Life in a major metropolitan area is different from our situation in a small community. We visited with native son Tim Staum, whose law firm is in the 33-story AT&T Tower in downtown Minneapolis.
What year did you graduate from Elk Point? 1975. You may recall that during the early to mid-80s, after attending USD, I worked as a legislative assistant to Larry Pressler in Washington, D.C. I went to the University of Minnesota Law School from August 1985 to December 1987 and began practicing law in downtown Minneapolis in April 1988. I began practice at a firm named O’Connor & Hannan, which closed their Minneapolis office in 1994, when I came to my current firm, then called Mackall, Crounse & Moore. In 2013, Mackall became part of the DeWitt firm, which after a name change is now DeWitt LLP. I have been a partner/shareholder in Mackall and then DeWitt since 1997 and have been a trial lawyer since the start of my legal career.
Give us the basic situation to start – downtown, high rise, etc. When I started at O’Connor & Hannan in 1988, we were located in the IDS Tower in downtown Minneapolis, which remains the tallest building here. When moving to Mackall in 1988, I became officed in the TCF Bank Tower, also in downtown Minneapolis, a block from the IDS. In 1995, we moved to the AT & T Tower, also in downtown Minneapolis close by. So, for my entire career, I have officed in high rise office buildings within a two block radius.
What adjustments have you gone through between the start of the pandemic and now? At the start of the pandemic, we had lawyers, paralegals and staff of approximately 70. We were mostly full-time, with work almost exclusively on-site. I drove to and from work each day, through sometimes heavy rush hour traffic. Beginning in late March, with Governor Walz’ stay at home order and corresponding adjustments to firm policy, most began work from home. That was a challenge, as most had never done so before (at least to any extent), and it took a lot of help from support staff, particularly IT, to make that happen. We reduced on-site personnel to approximately 20 percent, of which I was one, along with my assistant. Over the course of the year, we have gradually increased to approximately 50 percent now, though with the recent virus trends, that could change again. While in the office, if we are in our own individual offices, we do not wear masks. When leaving our individual offices to enter common areas, we are required to do so. We are also required to socially distance, wash hands, use hand sanitizer, etc. We are discouraged from having clients visit the office for meetings and when they do, protocol must be followed. Otherwise, client meetings are by Zoom, phone or written/electronic communications. For those of us that are trial lawyers, almost all court proceedings are by phone or by Zoom, including mediations, hearings and trials. This is a challenge, particularly in complicated cases, with large amounts of documents. I should also mention that the George Floyd death, and resultant unrest and protests, has added additional challenges for those downtown. There has been significant looting and vandalism, with some in and around our building. There remain buildings close by that are boarded up and/or closed, due to the unrest and the pandemic. Undoubtably, some will never re-open. The feel of downtown is much different, and afterhours traffic is significantly reduced, with security increased.
See full story in this week’s Leader-Courier.