Hartford Business Journal

September 21, 2020 — HealthiestEmployers

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16 Hartford Business Journal • September 21, 2020 • www.HartfordBusiness.com By Sean Teehan steehan@hartfordbusiness.com A s business slowed down at companies across Greater Hart- ford in mid-March due to COVID-19-related shutdowns, it picked up signifi- cantly for Lisa Zaccardelli, a partner at law firm Hinckley Allen who focuses on employment law. "I probably had one of the busiest years of my career in the labor and employment area, and I don't see that changing," Zaccardelli said. She's far from the only lawyer cur- rently working at a fever pitch. The overbearing backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of consistent misery for many businesses: potential illness outbreaks, closures, layoffs, furloughs, bankruptcies, rent negotiations to avoid eviction, etc. But most of those issues involve some kind of legal dispute, so companies — and individuals — have been calling their lawyers. And attorneys seeing an up- tick in business are predicting a further outbreak of law- suits that could keep them busy for at least the next few years. Toward the beginning of the pandemic, some practice areas at law firm Pull- man & Comley LLC experienced a slow down as courts temporarily closed, said Robert Holzberg, a retired state Superior Court Judge who han- dles civil litigation at the firm, which has offices in Hartford, Stamford and Bridgeport. It didn't last. "The whole world froze in place but we have noticed a significant uptick over the past three months," Holzberg said. Pullman bankruptcy attorney Irve Goldman said his work volume has at least doubled — and possibly tripled — from the amount he'd expect in an average year. The reason isn't very surprising: lots of pandemic-battered businesses are filing for bankruptcy protection. But even with a slew of high-profile bankruptcy filings already occurring at national brands like Pier 1 and J.C. Penney, Goldman said he thinks bankruptcies will pick up in the months ahead. That's partly because many smaller and midsize com- panies have been kept afloat by se- curing potentially forgivable loans from the federal Paycheck Protec- tion Program. But that money is running out, and the business climate hasn't improved much. Nationally, the number of Ch. 11 bankruptcies filed through August — 4,780 — is up 28.2% from the first eight months of 2019, accord- ing to data compiled by the Ameri- can Bankruptcy Institute. Additionally, Goldman said, the federal CARES Act — which passed in March — includes a feature that ex- pands the number of small businesses eligible for a relatively new type of Ch. 11 bankruptcy protection that is less costly and quicker than the traditional reorganization process. The Small Business Reorganization Act of 2019 established rules that allow companies with debts of $2.7 million or less to apply for so-called subchapter V of the Ch. 11 bankruptcy code. The CARES Act expands those new protec- tions to businesses with up to $7.5 mil- lion in debt, but only until March 26. "You could liken it to when they passed the Bank- ruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act in 2005," Goldman said of the law that tightened rules for filing personal bank- ruptcy, and led to a crush of Chap- ter 7 bankruptcy filings, as people tried to get their papers in before the law went into effect. "I think [Chapter 11 bankruptcies] are going to spike higher," Goldman said. Evolving rules Attorney Tanya Bovée, Hartford office managing principal of labor and employment law firm Jackson Lewis PC, said her employer cli- ents have been constantly calling Legal Fallout Hartford law firms see spike in COVID-19-related business Lisa Zaccardelli, Partner, Hinckley Allen Irve Goldman, Bankruptcy Attorney, Pullman & Comley LLC Attorney Tanya Bovée, Managing Principal, Hartford Office, Jackson Lewis PC Robert Holzberg, a retired state Superior Court judge, handles civil litigation at law firm Pullman & Comley LLC. HBJ PHOTO | SEAN TEEHAN

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