COVID-19 Restrictions Forced Immigration Attorneys to Find New Ways to Work

By Mary Hennigan
Arkansascovid.com

Gladiola Pelayo-Ramirez and Erin Haisman were forced to close the doors to their business, the Law Offices of Roy Petty, in Rogers, after the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services suspended all in-person business for its field offices due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 18.

The law office has not been opened to the public since, instead contacting clients through email, telephone and a drop-off mail system to their mailbox.

“What we’ve learned is that there’s more than one way to get our job done,” Pelayo-Ramirez said. “We are not afraid to try new things. Even though we miss the personal contact with clients…we can still get our job done the way we’ve been doing it.”

Owners Gladiola Pelayo-Ramirez (left) and Erin Haisman (right) stand in the lobby of The Law Offices of Roy Petty in Rogers, Arkansas, Oct. 20. The business has been closed to the public since March. Photo by Mary Hennigan.

Although the office has followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regulations, the eight in-person staff members still remain at risk to COVID-19 in their personal lives. 

Pelayo-Ramirez worked from home for almost all of September after she contracted the virus from her husband at the beginning of the month. Three of her children also became infected.

Haisman, who has not been infected with COVID-19, said she worries that it is harder to form a connection with clients over the phone.

“We deal with a lot of asylum cases, so people have been through trauma,” Haisman said. “Explaining that to one, a stranger, is difficult anyway. Trying to explain it to a stranger over the phone, somebody you’ve never met in person, can be difficult.”

Creating a personal connection with clients is a challenge that former Roy Petty employee, Lilia Pacheco, has experienced while starting her law firm as well.

Lilia Pacheco, 31, works on cases at her office in Rogers, Arkansas, Oct. 21. The Pacheco Law Firm started during the pandemic in September, and was faced with the challenge of handling remote cases. Photo by Mary Hennigan.

Pacheco started her own business in September because she wanted a slower paced workload than she previous worked, she said. While several of Pacheco’s clients were continued Roy Petty cases, she has started 23 new cases since her opening.

The Pacheco Law Firm has begun allowing the public back inside, taking several precautions, Pacheco said.

“The family members must wait out in the car,” she said. “There shouldn’t be more than two people in the lobby.”

Appointments also are scheduled an hour apart, leaving enough time between clients to allow a limited number of people in the building. 

Navigating business during the pandemic has created challenges for the law firms, but the circumstances have compelled owners to be innovative with technology, and to create efficient ways to work.

Mary Hennigan

Mary Hennigan is an ArkansasCovid assistant editor and a graduate journalism student at the University of Arkansas.

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