Resources & Tips for Michigan Lawyers Working Through the COVID-19 Pandemic
The governor has issued a temporary stay-at-home order. The courts are closed to non-essential functions. Your office is closed. Yet, you have clients who still need your help. Many of them, no doubt, need your help now more than ever before.
There are a lot of unknowns during this unprecedented time of pandemic and social distancing. We’re working to provide answers and guidance to Michigan’s lawyers throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
Below, you’ll find other resources that we hope will be helpful to you as you continue your vital work to uphold the rule of law and serve the public in these uncharted waters.
Where to Find Guidance for Your Practice Area
If you have a question or concern that’s specific to your practice area, we encourage you to join the relevant State Bar of Michigan section. These communities are crowdsourcing and sharing information that is crucial to the practice area of the section.
ICLE also has several resources related to COVID-19 and various practice areas available.
Some Basic Guidelines for Working from Home
At this point, you know the basics of working from home: Have a designated workspace, get dressed for the day, stretch your legs once in a while. If you want to read more about how to maintain a healthy work-life balance while working from home, here’s a brief (pre-pandemic) guide we found useful. And here’s a helpful read if you’re also taking care of kids on top of work.
Here are a few other tips:
- Don’t try to continue business as usual. This is not a business-as-usual situation. Identify and focus on your priorities, and accept and communicate that some things will need to go on hiatus during the pandemic.
- Instead of worrying about the hours you (or your colleagues) are working, focus on the work itself. Are your priorities being accomplished? That is far more important than “clocking in” at the right time each day.
- Communicate the appropriate amount. You shouldn’t disappear onto a virtual island, but you also can’t spend all your time dealing with phone calls, Slack messages, emails, and Zoom meetings. Neither can your colleagues. Have a system in place so everyone knows where to communicate urgent messages and where to share memes they saw on Instagram (these should probably not be the same place). Both forms of communication, by the way, are important as we all adjust to such limited human interaction.
Video Conferencing 101
If your office is continuing operations through the pandemic, video conferencing can help keep up team spirits and aid efficiency. Even if your office isn’t teleconferencing as part of its quarantine operations, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these popular platforms because you could be invited to participate in a meeting on one of them.
- Zoom is easy to learn and use. It allows for anyone with a link to join a meeting, so it is a good option when you need to communicate with someone from outside your company. The basic account, which allows for meetings with more than three participants for up to 40 minutes, is free. If you’ve never used Zoom, sign up here. Find help here. The Michigan Supreme Court offers each seated circuit, district, and probate judge a Zoom Enterprise license. Instructions for trial courts getting started with Zoom meetings can be found here. The Supreme Court Administrative Office has provided detailed instructions for using Zoom to conduct online mediation and has provided more Zoom resources in their Virtual Courtroom Resource Center.
- GoToMeeting is another straightforward video conferencing tool. They offer a 14-day free trial. If you’ve never used GoToMeeting, sign up here. Find help here.
- Join.Me is also a relatively easy tool to facilitate video conferences involving people from different organizations. If you’ve never used Join.Me, sign up here. Find help here.
- Google Hangouts Meet integrates with your company’s existing G Suite account, if you have one, and is offering free expanded meeting capabilities during the pandemic. If you’re never used Google Hangouts Meet, sign up here. Find help here.
- Slack is a popular workplace communication tool that’s mostly used for messaging. You can also, however, video chat or screenshare with colleagues in Slack. There is a free option for small teams. If you’ve never used Slack before, sign up here. Find help here.
- Microsoft Teams is another great tool for internal communication. It is included if you have Office 365, which means it connects to all of the other Microsoft Office tools, including Word. This is a solid option for video chatting with people within your organization, and the Teams live extension allows you to produce live online events for large audiences. If you’ve never used Microsoft Teams, sign up here. Find help here.
