FAQ About COVID-19 from Michigan Lawyers

Updated April 9, 2020

The State Bar of Michigan is committed to helping Michigan lawyers respond optimally throughout the COVID-19 situation. If you have a question about COVID-19 and its impact on Michigan lawyers, please ask us here. We'll keep updating the information below and working to get you answers. In some cases, the questions we're receiving have not yet been answered by the decision-makers involved. Know that we are in touch with them and will share answers here as we have them.

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.

Here are some other resources we have available to you:

What the State Bar can, and cannot, do for you in the pandemic crisis

We Can

  • Keep a round-the-clock watch on relevant developments and primary sources and make them quickly and easily available to you
  • Bring emerging problems to the attention of the judicial and executive branch
  • Advocate to the judicial and executive branch on solutions
  • Help you practice in this crisis

We Cannot

  • Give legal advice
  • Give medical advice

Questions & Answers

Can law firms, attorney offices, and legal aid clinics continue to do in-person activities?

The governor's office provided the following answer to this question, via its own FAQ page: "Generally, no. Attorneys do not constitute 'critical infrastructure workers' and thus may not leave their homes for work unless, under section 9(d) of the order, they are 'provid[ing] food, shelter, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals, individuals who need assistance as a result of this emergency, and people with disabilities.' This is a tightly circumscribed category that captures only work that must be carried out in person and is absolutely necessary to assist those with a genuine and emergent need. All work under the order must be performed remotely to the greatest extent possible, and any in-person work must be done in accordance with the mitigation measures required under section 5 of the order."

What do I need to document to prove that I am essential, or that my employee is essential?

Executive Order 2020-21 prohibits operation of a business or requiring workers to leave their homes, unless necessary “to sustain or protect life or to conduct minimum basic operations.” Employers “must inform such workers of that designation” and, after March 31, 2020, provide workers with access to written notification of such designation. The written designation may be by “electronic message, public website, or other appropriate means.”

The order, which took effect March 24, 2020, continues through April 13, 2020.

How do I know if my client is essential?

The State Bar of Michigan is unable to provide substantive guidance on this question. Inquiries like this that potentially involve fact-specific legal interpretations should be directed to either a legal professional or the governor’s office. The governor’s office has a telephone number (888-535-6136) and email address dedicated to COVID-19 questions, as well as an FAQ page on the executive order.

My employer has designated me as essential but I do not think I am. What do I do?

This issue involves labor and employment law questions, and these questions are best directed to an employment law attorney or the governor’s office. The governor’s office has a telephone number (888-535-6136) and email address dedicated to COVID-19 questions, as well as an FAQ page on the stay-at-home order.

Have any State Bar of Michigan services been disrupted?

The State Bar of Michigan continues to offer all essential services to lawyers and the public, although our building is closed and our employees are now working remotely. We don’t anticipate any major disruptions to the essential services we provide, but we’ll notify lawyers and the public promptly if changes are necessary. 

For the time being, we will temporarily issue Certificates of Good Standing by email only. Requests will be processed each business day at no charge. You must complete the online request to receive the email certificate. If you have questions, contact the Lawyer Services Department at 888-726-3678.

Casemaker, a legal research tool provided free to Michigan lawyers by the State Bar, has temporarily changed its customer support hours to comply with the executive order by the governor of Virginia. Casemaker support is now available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST Monday through Friday by phone (877-659-0801), email, and live chat.

Have any State Bar of Michigan events been cancelled?

Several events involving the State Bar of Michigan or SBM sections, including the 50-Year Golden Celebration, have been cancelled or postponed. We are updating our events calendar with cancellations regularly. 

What about the courts?

Supreme Court Administrative Order 2020-2 orders the state’s trial courts to “limit access to courtrooms and other spaces to no more than 10 persons, including staff, and to practice social distancing and limit court activity to only essential functions.” 

Subsequently, Executive Order 2020-21 allows individuals to leave home to attend legal proceedings for essential or emergency purposes as ordered by a court. 

The MSC order applies to all courts, but several have released additional information about how they plan to operate within the parameters laid out by the Court, and in light of the stay-at-home order. We are tracking updates from courts across the state here

On March 26, 2020, Supreme Court Administrative Order 2020-4 was issued, ordering that “the deadlines for all filings, jurisdictional and non-jurisdictional, in the Michigan Supreme Court and Court of Appeals are suspended as of March 24, 2020, the effective date of Executive Order 2020-21, and will be tolled until the expiration of EO 2020-21 or a subsequent EO that extends the period in which citizens are required to suspend activities that are not necessary to sustain or protect life.”

