States at Loggerheads Over Whether Law Firms Are ‘Essential’

For as much time and attention paid to the coronavirus pandemic by local and major news organizations, several aspects of the disease remain shrouded in mystery. The mortality rate originally ranged between 3% and 4% by health experts. But with more testing now taking place, the rate has since declined. COVID-19 typically produces symptoms that are similar to influenza, yet for many of the people who’ve tested positive, the typical manifestations of the disease are often non-existent. The contagion seems to target elderly individuals and those who have pre-existing health conditions, yet curiously, young children are largely left unaffected.

With most governors across the U.S. issuing stay-at-home advisories and mandating “non-essential” businesses to close their doors temporarily, the response aimed to contain the outbreak is leaving attorneys at law with another question: Does my firm provide services that qualify as essential?

The short answer? It depends. As noted by ABA Journal, several states have included law firms on the exemption list, meaning they can continue to remain open, although they may have to abide by certain restrictions. Among the states where firms are permitted to continue operations – Illinois, Indiana, and Pennsylvania.

State of IllinoisIllinois is among a handful of states where law firms are considered essential business operations.

Patricia Brown Holmes, managing partner of Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila, said it makes sense that Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzer decided to include law firms, as her Chicago-based clients are in urgent need of guidance.

“What makes us essential is this virus has lots of legal issues associated with it,” Holmes told ABA Journal. “Clients need help.”

No clear direction from feds

The federal government, through the Department of Homeland Security, has also issued guidance regarding essential and non-essential businesses. Among those considered indispensable to consumer needs include pharmacies, big-box stores, supermarkets, daycare centers, hardware stores and auto-repair shops. But the list has no clearly delineated references to law firms or legal services as being essential or non-essential, leaving it up to the states – specifically governors – to decide for themselves.

Among those governors believing law firms ought to not be given clearance is Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. In her executive order that went into effect March 24, the only businesses deemed essential were those who dealt with “critical infrastructure or whose services were “necessary to sustain or protect life.” Law firms, in her view, did not meet that test.

Opinions have run the gamut, from attorneys themselves as well as the public at large, as to what does and does not qualify as an essential business. In New Hampshire, for example, hair and beauty salons are not permitted to accept new or long-standing clients during the shutdown, but they’re free to do so in Arizona, NBC News reported.

Firms erring on the side of caution

But even in states where law firms have been given the green light to continue with business as usual, many are taking precautions to stay safe and avoid exposure. Holmes told ABA Journal that most of her firm’s attorneys in their Chicago offices are working from their homes and communicating via the internet and telephone. The same goes for Linda Doyle, partner and general counsel for McDermott Will & Emery. The only exception, in Doyle’s case, are those attorneys who drop by the office to pick up important documents, memos, or correspondences.

As previously referenced, the federal government has generally left it up to the states to decide what businesses’ products or services are too important not to have readily available. But in the event that the White House issues a nationwide stay-at-home order, ABA President Judy Perry Martinez believes legal services should be exempted in all 50 states. She indicated as much in a missive written to Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Christopher Krebs.

“People need access to essential legal services during an emergency,” Martinez wrote. “Lawyers help ensure that our nation’s foundation of laws remains strong, especially as fast-changing orders, directives, and laws are issued … [L]awyers can help Americans as they address unexpected challenges and solve problems surfacing in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus.”

What is the end game?

These are unsettling times for everyone, regardless of their industry. Perhaps the biggest question mark of all is when life will return to normal. Health officials are encouraged by the fact that social distancing seems to be working, but at the end of the day, business owners – and the public at large – are longing for some level of certainty.

Afinety offers the cloud network solutions that you can rely on in tumultuous times like these. Our cloud network delivers fast, dependable, secure and reliable connectivity so partners, associates, and paralegals can get just as much work done from their home bedroom as they would from the law firm boardroom. In short, if your office doors are closed, your work can go on with the Afinety Cloud Platform. Contact us today to learn more.

Law firms stretched thin as coronavirus cases climb

The response to the highly contagious COVID-19 strain – which to date has infected approximately 1.8 million people worldwide and killed approximately 116,000, according to the most recent estimates from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine – has left numerous industries scrambling. While some businesses are at a virtual standstill – such as dine-in restaurants, hotels, physical fitness clubs, and elective surgeons – others are as frenetic as ever. Chief among them is health care, as patient admissions have skyrocketed, particularly in certain hot spots of the country. The same is true for the retail segment, as millions of people have descended upon supermarkets and grocery stores, snatching up basic essentials like toiletries and canned goods.

