June 29, 2020 Council of Appellate Staff Attorneys

CASA Chair's Column

By Elizabeth T. Ryan, Nashville, TN

In the early discussions this spring about how to manage our court system and what would be appropriate in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of my colleagues commented, “We are building the airplane as we are flying it.”  How true that has been.  One of the things I love most about CASA is learning from my colleagues across the country about how their court systems operate and the roles of staff attorneys in those systems.  Of the many things I have learned during this time, I have been impressed with the many and varied ways in which staff attorneys are integral to the work of their courts. 

I asked several of my CASA colleagues how their work has shifted during this pandemic.  Like many of us, they are working from home when possible.  With e-filing so prevalent around the country, staff attorneys are able to view pleadings and records online and submit orders, memoranda, and opinions to their courts electronically.  Many participate in meetings by conference call or other video conferencing platforms. The staff attorneys in my office have assisted the court in drafting a myriad of pandemic-related orders impacting the suspension (and resumption) of normal court operations. Perhaps the biggest shift for many court systems has been conducting oral arguments electronically. Fortunately, staff attorneys can view the arguments either through their court’s website or via live stream.  Our staff attorneys helped our court prepare for electronic oral arguments by presenting a mock argument before the first attorney logged in for what was likely her first electronic argument too.  Like many of you, we could never have imagined what it would take to build the airplane necessary to keep our courts operational and open yet safe for all involved.

Though I have been roundly impressed with how quickly and effectively our court and courts across the country have responded to the pandemic, the one thing all our electronic capabilities cannot give us is personal connection.  We miss the camaraderie of being in the office together, of walking down the hall to discuss a legal issue with a colleague, of in-person meetings and organic conversation.  One day the fully built plane will fly effectively, and hopefully, by then, we will be able to turn to the person sitting next to us to say, “Hello.”

Elizabeth T. Ryan

2019-2020 CASA Chair