By Thomas M. Bona.
“From Where I Sit” is an insider’s conversation with Jeffrey Miller, Esq. Jeff is executive partner at Pillinger Miller Tarallo, LLP and one of its founding partners. He is a trusted expert who has the answers to the questions that people ask.
Is the hybrid office the new normal?
Many workplaces will reconsider their prior structure and office spaces based upon this last year. There are certain businesses where collaboration is critical, and the face-to-face has to get done, in which case those businesses will not be as remote. Companies will be shrinking their office space footprint and doing things such as hoteling, days off/days on, and more.
Regarding PMT, we love to collaborate with our clients and within our firm. We rely upon each other, especially during our PMT roundtables, which we’ve taken to virtual. But it will be very nice to get our team back in one room simultaneously to collaborate and share ideas face-to-face.
What are your thoughts on technology, efficiencies, virtual meetings, and saving client’s expenses?
We have fully invested in technology to provide our employees and clients the support they need to be successful. The ability to safely and securely click to get on a meeting and see our partners, clients, colleagues, and family face-to-face makes a considerable difference in getting through and moving forward in this pandemic.
In emergency response situations, we still go down to the scene. We are ready with our hard hats and boots to show up where and when needed. Also, we respond at a click of the button to be available virtually for face-to-face emergency response advice and collaboration with our clients.
Our ability to conduct depositions, mediations, and court conferences electronically has resulted in less wasted time in court, sitting around waiting for the judiciary to address us. Electronic scheduling has been significantly better.
We are constantly looking for ways to decrease costs and pass along those savings to our clients. That’s another reason we say at PMT “we are always on your side”.
Will mediation and binding arbitration replace jury trials?
More cases are settling than ever before because of the delay in jury trials. This year, on both the plaintiff and defense sides, more files were able to get early amicable resolutions. At PMT, we closed over 1,300 files for our clients during this pandemic.
However, there will always be cases where one side doesn’t agree with the other side, and going to trial is inevitable. We know jury trials will come back because there will be cases where people want their day in court. But, I believe the trend of resolving more cases through mediation and arbitration will continue.
Will jury trials ever be the same?
It will be a process and take some time. Jury trials will return, but there will be expedited ways of trying cases virtually that will help unclog the court system. There will be a certain level of appropriate instances for virtual trials. Without the need to wait on judges, new technology will clear the court system and prevent wasting time in court.
For example, one area we see the most significant long-term change is expert testimony. Many experts would be produced with a taped video deposition recorded in advance and played for the jury at trial. Now, we can expect much more “live” expert testimony at significant cost savings by virtual technology. Also, it will be possible for fact witnesses who are out of state but cooperative to do the same. All of this will be more savings we can pass along to our clients.
Faced with stalled courts and a reduction in judges and court personnel, how has the firm responded?
PMT has taken an aggressive leadership initiative of becoming resolution experts. We have resolved over 1,300 cases including almost 500 through mediation during this pandemic, and we’ll continue our efforts and our focus on an early resolution for our clients. With the slow down, rather than sitting back and waiting for things to reopen, we’ve taken the bull by the horns and have scheduled countless non-stop mediation days with various carriers and clients. We have had tremendous success.
Do you foresee more mergers and acquisitions within the industry and law business due to the pandemic?
No question. As of right now, I read about CHUBB looking at Hartford. Our Executive Partner, Marc Pillinger, always says there will only be three insurance companies left in this world owning everything. I’m not sure that he’s wrong. Mergers will continue because of economies of scale within these carriers, survival of the fittest, and diversification.
Law firms are no different. PMT has an established regional footprint. We are exploring various jurisdictions and currently have our eyes on Florida. We get approached a few times a month from firms of varying sizes. Law firms want an anchor and more stability to cover all the various venues that we offer.
What challenges do you see going forward?
Getting the court systems back up and running efficiently and getting safely back to actual jury trials will be a considerable part of the challenge. I think there’s going to be a tremendous amount of litigation surrounding COVID-19, causation, and coverage. It will be challenging and we are ready.
What has PMT learned during the pandemic?
We learned that life is fragile, based upon, unfortunately, the losses that have occurred in this last year, with some of them close to home. The most important thing that we learned is the importance of supporting one another. Our PMT family is closer than ever.
Previous Interview (January 4th 2021)
In a word, how would you describe this past year?
Humbling. One moment, everybody was going about life naturally, and in one short breath and a blink of an eye, the world changed. Just seeing how many people have been suffering. I hope we appreciate the importance of our health, wellbeing, physical, and mental wellness. It is just very humbling.
What has been most challenging about it?
