The American Association for Justice conducts a wide variety of seminars covering both substance and process. The AAJ Depositions College is one of AAJ’s most successful seminars and allows participants to hear from lecturers before breaking into small groups and practicing the skills that were taught during the day. Heidi DiLorenzo is one of the faculty members for the Depo College and recently taught AAJ’s first virtual college.
Tad Thomas: Heidi, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Can you tell us just a little bit about where you work and your practice?
Heidi DiLorenzo: Sure. I am in Birmingham, Alabama and I work for Alexander Shunnarah Injury Lawyers, which is the largest plaintiff’s firm in the state. We handle all types of personal injury cases from premises liability, trucking cases, auto cases, worker’s compensation, and disability. I focus mostly on trucking and auto cases.
Tad Thomas: When the COVID crisis hit and everybody in your firm had to work remotely, how did you all cope?
Heidi DiLorenzo: My firm is huge. We have 60 lawyers in Birmingham and then we have offices elsewhere, too. So, my boss, Alexander Shunnarah, bought extra servers for us to be able to work remotely. And then we purchased licenses for our employees to be able to work at home.
“Our biggest roadblock has been childcare issues for our employees. We’ve done our best to work around childcare issues, whether that means extending work hours or allowing them to work on weekends rather than work only on weekdays. We’re doing what we can so that we can try to make it work for them.”
Tad Thomas: I think a lot of lawyers are concerned about productivity from staff members working from home.
Heidi DiLorenzo: Yes. One of our biggest concerns was ensuring that our staff is still working consistently throughout the day. Everyone knows it is really easy to watch TV for a little bit or start some laundry or whatever – which breaks your focus from work. So Sara Williams, our managing attorney, implemented a task log that each of our employees who are working from home are required to complete and turn in at the end of every day. Basically, it’s just a log of everything that they’ve accomplished that day.
Then once we got a couple of weeks into it, Sara reviewed all of it and then sent it to the attorneys as a guide for what our staff should be accomplishing or what we feel is reasonable under the circumstances. Obviously, that’s not ideal. We don’t like to have to micromanage or police our staff while they’re working. I actually started making my own task log that I share with my staff at the end of the day so they know I’m doing it too and we’re kind of keeping each other accountable.
Tad Thomas: You’re an AAJ faculty member and you recently served as faculty on one of the first virtual colleges. Tell us how the first virtual Depo College went.
Heidi DiLorenzo: Yeah, it was the first virtual AAJ college or any type of education other than the webinars. I was originally scheduled to be on the faculty for the Depo College when it was supposed to be held live in Atlanta. Then when everything happened with COVID, we didn’t know whether we were going to be able to go forward with it, so we did a Zoom Depo College. It actually went a whole lot better than any of us expected. We had good feedback from our participants, as well, and we were able to still do the breakout rooms where we have the workshops. Even though it was an abbreviated version of the college, we were still able to do some of the practice and the drills that make a Depo College what it is.
I think it’s important that we continue to provide that education throughout all of this. I think it’s really stressful and kind of depressing when you think about how everything is changing and everything is totally different than it was two months ago.
“So, I think to allow for some consistency, at least with education, AAJ is still offering CLE like depositions college so that attorneys can still connect. It’s important to keep that going.”
Tad Thomas: As far as teaching is concerned, do you think that the teaching at AAJ colleges or other CLEs is beneficial to you and your practice?
Heidi DiLorenzo: Oh, yeah. I feel like I’ve learned more from teaching than I have from participating myself. The faculty is great, and I always come away with something new. Even with the Depo College – that I’ve taught a couple of times now – every time I teach it, I’ll learn something else to implement into my depositions as well.
Tad Thomas: Do you find that the colleges are more valuable compared to just a regular seminar?
Heidi DiLorenzo: Yes. The first college that I did through AAJ that I participated in was The Ultimate at Harvard a couple of years ago. It’s one of those things that’s scary at first because you’re kind of out of your comfort zone. All the CLEs I’d been to before were the type where you go sit in a big room and you listen to a speaker, and that’s it. I tend to be shy around people I don’t know well, and The Ultimate forced me to break out of that. So, it was a different experience, but it was absolutely invaluable. I think that’s really the only way to get people to really understand the techniques that are being taught, especially at the Deposition College.
I teach at my law school, as well. I teach Depositions, and it wasn’t until I started giving the students the drills we use in Depositions College that they finally started to click with them. Because you can lecture on it, but it’s not really as beneficial as getting to practice it.
“And that’s the great thing about the colleges through AAJ. You actually get a chance to practice what you’re learning.”
To sign up for one of AAJ’s Depositions Colleges or other educational programs visit www.justice.org.