In a new series amid the coronavirus pandemic, Billboard is asking individuals from all sectors of the music business to share stories of how they work now, with much of the world quarantined at home and unable to take in-person meetings, attend conferences or even go into the office. Submissions for the series can be sent to HowWeWorkNow@Billboard.com. Read the full series here.
This installment is with copyright lawyer Christine Lepera, a partner at Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp.
Christine Lepera: I actually flew to L.A. from New York the weekend of March 15 because I had a hearing in the “Dark Horse” case [Lepera represents Katy Perry] on the 16th in front of Judge Snyder. We already had gotten the tentative ruling on Friday [that judge was going to rule in her favor], but I wrote a Rule 50 motion and she hadn’t canceled the oral hearing or changed it to a telephonic appearance, so I flew out there. I think Monday morning, which is when the hearing was, we got a call from the clerk saying we could do the hearing telephonically.
Since I was already there, she told me to come to the courtroom. I was the only one there. Plaintiff’s counsel was on the phone and even Judge Snyder called in. I argued my case to her from the podium while she was at home and not on the bench.
That was my first experience with everything starting to go into total lockdown. I flew back home on the 17th. The planes were empty. It was really quiet at the airports. My office had closed that Monday, so when I got back to New York, I went in on Wednesday and packed up a bunch of stuff. I was the only one there and I have not been back since. On the 19th, we received the final [word] that we had won the hearing.
I stayed in the city for the first 10 days, but with everyone working remotely I came to my country house in Woodstock. It’s been strange upstate. There have been no issues with groceries or other supplies. It’s completely open in the sense that there’s so much room to go outside. So I’m very lucky and I can go hiking in the woods and there are streams and my dog, Apache, a rescued Rhodesian Ridgeback, can go swimming. So that’s been great.
Right now all our offices are closed — New York, D.C., L.A. When it comes to going back to New York it is going to be interesting, but I don’t know when that will be. We haven’t set a date for the office to reopen.
Now everything’s being done electronically. As for litigation, it hasn’t let up. There have been new matters and continuations of old matters. There hasn’t been much change in my practice. The regular day-to-day, pleadings, motions, letters, correspondence, fights over things in discovery. It’s ongoing. I haven’t had to do a virtual deposition or a virtual arbitration yet. That’ll be interesting.
I am overseeing a virtual mediation next week and suspect that will be a thing that will start becoming more common as we continue going forward this year. As you know, the courts in New York are clearly not open for non-essential matters and I’m not seeing that happen anytime soon.
I’m also putting together a Masterclass on music copyright and infringement cases with an international perspective for MIDEM that will be held June 2-5. I was supposed to present in person in Cannes, as I have done for the last two years, but now the event is being held online. I am on a panel with a U.K. lawyer, Gordon Williams, from Lee & Thompson, a top entertainment firm in the U.K., and Massimo Travostino from Italy for the EU perspective, along with Brad Mullins from my office who are going to talk about music infringement cases.
The hard part is, now, instead of us all presenting in person, we all have to pre-tape our segments separately. I think that is so much more artificial. I prefer personal interaction — the energy from an audience. From the legal perspective, live interactions are just so much more compelling. That’s why I went to California. I wanted to argue to the judge in person, not just out of respect, but because I think it’s a more authentic and powerful experience.
Besides not having colleagues that you would meet with and see face-to-face, the virtual practice of law has some limitations and complications. With virtual depositions there are concerns about how you communicate with your clients. Because if you’re not in the same room, you have to establish some sort of a connection separate and apart, whether through audio or separate video, so that you can have private consultations with your client.
Because of concerns over cyber hacking, some firms are using their own technology because they don’t feel secure with some of the other more public technologies like Zoom. Everyone’s concerned. At our firm, we have strict mechanisms in place and we have a threat-review system. We have always been very careful about things, but you have to be even more alert now. The point is, there are folks out there that are trying to take advantage of the fact that most people are doing their work online now.
I think the tough part now about being an attorney, whether you are a litigator or a transactional lawyer, is to find the division between work and non-work time. It seems like Groundhog’s Day where every day is the same. Before, you would leave the office to go home, go out to dinner, see a play, or meet up with friends, but now everything is done at home. These two things I think are the biggest challenge — not having the personal connection with people and not having enough of a boundary divide between work and home life. It just gets all blurred.
The other hard part when this is all over is going to be getting used to wearing professional clothes again. Now, I’m wearing yoga pants almost every day. I’ve also started taking dance classes online. It’s not the same, but it’s better than nothing. I’m trying to help some of my teachers maintain their followings. I’m also still keeping my dog walker and my cleaner employed in New York City. It’s the least I can do.
When this is all over I’m going to a spa and going to tell them just give me every bloody thing you got on the menu. I mean, you can’t complain about that stuff, but man, you get so used to it.