercise every day, getting outside with my kids, going for a walk, putting my phone down when I do that, to try to get away from the constant alerts, even if it's just for 20 or 30 minutes to kind of clear your head. And so really being flexible, as we go through this situation, realizing this is short term, we will get through this, and, you know, move forward.

JOHN: Now you’ve got a few kids with you there, right?

RYAN: I do have two kids.

JOHN: Max and I both do as well. Just kind of curious how you’ve been balancing working at home with kids and everything?

RYAN: It's been interesting. I'm really lucky we have a summer nanny that's a teacher. So she's off, too, so she's been helping a little bit as needed, but I mean my house looks like a tornado went off in here right now. After five o'clock, it will get much better and get cleaned up. Especially, I don't know about you guys, but my daughter has pretty arduous home school assignments from her school that we also need to complete. So I'm really up on my pennies and nickels, compound words, things like that. It sounds crazy, but it's a lot. I'm sure you guys can all relate.

JOHN: Absolutely. I don’t want to take up too much more of your time, so thank you very much. We really appreciate the advice and hang in there.

RYAN: All right, you guys, stay safe.