Resources on COVID-19
We will continue compiling resources here to help you help others throughout the pandemic. If you have a question or concern not addressed here, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some attorneys have inquired how the MDHHS order effective November 18 to December 8, and extended through December 20, might apply to their ability to carry out their legal practice. As a reminder, during a period of more extensive restrictions in place beginning last spring, the Governor’s office issued the following guidance: Attorneys are only allowed to work outside the home or meet in-person with clients to extent that they cannot perform the work remotely or cannot comply with their ethical obligations by performing the work remotely. (Emphasis added.)
We understand that you need to know exactly what the law says. We're compiling important documents here, so you can quickly access the language and information you need.
Local Administrative Orders
In early May, with Administrative Order No. 2020-14, the Supreme Court provided detailed guidance to local courts regarding a carefully-phased return to full capacity, based on local public health conditions. Courts can only enter the next phase after passing specific gating criteria that include no confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 in the courthouse and a downward trajectory of documented cases in the area, among other requisite milestones. Courts in Phase 1 and Phase 2 remain largely closed to the public, while courts in Phase 3 are open with continuing guidance to practice social distancing, and to take other steps recommended by the CDC to protect the public and staff. In Phase 4, courts can operate without restriction. All courts must adopt a local administrative order detailing their plans to return to full capacity. An online directory of those LAOs includes a plan from every county and virtually every court.
Frequently Asked Questions
We’re committed to helping Michigan’s lawyers navigate the evolving legal uncertainties of the pandemic. Our FAQ page is updated regularly as the situation changes and new information becomes available. 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.
Ethics & Pandemic
Lawyers are essential during crises to help clients with their changing legal needs. The pandemic crisis has presented unique challenges, forcing attorneys to serve their clients in new ways. While much has changed, the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct are still in full effect. Our “Ethics in the COVID-19 Pandemic” resource is intended to help you identify and assess ethical issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is informational only and does not constitute legal advice.
When the time comes to reopen your law office, be prepared with our toolkit, which was created to help you think through important health and safety issues and take practical steps to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 to attorneys, staff, and clients when your office reopens. You can download our recommended reopening guidelines here. We've also created printable signs for posting in your office that can help you, your colleagues, and your clients keep this guidance top of mind.
Articles from Lawyers
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been publishing online articles from Michigan attorneys related to COVID-19 and the practice of law. A full list of those articles can be found here.
Michigan attorneys have full access to SBM’s online library, which features a wide variety of e-books and audio books. Whether you're looking to brush up on a certain practice area, learn how to better manage your practice, or even get lost in a memoir, the library has something for everyone. We've also recently added a collection of titles about COVID-19, including some about how to manage a small business during the pandemic. And if you don't find the title you're looking for, simply email email@example.com to request that the Practice Management Resource Center purchase it.
More information, including directions for accessing the library, can be found here. If you have any questions, or you'd like to schedule a virtual tour of the online library that's tailored to your interests, call the PMRC helpline at 800-341-9715.
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.
In a recent episode of SBM's On Balance podcast, hosts Tish Vincent and JoAnn Hathaway talk with Molly Ranns and Katie Stanley about their tips for cultivating mindfulness and staying healthy in the midst of the pandemic. Ranns is a clinical case manager for the Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program at the State Bar of Michigan. Stanley is a staff attorney and fair housing education manager for Legal Services of Eastern Michigan. Listen and subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Play.
- If you are looking for new clients, consider joining SBM’s Lawyer Referral Service. If you need help, we have directions here.
- Guidance for remote hearings and the Americans with Disabilites Act can be found here.
- Witness instructions for remote hearings can be found here.
- Zoom tips for attorneys and parties can be found here.
- The Michigan Judicial Institute offers a full list of trial court procedures affected by the pandemic. Topics include:
- 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 set-up 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.
- SBM partner Clio created "The Complete Guide to Working Remotely as a Lawyer."
Remote and Electronic Notarization 101
\The Office of the Secretary of State has approved five vendor systems to be used in Michigan to conduct electronic and remote notarizations.
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.
Video Conferencing 101
Even if your office hasn't used video conferencing 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.
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
Having trouble? The SBM Practice Management team is on call at (800) 341-9715. Many more resources for working remotely are available here.