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Leading Questions: Fried Frank Lawyers Take on Calls and Kids

June 5, 2020, 9:40 AM

Lawyers are great at asking questions, but how are they at answering them? Bloomberg Law is talking with lawyers and other legal industry players to find out what their lives look like in the age of work from home.

Jennifer Yashar and Joshua Roth are partners in Fried Frank’s New York office, and both work on the firm’s Covid-19 Task Force. Yashar is a partner in the firm’s real estate department, and her practice covers a broad range of commercial real estate transactions. Roth is a partner in Fried Frank’s white collar defense, regulatory enforcement and investigations, and commercial litigation practices.

Bloomberg Law spoke to Yashar and Roth about the challenges of working from home with young children, how their clients’ needs are evolving in an uncertain economy, and how they stay connected with colleagues.

(Editor’s note: Remarks have been edited for clarity and length)

BL: Describe your day-to-day routine.

Jennifer Yashar: I wake up with my kids (ages 12, 9, and 3) in the morning, help my older kids get ready for their “school day” and then spend most of my day on client calls. During the day, my older kids are generally self-sufficient and have their school schedules to attend to, but my toddler needs more attention. My husband and I share the household responsibilities in addition to juggling work. After the children are in bed, I go back to answering emails and doing substantive work that I couldn’t get to earlier in the day.

Joshua Roth: I usually wake up around 6:30 a.m. so I can get an hour or so of work done and respond to emails before my kids (ages 8 and 5) wake up and start their days. Once my kids wake up, it is a scramble to make breakfast, set up Zoom calls, etc., and then it is back to work. My wife and I have both set up our workstations at the dining room table so that we are available to help with school work, lunch and snacks, and the many other requests that come up throughout the day.

BL: What is the hardest thing about working from home?

JY: Carving out separate time for work and home—and a little bit of time for myself when I can find it—when all aspects of daily life are condensed into one physical space.

JR: Throughout the day, there is a lot of juggling. Working from home with young children is definitely challenging, but I am grateful that everyone has been supportive and that my family is healthy.

Jennifer Yashar and Joshua Roth
Courtesy of Fried Frank

BL: What is something your firm is doing that has been really helpful?

JY: The firm has been providing various programs and webinars on how to work from home effectively, which I think is a great initiative. The various practices across the firm have also started different community building initiatives. For example, Fried Frank’s real estate department created a morale squad, which releases weekly challenges, such as sending photos of your home office or your current “colleagues,” which are predominately our kids and pets.

JR: Fried Frank sends out a community newsletter that includes all sorts of supportive information for the entire firm, like mental health and wellness tips as well as links to educational materials. Our working parents affinity group even circulated scavenger hunts and other activities for kids. The firm also decided to provide associates and business service professionals with a technology stipend to support their efforts to work from home, and my sense is that the associates really appreciated it.

BL: How have your clients’ needs changed?

JY: As a real estate partner, there has been a pivot from predominantly transactional to predominantly advisory work including on issues of force-majeure, non-payment of rent, and helping landlords revise guidelines in preparing to reopen their buildings. As members of the Covid-19 Task Force, we have not only been doing a substantial amount of counseling for our own clients, but we are also serving as a resource for the other partners in our own practice groups and across the firm who receive Covid-19 related inquiries from their clients.

JR: A lot of my work over the past few months has related to Covid-19. In late February and early March, our clients were asking questions about force majeure and material adverse effect provisions, and about whether employers, landlords, retail stores, and others could face potential liability in connection with Covid-19. In March and April, our clients were asking questions about whether their businesses were “essential” under the various “stay at home” orders, and how they should respond to those orders. Over the past month, we have started to focus more on “reopening” issues as government authorities begin to ease restrictions. I expect that we will continue to help our clients navigate the legal aspects of Covid-19 for some time to come.

BL: What kinds of technology are you using? Any challenges while working remotely?

JY: We use a variety of platforms including Webex and Loop Up. The firm’s transition to using this technology has been seamless, and there has been a surprising upside. Instead of spending hours on audio conference calls, I now “see” my clients on a daily basis on video calls.

JR: My interactions with clients are definitely more personalized now with frequent face-to-face interactions offered by video calls. It is really interesting to see how people have been approaching work from home. Some dress in business attire, others dress casually. Some have offices set up in their house, and some are at their kitchen tables. Everyone is trying to balance different obligations at home, and going through that with clients and colleagues has forged deeper and more personal relationships.

BL: What is your number one piece of advice about working from home?

JY: Through all of the stress, it is important to take advantage of this time at home. For me, that means having dinner most nights with my family, which I do not have the opportunity to do on a regular basis during the week.

JR: Be patient with family, colleagues, and, most importantly, yourself. This is a very difficult situation and everyone is doing a great job.

BL: What’s your favorite working from home story that made you laugh, shake your head, or just throw up your hands?

JY: The co-head of our real estate litigation department hosted a virtual sushi making class, and everyone watched as my three-year-old scooped out a huge spoonful of sticky rice and proceeded to cover my hair with it. Everyone was laughing hysterically!

JR: My wife and I were both on a call early in the morning, when my five-year old daughter started shouting that she wanted to go on a bike ride, and we had to negotiate that situation down while simultaneously handling our calls. It’s hard to “win” when negotiating with a five-year old.

BL: What do you do to de-stress or take your mind off work when you’re trapped inside (or limited in where you can go)?

JY: Monopoly, online exercise dance videos, and cooking are very popular in my house. We have been trying out recipes from a new cookbook and been doing a lot of baking, including the requisite quarantine bread making.

JR: My entire family tries to get out of the house for a two or three mile walk around 6 p.m. most nights.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Ellen Egan in New York at maryellenegan1@gmail.com

To contact the editors on this story: Rebekah Mintzer in New York at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com and Tom P. Taylor in Washington at ttaylor@bloomberglaw.com

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