Oftentimes, the attorney-client relationship is inherently personal. Clients are trusting attorneys with some of their most private information, whether that be marital disputes with a family law attorney or financial hardships with a bankruptcy lawyer.
Perhaps one of the most intimate practice types, however, is personal injury law.
“We’re representing injured people; it’s delicate,” said Hopewell attorney Lee Bujakowski. “Part of helping people and representing people, to me, is getting to know them personally.”
Of course, with social distancing guidelines and COVID-19 shutdowns, face-to-face interactions have declined. For many people, in-person contact has become a source of panic. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the coronavirus has caused a spike in anxiety disorders, with society anxiety being at the top of the list.
Still, individuals are craving human interaction. And when it comes to legal matters, clients often prefer meeting with attorneys face-to-face.
So Bujakowski found a way to make that happen. He explained that his firm, Marks & Harrison, is in a building that was once a bank; the drive-thru window that was formerly used by tellers is now inside their conference room.
The window is now used for socially distanced meetings with clients.
“In March, we realized we could open the drive-thru window and do drive-thru legal services. We’ve kept it going since,” Bujakowski said.
The drive-thru process is simple. All clients have to do is call Bujakowski’s office and schedule a time to meet. Masks are required, and Bujakowski maintains a six-foot distance from clients at all times.
“Our office is still closed to the public. The less interaction we can have, the safer it is for our clients and staff,” Bujakowski said. “At the same time, a lot of things can be done easily over the phone, but not everything.”
Of course, meeting through the drive-thru window is not “mandated,” Bujakowski said. If clients prefer their legal matters to be handled entirely electronically, he and his team can easily accommodate.
As Bujakowski emphasized, “safety comes first.”
“We pride ourselves on a personal touch to the people we represent, and you can’t just do that through email or the phone,” Bujakowski said. “At the same time, safety is more important than anything else, and I don’t want clients or staff to feel unsafe or like they have to use the drive-thru service.”
Bujakowski said he has received nothing but positive feedback from clients that are using the drive-thru option.
“We are all craving interpersonal interactions right now… Clients have said they really appreciate the opportunity to be able to lay eyes on their lawyers. To have some sense of normalcy,” Bujakowski said.
Bujakowski noted there is a lot of uncertainty for clients in personal injury law; more often than not, personal injury clients require a lawyer through no fault of their own. And while navigating post-injury legal matters, interpersonal connections can go a long way to make a client feel more comfortable about their case.
“Ultimately, our goal is to make sure [clients] are getting full and fair compensation for what they lost through the injury,” Bujakowski said. “But on the way to that goal, you just want to help people. Knowing you have a lawyer and a law firm and a staff with you through this… That can be extremely comforting for clients.”
The drive-thru window has been used for more than client meetings. With the help of paralegals Tonda Huddleston and Kristin LeMire, Bujakowski passed out 250 meals to healthcare workers from the John Randolph Medical Center on April 16.
“[The firm] is always looking for ways to give back to the community… But our usual types of fundraising events are not available right now,” Bujakowski said. “We were trying to find some other ways to give back and stay involved in the community.”
Bujakowski, Huddleston and LeMire are currently the only employees coming into the Hopewell office; the remainder of the firm is still working from home. And while the office will remain closed to the public indefinitely, Bujakowski has no plans to end the firm’s socially distant drive-thru service anytime soon.
“In a lot of cases, it’s easier, better and more effective to be able to see people in-person,” Bujakowski said. “This drive-thru has been a way to try and circumvent the problems the pandemic has created.”
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