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.
Felicia Gilbert is the managing partner of Sanford Heisler Sharp’s San Francisco office. She joined the firm in 2016 and represents employees in individual and class actions involving race, gender, and pregnancy discrimination. Since coming to Sanford Heisler Sharp, she’s had responsibility for individual pre-suit settlements totaling around $8 million.
Gilbert has settled two individual employment discrimination cases against law firms—one involving sexual harassment claims, and the other involving retaliation claims. Sanford Heisler Sharp has become known as something of a go-to firm for plaintiffs looking to file claims against law firms where they’ve worked.
Gilbert is currently managing the Vega v. Honeywell case, an individual gender discrimination and retaliation case in the Southern District of California which is awaiting ruling on defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
Bloomberg Law spoke to Gilbert about the anxiety her clients are experiencing as a result of Covid-19, her work and workout schedules, and inviting goats and sheep to Zoom calls.
Bloomberg Law: Describe your day to day routine.
Felicia Gilbert: I try to get up around 6 or 7 a.m., do some yoga or stretching exercises, and then meditate for 10 minutes. I check my emails, have coffee, and listen to NPR while I do my chores. I’m doing more chores than ever—it seems like the dishes magically pile up. I really get into work at 9 a.m. and work until 7 p.m. or so. Every day is a nonstop marathon of conference calls, client calls, and EEOC deadlines to be met. I’m literally running from one call to the next. So much of my time is on Zoom calls and conference calls that it’s hard to do substantive work. Some days I have to get (up at?) 4 a.m. to get my work done.
BL: What is the hardest thing about working from home?
FG: My office is five feet from where I sleep, so it’s easy to work around the clock. I have to work hard to build in some separation between my work and home lives.
BL: What is something your firm is doing that has been really helpful?
FG: I’m very appreciative of the extent to which management has been so flexible with people’s schedules. Some of our lawyers are parents, and can’t be on in the morning because they have to get their children set up for school, and folks here have been very understanding. In addition to a weekly managing partners call, we have a company-wide Zoom call every 10-14 days.
BL: How have your clients’ needs changed?
FG: They are more anxious. Because of the discrimination they faced in the workplace, the current environment has heightened their anxiety. It’s also due to the fact that a large portion of our cases settle pre-suit, and that usually involves a buy-out scenario. And the job market looks very different now than it did four or five months ago. We’ve settled three or four cases very successfully, but we have to be creative and or nimble. A company can say, “Oh it’s COVID, and our finances aren’t doing very well.” But you have to call them on their bluff if they attempt to make baseless arguments. And our clients are worried about whether they might be facing a furlough or lay off.
BL: What kinds of technology are you using? Any challenges while working remotely?
FG: I use multiple screens, so that helps a lot. And I’ve had to make adjustments to my chair in order to save my back. It’s really been an adjustment as I didn’t have a home office set up before this. But I’ve noticed that I’m not printing as much, so I’m saving a lot of trees.
BL: What is your number one piece of advice about working from home?
FG: Devise a clear game plan about how to separate home life from work life. Commuting used to create a natural separation, but that’s gone now, so you have to find another way. I also think it’s important to take a break in your day to go for a walk and get some fresh air.
BL: What’s your favorite working from home story that made you laugh, shake your head, or just throw up your hands?
FG: I’ve done a few mediation calls on Zoom. My office is right next to the backyard, and on the second day of a tough mediation, my neighbors decided to perform the loudest kind of yard work possible. They are retired, so it was just a typical Tuesday for them. And our San Francisco office had a Zoom call with Sweet Farm Sanctuary, so we got to meet goats and sheep on our Zoom happy hour!
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)?
FG: After 6 or 7 p.m., my partner and I try to go for a long walk or a bike ride. My partner has two black belts in martial arts, so we workout in our driveway. We may look a little crazy to our neighbors, but it helps us de-stress. I’ve decided to try out veganism, so I’m cooking some new meals. He’s been a good sport about this. I’m trying to make sure it’s not just work, sleep, work, sleep, every single day.