You can use the camera on your cellphone or laptop to participate. Although you can join a meeting on these platforms with just audio, you probably don’t want to be the only participant “in the dark,” if you can avoid it. Video conferencing is not the same as an in-person meeting, but it does provide much more information via facial cues than audio-only communication.
The Etiquette of Video Conferencing
Here are some tips to make you an ace video conference attendee:
- Log on a few minutes early so you can discover and fix any technical issues in advance.
- Be conscious of your background. Is it appropriate for the meeting? Some platforms allow you to blur the background or replace it altogether.
- Speak a little more slowly and clearly than you do in person. Pause more often.
- Mute yourself when you’re not speaking. Even little noises, like setting your coffee cup down, can be picked up and cause distractions.
- Try not to fidget. People can see you up close and your unconscious movements can be more distracting in this format than in person (although we discourage fidgeting in general).
- Read the room. Asides or interjections that might be charming in person can be annoying in this format.
- Don’t toggle back and forth between video and audio participation. If you’re participating by video, keep the video feature on as long as you’re in the meeting. If you have to leave and come back, don’t hang up but turn the video off so the other participants will know you’ve left the “room.”
- Stay focused. If you wouldn’t respond to an email or check Twitter during an in-person meeting, you probably shouldn’t do it during a video conference either.
- You can add a virtual background, which comes in handy if you want to hide the fact that you're working at your kitchen table. We have some SBM-branded options you can download here.
If you’re the one hosting the meeting, here’s some extra guidance:
- If you need to schedule a meeting with people outside your organization, tools such as Doodle can help find a time that works for everyone, even people whose calendars you can’t see.
- Practice ahead of time, ideally with another person, so you know how to use the platform and can work out any technical difficulties without an audience.
- Make sure everyone in the meeting knows how to use the tool (do a quick intro with an explanation of the different views, how people should ask a question, how they can mute and unmute themselves, etc.).
- Explain to the participants up front how you intend to conduct the meeting, and how they should participate. If you want to call on people rather than have the meeting flow organically, explain what people should do when they want to speak. Raise their hands? Use a chat feature to tell you?
- Be patient with people who are new to video conferencing.
- Keep the meeting on track. Make sure you—and the participants—are delivering the right message to the right audience. If something comes up that is better for a smaller group, explain that you’ll address that later with just the people who need to be involved.
- Keep video conferencing in mind for all kinds of workplaces interactions, not just meetings. In this time of isolation, it could be nice to host a virtual lunch or Bring Your Pet to Work Day with your colleagues.
The transition to conducting business over video brings with it new security concerns. Make sure you're protecting yourself, your clients, and your colleagues by following these steps:
- Make sure you have downloaded the latest version of whichever video-conferencing software you're using
- Use a really strong password on your account (and don't share it)
- If possible, set up a waiting room or password for your meetings
- Don't allow anyone but the host to share their screen
Remote and Electronic Notarization 101
Executive Order 2020-41 encourages the use of electronic signatures and remote notarization, witnessing, and visitation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Office of the Secretary of State has approved five vendor systems to be used in Michigan to conduct electronic and remote notarizations. Many vendors are announcing a delay in response time due to an increase in demand.
Electronic Signatures 101
Michigan has adopted the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA), which governs the use of electronic signatures and attestations. The following platforms are commonly used for collecting electronic signatures.
- Adobe Sign - Keep your practice moving by easily collecting signatures from your clients around the world with Adobe Sign. If you have Adobe Acrobat DC or Adobe Acrobat DC Pro, it comes with a subscription to Adobe Sign with eSignature features already embedded in the software.
- DocuSign - The DocuSign System of Agreement platform enables law firms to accelerate agreement turnaround time and reduce costs, while ensuring document security and privacy.
- HelloSign - A simple eSignature platform with reusable templates and an affixed audit trail that ensures actions are tracked and time-stamped.
- RightSignature - This Citrix software allows you to deliver documents via email with a secure link or by embedding on a website.
