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Are Lawyers Exempt from Stay-at-Home Orders?

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Some states that have passed stay-at-home COVID-19 orders – including Illinois, Indiana and California – have exempted lawyers and law firms as “essential workers” who can still go into their offices.

The reason: demand for legal help is soaring in the wake of the crisis.

“What makes us essential is this virus has lots of legal issues associated with it,” says a Chicago managing partner in this ABA Journal article. “Clients need help.”

Despite the exemption, some firms are giving employees the option of working remotely, while others are creating “war rooms” that are manned by key attorneys and staff.

Meanwhile, ABA President Judy Perry Martinez is calling for a blanket declaration that legal services are deemed essential and exempted from any national stay-home order.

“The American people and U.S. business community must have access to the legal services they need—when they need them most, in this time of crisis,” Martinez says in this letter to the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

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Following are some excerpts from Martinez’s March 24 letter:

  • The scope of the crisis. “The ABA recognizes the enormity of the challenges facing our country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and respects that our government needs to take necessary and important actions that protect all Americans and prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Individuals, families, employees, businesses, and governmental agencies are all being tested in unprecedented ways. Lawyers across the country are working hard to help them through this period by providing critical legal services, in many cases without disruption from the services provided before the current crisis.”
  • Maintaining access to legal services. “People need access to essential legal services during an emergency. Lawyers help ensure that our nation’s foundation of laws remains strong, especially as fast-changing orders, directives, and laws are issued. From advising families confronting child support or custody, housing, or employment challenges; to individuals who may be ill with critical estate planning needs; to families trying to carry out health care directives of loved ones; to businesses and financial institutions dealing with the economic impacts on owners, employees, and customers; to adults or children threatened by domestic violence; to people involved in our criminal and civil court systems, lawyers can help Americans as they address unexpected challenges and solve problems surfacing in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus.”
  • Not all services can be done remotely. “In many states, in-person execution of instruments such as wills, powers of attorney, or health care directives is required. Even when not mandated, best practices may require that a lawyer observe the client or other person sign important personal or business documents to assure compliance with legal requirements. In criminal cases, defense counsel need access to detained or incarcerated clients to provide confidential legal advice and protect important constitutional rights. While technology can help, many clients do not have access to the internet or electronic devices, and some choose not to use technology for important transactions. Courts, prisons and jails are also not adequately equipped or resourced to provide the confidential video access that may be needed for legal advice or court proceedings when in-person options are curtailed.”

Read the full text of ABA President Martinez’s letter here.

Sign up for the FREE webinar “10 Things Every Lawyer Should Know About Cybersecurity in 2020.” The program is presented on March 31. It carries one free hour of lawyer CLE credit. Sign up here.

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