COVID-19 and Criminal Defense Practice: Q & A with Tim Dinan from Dinan and Associates (Audio File)

Recorded on 03/30/20

Tim Dinan is a sole practitioner at Dinan and Associates in Grosse Pointe whose practice includes criminal defense and representing lawyers and law students in regulatory matters. Tim talked to Max and I about how he has adjusted his practice to handle cases during the pandemic and provides some advice for other attorneys facing similar issues.


John: Hello, this is John Swift.

Max: And this is Max Matthies.

John: We're two of the staff attorneys at ICLE. We're talking to other Michigan attorneys about how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting them and their clients.

Max: We thought it might be helpful to share how our colleagues and their firms are responding to the COVID crisis and provide some insight on how you might do the same.

Tim: My name is Tim Dinan. I'm a sole practitioner at Dinan and Associates. I practice in the area of criminal law. And I represent lawyers and law students who have problems with their regulators. That's the core of my practice.

John: We really appreciate you talking to us today. One of the things that we've been asking folks is, with the stay at home order in effect, how has that impacted your criminal defense practice?

Tim: As much as this is a practice, it's a business, too. I just hired someone about two weeks ago, and I had to let her go when the governor issued the order. That was too bad. I had all my trial dates and all my hearing dates, pretty much to the end of April, have been adjourned. And I think that's going to probably extend again. I'm getting people who are still calling for lawyers, but they don't know the status of their cases. So I'm spending a lot of time hand-holding and trying to tell them that some parts of the process are going forward, and other parts are not. I've tried to be more flexible on accepting payment.

John: Right. Do you have any appearances at all?

Tim: Only on emergency matters where the person is in jail. As I understand it, there's only two judges in Wayne County now hearing any cases and everyone's definitely keeping their social distance and whatnot.

Max: How are your clients responding? What is their largest concern at this point?

Tim: Most of my clients are anxious to have their cases resolved. And so that anxiety is something that I'm responding to. I just have to let them know that these are extraordinary circumstances—that we have to just wait it out. I tell them, if nothing else, save up your money for sentencing, if that's appropriate. There are other clients who are looking for their rights—for instance, the right to return to practice or the right to drive their car—and it's hard to tell them, but that's all I can really do.

Max: How's business?

Tim: I’m okay. But at a certain point, if people aren't going out and getting in trouble, there's not as much business. You know, all this sobriety and all this social isolation has really killed an otherwise very successful practice. But there's still work that is being done, administrative work. I've tried to stay in touch with my clients and let them know, “Hey, I'm still here if you have any questions,” that sort of thing.

John: One of the things about the stay at home order, we've heard a little bit about, you know, people actually getting dinged with misdemeanors for violating it. And wondering if number one, whether you have had any of those cases and do you anticipate any of those clients coming into your office?

Tim: You hear about certain things, but my understanding is a lot of those cases are more or less warnings. Most of the people who are being cited are being warned. They're not being formally charged. That has been an interesting development. A lot of what the police chiefs have told me is that it's the calls they are getting are people ratting out their neighbors. If they see them talking with somebody in the street, or they notice that they're leaving and going places and they don't think they're going shopping. So I think it's more of a guidance with teeth rather than an actual problem. I anticipate not getting many of those. I mean, there'll be a couple I imagine. I mean, like people were cited for having a house party the other day, and they actually had people over, which is not very responsible. But that would be kind of the extreme. I mean, most people I see are definitely avoiding other people.

Max: So, Tim, you're saying your business is sort of leveling off. What sort of recommendations would you have for solo and small firms that are struggling right now and looking for clients and hoping to keep their doors open?

Tim: So I'll handle that question in reverse. I think the first thing that any lawyer who is, you know, got an open business and has relationships with suppliers and creditors, is to reach out to your creditors and just let them know, I'm fine, but I'm a little short. I need some modified terms. That communication is really key. Before the stay in place order was made, I actually drew on a commercial line that I opened and I pulled out about two and a half months of money—in case I wasn't able to make my bills. And I've just lowered some payments. I've actually reached out to the mortgage holder on our building. And we're working with them now. So the first thing you’ve got to do is get communication going. And then the attorney as creditor—and I know that a lot of criminal attorneys get paid up front in full, but here on planet Earth, people still make payments. And I know lawyers will take cases with payments and I would just say, work with your clients, you know, if they can't pay the whole thing. Accept something partial. Because everybody's in the same boat, especially if your clients are in the restaurant business or if they're in the service business. Or they're paying you with their Uber money. That kind of patience really is going to pay dividends, and it also builds loyalty within the client base. They know that you're willing to work with them. Because this situation is beyond everybody's control.

John: That's really good advice, you know, especially the part about staying in communication with your own creditors. Because the last thing they want is for you to just go dark.

Time: Exactly. Yeah, no one likes that. The other thing I've been doing, too, is that I do find I have time. A little more time than I planned on having. And so the thing I've done is I've been catching up on CLE, using that great ICLE membership that I've enjoyed. The partnership is really nice to have because you can dig in, and I've almost got my certificate now for estate planning. That's kind of a move I've been making for the last year.

John: Oh, really?

Tim: Yes. And it's nice, you know, it’s “Jeez, I’d do this if I had the time.” Well, guess what? You either get caught up on your Netflix backlog or get caught up on the work you're doing. So that's been the payoff for me. I found sets of court rules from 2014 and 2015, and I'm like, why am I holding on to this stuff? And the CLE has been good, too. I mean, even just for other areas of law. Updating your retainer and engagement agreements. That's important. I think the best use of your quote-unquote free time is to get out there and communicate. I've had lawyers calling me and I really appreciate that. I call other lawyers. Just staying in circulation and being available is going to kind of cure the blues of being stuck by yourself.

John: That is great advice, Tim. We’ve got to wrap it up here, but I really appreciate you talking to us.

Tim: Thanks for reaching out, guys.

John: We'll push this out to everybody so they can share the advice, and you take care of yourself.

Tim: Alright, guys. Take care. Stay safe.

Max: Stay safe.

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