The Indiana legal community is bracing for the anticipated impact of the Super Bowl coming to town.
Attorneys are making sure they can find parking when they leave Indianapolis for court hearings or midday meetings and that clients can travel to downtown law firm offices without hassle. Firm managers want to make sure they’re providing employees with flexibility to enjoy Super Bowl activities, but also that productivity stays high.
“This will be a fun and exciting time for our city, and everyone will have to be flexible and accommodating in what we do so that we’re viewed not only as good hosts but productive professionals,” said Bryce Bennett at Riley Bennett & Egloff in downtown Indianapolis.
Whether it’s law firms or courtrooms, office managers and administrators are putting plans in place to make sure their legal business continues as normal without any issues.
Planning discussions and concerns vary depending on the firm. Some firms – such as Taft Stettinius & Hollister, Faegre Baker Daniels and Drewry Simmons Vornehm – say they don’t expect any practice-altering hiccups and it will be “business as usual.” Other firm managers and human resources leaders have more specific concerns and developed contingency plans. If they have not done so already, most law firms will likely consider potential hurdles and develop a game plan prior to the big event.
Communications director Ty Gerig with Barnes & Thornburg said the firm is discussing plans for the Super Bowl, but hasn’t set in stone any change in normal operations. He said attorneys and staff are always able to work away from the office virtually if needed, and the firm plans to make arrangements to accommodate those employees impacted by traffic issues, commute times and parking.
At Riley Bennett & Egloff, Bennett said his firm’s biggest concerns are traffic and parking – the issues most firm managers say they’ve been mulling after the Super Bowl Host Committee released the traffic and parking plan in mid-December. Bennett said the most proactive thing he’s done is talk to the people managing the surface lots and structures to confirm the firm’s employees would be able to maintain their contractual spots. At first, they were told that wouldn’t happen. But parking officials now say that only normal business hours will be honored.
“That gives us some confidence, but they might not be guaranteed a spot if they go in or out during the day,” he said. “That might present some hurdles if you’re meeting out of the office, but we’ll have to work those out on a case-by-case basis.”
The firm has a contingency plan of allowing remote access to its servers so attorneys and staff can work from home, if needed. Bennett said it makes sense to schedule client meetings outside Indianapolis or shuffle appointments to make sure one doesn’t have to leave and return to Indianapolis.
“The loss of productivity is a concern, with people being drawn to the hoopla we have just outside,” he said. “But we have a bunch of disciplined professionals, so we don’t expect that to be too much of an issue. We all have to strike the right balance.”
Debra Elsbury, office manager at 12-member law firm Threlkeld & Associates in downtown Indianapolis, said her biggest concern is making sure the attorneys can get to the office.
“We absolutely anticipate that this will be a huge distraction for everyone just being downtown, even if you’re not planning to participate in any of the activities,” she said. “Just going to lunch will be an endeavor in itself. But we hope people understand there’s a job to do and the legal work needs to be done. Once I get people into the office and into their chairs, we’ll be fine. But that’s the challenge.”
The Super Bowl Host Committee’s recommendation for many businesses is to telecommute, but Elsbury said that is just not feasible for their small law firm.
The firm plans to move its working hours up an hour or two during Super Bowl week, Elsbury said, with everyone expected to be in the office between 6 and 8 a.m. and out by 4 p.m. As part of the Association of Law Administrators, Elsbury said she got that idea from a law firm administrator in New Orleans who frequently has dealt with these big-event scenarios. Elsbury said hourly employees will also be asked to shorten lunch hours. Attorneys are being instructed to avoid scheduling in-office meetings and make as many late afternoon appointments as possible to make sure they won’t have to return.
“Whether you meet at the office of opposing counsel or someone’s home, we just think that asking people to come downtown during this is kind of insane,” she said.
Elsbury said she didn’t know how the firm’s court runner would handle those duties, but that is something to address in the coming weeks.
The Marion Superior courts won’t be holding jury trials. Presiding Judge John Hanley has asked his colleagues to adjust the calendar around the Super Bowl. With the increased traffic and people downtown, the courts want to make sure that jurors aren’t prevented from finding a place to park.
Court administrator Glenn Lawrence said other cities that have hosted the Super Bowl haven’t reported a big increase in arrests or hearings needed, except for additional code violations, public intoxications and fights that occur. Chief of Staff Scott Hohl in the Marion County Clerk’s Office formed a committee in late 2011 to explore the specific issues that might be of concern, and he said some changes were put in place based on that committee’s work.
One change is that code violation hearings will be held at a temporary “code enforcement court” location in Criminal Court F24, in room T-541 of the Indianapolis City-County Building, rather than at the Environmental and Community Court a few miles away. The city’s legal department will staff that temporary court and judges will be on standby beginning Jan. 30 for two sessions each weekday – one at 9 a.m. and another at 2 p.m. – and an additional third docket at 8 p.m. on weekends.
Hohl said other Super Bowl host cities reported an increase in code citations resulting from temporary structures being put up, people selling items without permits and food vendors setting up in unauthorized locations.
A contingency plan is also in place for the Arrestee Processing Center, where people arrested are taken. A conference room will be converted to a hearing room and expedited hearings for guilty pleas and diversion will be held there, designed so out-of-towners can resolve their issues without going through the entire booking and court process. The county prosecutor and public defender’s offices will each add staff to handle any increased volume in caseload, and the clerk will provide two additional clerks to process bonds.
Hohl and Lawrence said Indianapolis is unique as compared to some of the other large cities where the Super Bowl has been held, since many of the court and law firm locations are in the same area downtown rather than other parts of the city. People won’t have to be bused to other locations.
“Really, it’s just convenience so that (the court system’s) a little closer to Lucas Oil where all the action is at,” Hohl said. “We intend to be open and our courts will be operating as ‘business as usual’ as possible. Just because there’s a Super Bowl going on, people will still be filing cases and bringing in new pleadings.”•