The full text of the Court’s order is available here, and we’re compiling other primary documents we believe you’ll need during this uncertain time here.

  • The latest updates from the judicial branch 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.

Do we know how long the Supreme Court order limiting access to courtrooms shall exist?

The order remains in effect until the close of business April 3, 2020, or as provided by subsequent order. 

How do I meet my ethical obligations during the crisis?

This crisis is presenting several unique challenges, forcing attorneys to serve their clients in new ways. While many court services are suspended, businesses are temporarily closed, and most work must be done remotely, the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct are still in full effect. Our ethics department has published guidelines here to help you during this trying time.

What guidance is there specific to law firms on staying afloat during these times? We are part of the service industry; how do we serve clients and the public remotely?

The most immediate need is for law firms to maintain and enhance their ability to work remotely, including client interaction. Through the Practice Management Resource Center, the State Bar offers guidance on the tools available and how to use them. You can also email or call the center at 800-341-9715 for help.   

We will be offering continual guidance on employment, collection, and other urgent issues. We urge you to keep telling us what you need. Through our sections, the State Bar is also working on practice-specific guidance. That guidance will be available to all members.

How do I engage new clients when I am unable to meet them in person?

There is no ethical requirement to meet a client in person. In fact, many international attorneys never meet their clients. Providing clients with legal services remotely is a benefit to both clients and the attorney. Take steps to ensure that the potential client is actually the person that they are representing themselves to be and be careful to avoid scams. Be cautious of who is present when speaking with the potential client to avoid inadvertently disclosing confidential information and be mindful of undue influence from others who may be present. More information regarding communication services and e-signing is available here.

How should lawyers handle depositions, examinations under oath, and other in-person meetings that are not court-based, but of a legal nature?

The stay-at-home order does not specifically exempt attorneys as "critical infrastructure workers" necessary to sustain or protect life. No exception is made in the order for conducting depositions.    

In addition, Supreme Court Administrative Order 2020-2 limits courts to essential functions. For civil proceedings, “[a]ll matters must be conducted remotely using two-way interactive video technology or other remote participation tools or they must be adjourned until after April 3, 2020.”   

To the extent that the deposition cannot be postponed, it should be done remotely. Work with opposing counsel, deponent, court reporters, and the court to find an effective and safe way to proceed.   

The Michigan Association of Professional Court Reporters is reminding lawyers that its members facilitated depositions via tele-conference before the pandemic and continue to offer that service now. Contact your court reporting firm or MAPCR by email or at 734-498-2627 for more information.

How should I handle documents that need to be notarized, witnessed, or apostilled? Can this be done remotely?

Executive Order 2020-41 encourages the use of electronic signatures and remote notarization, witnessing, and visitation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The executive order, issued April 8, 2020, will facilitate the completion of legal documents that are more crucial now than ever, but were otherwise difficult or impossible to handle during the pandemic.

Here are the highlights for lawyers:

  • Strict compliance with the rules and procedures of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act and the Michigan Law on Notarial Acts is temporarily suspended under specified conditions.
  • Any requirement under Michigan law that an in-person witness attest to or acknowledge an instrument, document, or deed may be satisfied by the use of two-way real-time audiovisual technology, under detailed conditions spelled out in the order. The recording must be kept for at least three years, or a different period of time required by law.
  • State laws requiring an individual to appear personally before or be in the presence of either a notary at the time of a notarization or a witness at the time of attestation or acknowledgment are satisfied if the necessary persons can communicate simultaneously by sight and sound via two-way real-time audiovisual technology at the time of the notarization, attestation, or acknowledgment.
  • Financial institutions and registers of deeds must not refuse to record a tangible copy of an electronic record on the ground that it does not bear the original signature of a person, witness, or notary, if the notary before whom it was executed certifies that the tangible copy is an accurate copy of the electronic record.

The executive order, which took effect immediately, continues through May 6, 2020.

Executive Order 2020-21 provides that “a willful violation of this order is a misdemeanor.” How will the order be enforced? Will local law enforcement agencies be responsible for enforcement?

The executive order does not provide guidance on this question. To the extent that we are made aware of local law enforcement practices, we are sharing them here.