- Zoho Sign - A simple user interface with robust features allows for secure signing, sending, and management of documents from anywhere.
- Legal Talk Network, which produces high level podcasts for legal professionals, has a collection of resources for lawyers specifically about COVID-19 available here.
- This all-inclusive webinar from attorney and legal technologist Barron Henley goes over the steps you need to take to develop your remote practice, from setup to running at full throttle.
- In response to the growing legal needs of Americans arising from the pandemic, the American Bar Association has created a nationwide task force of volunteer lawyers and judges from across the legal profession. The task force will identify the legal needs arising from the pandemic, make recommendations to address those needs, and help mobilize volunteer lawyers and legal professionals to assist people who need help.
- The latest updates from the judicial branch can be found here.
- Michigan Trial Courts Virtual Courtroom Standards and Guidelines can be found here.
- Guidance from the Friend of the Court can be found here.
- COVID-19 resources from SADO, including sample pleadings, can be found here.
- Information about electronically filing court documents can be found here.
- The Animal Farm Principle by Patrick Barry
Having trouble? The SBM Practice Management team is on call at (800) 341-9715. Many more resources for working remotely are available here.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
- Make sure to set aside time for activities that bring you joy. Put it on your calendar if you need to.
- Stay in touch (or reconnect) with the people you love. Reach out, give comfort, and be comforted.
- If you find yourself struggling, reach out to the Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program directly for confidential help by calling the LJAP Helpline at (800) 996-5522.
Take Care of Your Physical Health
- Eat well and stay hydrated. Here are some tips from the Cleveland Clinic.
- Maybe it’s time to start that exercise plan you’ve been meaning to get to. Even a walk around the block can help.
- Other great ways to relieve stress and keep in shape include running, biking, yoga, and powerlifting.
Try to Have Some Fun
State Bar of Michigan sections’ online discussions and listservs have been lighting up with recommendations on escape entertainment during the crisis. Needless to say, tastes vary. In no particular order, here are frequently recommended law-related movies and series, and how to access them:
- A Man for All Seasons (rent on Prime Video)
- My Cousin Vinny (Starz)
- Marriage Story (Netflix)
- To Kill a Mockingbird (rent on Prime Video)
- Justice for All (rent on Prime Video)
- The Verdict (rent on Prime Video)
- Amistad (Starz)
- A Few Good Men (Prime Video)
- Shawshank Redemption (Netflix)
- 12 Angry Men (rent on Prime Video)
- Anatomy of a Murder (rent on Prime Video)
- Witness for the Prosecution
- Kramer vs. Kramer (rent on Prime Video)
- Philadelphia (Netflix)
- Michael Clayton (Cinemax or rent on Prime Video)
- The Lincoln Lawyer (Prime Video)
- Legally Blonde (rent on Prime Video)
- Dead Man Walking (rent on iTunes)
- Unbelievable (Netflix)
- Better Call Saul (Netflix)
- Breaking Bad (Netflix)
- The Good Wife (Prime Video)
- When They See Us (Netflix)
- OJ Simpson: Made in America (Prime Video)
- The People versus O.J. Simpson (Netflix)
- Suits (USA Network)
- Boston Legal (Prime Video)
- The Practice (Hulu)
If you have a recommendation to add, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Attorneys looking for ways to help Michigan families deal with legal issues related to the COVID-19 public health emergency are encouraged to:
- Volunteer to help frontline pandemic responders with crucial legal documents (medical powers of attorney, financial powers of attorney, and simple/statutory wills) for free.
- Complete the Application to Volunteer Pro Bono Legal Services. SBM staff will provide a list of ways you can help that align with your responses.
- Search by county for opportunities to help, here: Pro Bono Volunteer Opportunities for Lawyers.
- Email SBM Justice Initiatives Counsel Robert Mathis at email@example.com with questions, comments, and suggestions.
As new opportunities for Michigan attorneys to help become available, they will be posted here.