I think the interaction, the loss of personally seeing our friends, family, and clients. Through this pandemic, I have had to be extremely careful with those I came into contact with because my father is 88. On the business side, it took some getting used to remote access. But the firm was ahead of the curve. We made the right decisions early on to invest in our IT and office technology so that all PMT members could safely work remotely. We made sure our entire PMT family and our business partners could weather these past nine months. Also, we have kept our full family of employees and partners employed through this challenging period.
What has most impressed you during this period?
The compassion of people. I have not seen anything like it since 911. It is the true human spirit of wanting to help each other. It has been a divisive year. But, looking at the glass half full, I saw a tremendous amount of inclusion and partnership from many people making actual changes in this world to help others. That is what most impressed me.
Regarding the firm, the whole firm, everybody, the attorneys, the paralegals, the secretary, the administrative people, everybody who worked in our offices, everybody stepped up. Everyone did what they needed to do. Whether it was remotely or in person, some people ran into the office to take temperatures or deal with financial banking issues or work remotely to handle any problems. The whole firm stepped up, adapted to the challenges, and kept to their commitment to each other and our clients. In short, the firm moved forward in a synchronistic way, which has made us stronger, and that I am very proud of.
How have you focused on teamwork when everyone is working mostly remotely, and personal contact is so limited.
First and foremost, we focused on safety. We have been ahead of the curve from the very beginning. We shut down and went remote before any other offices that I was aware of. Thanks to our technology and IT partners, we have performed countless zoom meetings, Microsoft team meetings, webinars, and maintained an open communication line with each other.
As a team, we have encouraged each other through emails and positive shout outs of things that were going on personally and professionally. We never stopped our daily three o’clock roundtable meetings where a core group of attorneys hears, discusses, and continues to evaluate cases. We continue to mediate cases and resolve cases for our clients. We have participated in outdoor meetings for clients. We sat outdoors with masks at a distance and conducted business to ensure that we are doing everything we can for our clients to move forward.
How has PMT been able to grow this year?
Our communication with our clients is paramount. We have become faster at responding to our clients. We are known for our responsiveness and we live by a 24 hour must contact rule. It is similar to when we are in an emergency response mode, and we appear on the scene for a construction accident or a trucking accident, or an environmental occurrence. Through Zoom and Microsoft Teams technology, we have increased our ability to reach our clients even quicker. They feel as though we are sitting in the room with them and handling their questions and concerns.
The firm’s best advertisement is a timely report, the proper evaluation, and a resolved case. Our reporting, guideline compliance, and responsiveness have increased. Through this pandemic, we are utilizing our experience, resources and relationships with the plaintiff’s bar, who are also looking to resolve cases at this point. We have held and continue to hold countless mediations and direct negotiations. We have resolved a tremendous number of cases for our clients during this pandemic and we know the word has spread about PMT.
The news of our mediation results and the number of files we are closing is strengthening our reputation. Even during this pandemic, clients who have left their current positions with carriers and moved on have become an excellent source of new business for us. It’s an existing, satisfied, happy client who goes to another entity and wants to continue to do business with us.
Some firms have had to let go and furlough many of their attorneys, legal secretaries, and paralegals. But PMT has carefully and meticulously analyzed our new hires. We have some great new talent we hired just before the pandemic and throughout the pandemic. PMT has grown. We have increased our team, our bench depth, and our capabilities as a firm.
What challenges do you see going forward for the firm?
We focus on finding the right people and growing that talent into leadership roles. We have excellent mentoring, hiring, and education systems at our firm. We have law interns who are now associates. Also, we spotlight diversity at the firm and have a diversity committee that promotes growing the firm more diversely. So, talent is always a challenge, but we have the right systems in place to meet that challenge.
Technology will continue to grow in our industry, and we will meet it head-on by making the right decisions to move us forward. It is a considerable asset to the firm’s growth and ability to serve our clients. Pillinger Miller Tarallo has seen tremendous growth over the past 19 years. Our steady success continues to lead us to expand our footprint beyond our ten offices and four states. By utilizing our proven model, the quality of our PMT work and reputation, we have our sights fixed on Florida and partnering with the right people. Currently, several PMT attorneys are admitted in Florida and others are taking the bar in Florida. It is an exciting time for the firm as we continue to expand on our success.
Final question, what are your thoughts on 2021?
I see life as a glass more than a half-full person. I am beyond optimistic. I believe we have a great 2021 ahead. I think this personally, professionally for the firm, for our members, and our families. It has been a tough year for many people and on many levels. We have a few rough months ahead of us, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The vaccine is here and will eventually make it to everyone who wants it. It is the beginning of the end. Things will change, and we are going to get back to some normalcy. I cannot wait for it.
I am looking forward to our charity golf outing, rooftop get-togethers, events and seeing all of those people again face-to-face in a safe fashion. 2021 is going to be a tremendously significant year.
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