With election filing deadlines coming up, such as for judicial positions, are signature requirements being suspended or amended?

As of March 25, 2020, all statutory requirements remain in place. The Elections Bureau is providing updates on its website and says “evaluation of the applicability of statutory deadlines and signature requirements in light of COVID-19 is ongoing, and we will share an update on any changes to requirements and procedures as soon as they are announced.”

If my office is closed, what happens to the mail? Will the post office just hold it? 

As of April 1, 2020, the United States Post Office, UPS, and FedEx continue to operate; however, these services may no longer guarantee delivery date. According to the CDC, WHO, and Surgeon General, there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail.

If you are concerned that your mail will not be delivered unless someone is physically present at your office building, another option may be to have your mail forwarded to an employee who is assigned the task for sorting and scanning the mail. The United States Postal Service allows for temporary changes of address.

Some courts and administrative offices only send notifications by mail. What do we do about that?

The Michigan Supreme Court has encouraged local courts to utilize technology to the best of their ability during the COVID-19 pandemic. With courts offering limited service during the crisis, courts that previously relied on paper mailings may try to better utilize electronic notifications.

Many law firms and lawyers, however, will need regular access to their mail while they are working remotely. Executive Order 2020-21 allows businesses, including law firms, to authorize employees to physically enter office places “to the extent that those workers are necessary to . . . conduct minimum basic operations.” Many attorneys have reported that they intend on having an employee periodically stop by the office to sort and electronically distribute mail. In deciding which employee is appropriate to designate, think through the tasks that will need to be performed for both incoming and outgoing mail.   

Keep in mind that, if an employer authorizes employees to physically enter the office, that employer “must inform such workers of that designation” and provide workers with access to written notification of such designation. The written designation may be by “electronic message, public website, or other appropriate means.”

What does this mean for future lawyers?

The Board of Law Examiners, which oversees the investigation and examination of State Bar of Michigan applicants, is providing updates on its website. As of April 7, 2020, the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the July 2020 Bar Examination was not certain. The BLE, in deciding whether to conduct the exam in July or at another alternative time provided by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, is in close contact with the Michigan Supreme Court, NCBE, and other jurisdictions. They anticipate a decision from NCBE on or around May 5, 2020, regarding the administration of a July bar examination and the possibility of a fall bar examination. Once the NCBE announces its decisions, the BLE will then determine the most prudent course to take for Michigan, and will update its website, notify law schools, and our July applicants. The State Bar of Michigan continues to process applications for the exam.

Consistent with MSC Administrative Order 2020-2, as extended by MSC Administrative Order 2020-5, courts are encouraged to handle new attorney admissions to the State Bar of Michigan either by two-way interactive video technology or over the telephone to the extent possible. Specifically, the steps for confirming the motion for admission and for administering the oath may be done remotely, and not in person as would otherwise be required by State Bar Rule 15, Section 3. The exchange of requisite documents, such as the letter of recommendation from the Board of Law Examiners and the prepared order of admission, may be accomplished via email. After being sworn in, the applicant must mail the payment and the signed oath to the court. The court should file a signed order of admission with the county clerk, who is responsible for transmitting the certified order of admission to the Supreme Court and the State Bar of Michigan. The certified order for the Supreme Court may be emailed to MSC_RollOfAttorneys@courts.mi.gov

What mental health resources are available for lawyers during this difficult time?

While we all face uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are steps that can be taken to help calm uneasedecrease feelings of social isolation, and remain rational during difficult times. The State Bar of Michigan is here to offer support and resources, as is the SBM’s Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program, which is staffed by a team of clinicians with the knowledge, skills, and expertise needed to offer emotional support and resources to legal professionals in need.

What about jury duty?

Supreme Court Administrative Order 2020-1 authorized trial courts to take emergency measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19, including adjourning as many trials as possible. One exception is criminal matters where the defendant is in custody.  

“That is one area where adjournment is probably not appropriate,” Chief Justice Bridget McCormack said. “Having said that, we are not in a position right now to call citizens in for jury duty in big groups. It’s not responsible.”  

Even with smaller numbers of jurors reporting, people have the right to request exemption from jury service due to hardship. The decision to excuse people is up to each court. People over the age of 70 may request an exemption, as usual.

What is happening at the federal level?

The United States government has taken several steps to address the pandemic, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).