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Houston-Based Law Firm Insists That Employees Return To The Office

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Many employers are looking to get people back into the office. Some are making it mandatory, such as law firm AZA in Houston. Partner John Zavitsanos says working in the office yields the best results when trying a complicated case.

JOHN ZAVITSANOS: I had a hearing - court hearing that was held by Zoom. And the opposing lawyer was in bed, like, propped up participating in the hearing in bed. Now, I would dare say that lawyer - there's no way that person would appear in court like that.

MARTINEZ: Probably not. He recently wrote an essay for The New York Times titled "We're Kidding Ourselves That Workers Perform Well From Home," which he says drew anger from some and thank-you's from others.

ZAVITSANOS: For us, working in the office was the best alternative. But there are many professions and many jobs where there was no drop-off in productivity, no drop-off in creativity, et cetera, working from home. We just happen to be on the other end of the spectrum.

MARTINEZ: All right. Now, for those who have not read that essay, why do you believe that working from the office led to productivity for you and your team of attorneys?

ZAVITSANOS: OK. So we are trial lawyers. We are not litigators. We actually go to trial. In the COVID year, last year, we actually went to trial six times. And that's an extraordinarily high number for a firm our size. It is just not possible to have the kind of collaboration and to have the kind of seamless progression in the way you try these cases with everyone participating from home. It just can't be done.

MARTINEZ: John, what's that one thing that's missing that you say that you can't have that same collaboration? What's the thing that doesn't allow that to happen?

ZAVITSANOS: Here's what we find. I can tell - when I'm on a Zoom call, I can tell when somebody's scrolling through their email because you have Zoom fatigue after about 10, 15 minutes, because the discussions are not organic. When you're in a room with other people, people are cutting people off. People are talking over each other. That's just the way human beings interact. You can't do that on Zoom, right? We just find that it works better actually being there together.

MARTINEZ: And I just want to make it clear, John, is it more than just your attorneys? Did other office employees come in, or was it just attorneys?

ZAVITSANOS: If anyone asked - if anyone said that they did not feel safe or if anyone had any kind of a medical condition, we allowed them to work from home. Most of our people wanted to come in. And I know probably some of your listeners are thinking, well, gosh, this is the boss. Of course, he's going to say that. But we're - we have very little turnover here. People do not - people don't shy away from speaking their mind. We had several people that did not want to come in, and that was fine. However, for the rest of our folks - the lawyers, the legal assistants, our technical people that are there to help prepare cases to go to trial, which is what we do - and these are kind of larger commercial cases, not personal injury-type stuff that involve tens of thousands of documents, if not hundreds of thousands of documents - most of them wanted to come in.

MARTINEZ: John, wondering, though, with the delta variant causing more cases and hospitalizations, I'm wondering if your firm maybe has changed or updated its plan for employees and client meetings.

ZAVITSANOS: We required every single employee as a condition of employment to get vaccinated. OK? Because we are collaborative and we work in teams, our personal view is that you don't have the right to risk someone else's health because of certain political beliefs you have or whatever. We brought in an epidemiologist to give a lecture to our people. We had all kinds of videos and materials that were put out by the various drug companies on the vaccines, and so we required our people to all get vaccinated.

MARTINEZ: John, one last thing - one last thing on this. The workforce around the globe has really probably been forever changed by the pandemic. And some offices might choose to stay a hybrid form, even, say, when the pandemic is over. Is that something you'll consider?

ZAVITSANOS: No. No. No, absolutely not. Look; again - and I don't want to pass judgment on other companies and other industries. But for what we do, there are literally thousands of last-minute twists and turns that happen in the course of getting ready for a trial. And so having to set up a Zoom call 15 times a day to talk about some new document that just got dropped in our lap and how are we going to deal with this in light of the approach we're going to take in trial just won't work for us.

MARTINEZ: That's John Zavitsanos. He's a trial attorney and a partner at the law firm AZA.

John, thanks a lot.

ZAVITSANOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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