Law firms, many of which were plenty busy already, are among those industries that are now stretched thin.

Lawyers in a variety of disciplines are experiencing significant growth in requests for their services.”

According to ABA Journal, lawyers that specialize in a variety of disciplines – such as corporate, small claims, workers’ compensation, and more – are experiencing significant growth in requests for their services. It’s gotten to the point where they’re working even longer hours than they normally do. Since many law firms have temporarily suspended operations from their offices, many are working from home.

Because so many of recent inquiries have pertained to coronavirus, some law firms have established “task forces,” taking on clients whose needs or inquiries relate to the direct or indirect consequences of the deadly pathogen, which so far has killed over 21,000 people in the U.S. alone, based on the latest data from John Hopkins University & Medicine.

Amy Traub, chairperson for international law firm BakerHostetler’s National Labor and Employment Group, told ABA Journal that her firm’s task force is composed of attorneys who specialize in different aspects of the law. This is designed to provide clients with options, given the virus has adversely impacted people’s lives in many different ways, aside from exclusively employment or physical health.

“There was really an immediate need by our clients for information on how to address in real-time these very unusual circumstances,” Traub explained.

Can lawmakers order businesses to close?

In an effort to contain the spread of the disease, health officials have urged individuals to practice “social distancing,” by staying at least six feet away from other people at home, in stores, or even in outdoor settings. Because social distancing is virtually impossible in certain circumstances, many businesses have been forced to close, ordered to do so by local officials. But there’s an ongoing debate about whether lawmakers have that authority; some are calling on attorneys for legal advice to set the record straight.

Marc Scaringi, an attorney based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, recently wrote an opinion column for The Patriot News that states may be overstepping their powers.

“In truth, the governor has no authority to order the closure of all Pennsylvania businesses, whether essential or nonessential,” Scarangi wrote, referring to Gov. Tom Wolf, who called on certain businesses across the state to shut down. “Not only does the [Emergency Management Services] code not apply to disease, the power to close businesses is not even in that law.”

While businesses, as well as attorneys, question the government’s power, clients are also approaching law firms with inquiries about what they as employers can and can’t do. For instance, some wonder if they can order workers infected with the disease to stay at home to avoid spreading to co-workers. Traub said it’s a case-by-case basis, but generally speaking, employers should familiarize themselves with the Family and Medical Leave Act, which in part provides details on sick time and paid time off.

“An employer cannot just sit by idly and watch the world address the coronavirus issues without itself addressing them internally in their workplace,” Traub told ABA Journal.

If you’re seeing growth in businesses and need to work longer hours, Afinety can help make it less stressful, more convenient, and productive. We can provide the cloud solutions necessary for simple access to important documents and data from your laptop or mobile device. Contact us to learn more.

Afinety and Business Continuity During COVID-19

Greetings clients and industry colleagues,

Earlier this year, I stepped into the role of CEO, eager to work with this incredible company to achieve growth, positive change, and industry-leading technology. Of course, none of us could have seen the impact of COVID-19 that would come only a couple of months in.

As most businesses scramble adjusting to the new work/life environment, I’ve been incredibly impressed with how our team members have handled both their own transition to COVID-life and how they’ve stepped up and helped our clients, almost all of whom are essential workers.

We want businesses to know that we hear you, we see you, we understand the challenges you’re going through, and we are here to help you weather this storm.

Afinety serves the Legal market, and we see the impact, struggle, and dedication of these essential workers every day. We are grateful for them, and we promise we will continue serving you through this each day by providing a cloud-based workspace that is reliable, performant, secure, and optimized for remote access, allowing essential workers the ability to continue being productive and effective, anytime, anywhere.

How Afinety Can Help

This COVID change is difficult, but truly, we can lessen the burden. Our services offer benefits that have never been more needed than now.

  1. Remote access – Keep your employees productive at this most critical time.
  2. Scalable – Easily and affordably scale your IT environment based on your organization’s needs.
  3. Security – You have enough on your plate, let us ensure your employees are adequately protected from the growing threat of cyber-attacks.
  4. Fully-managed – We’re here to support you through this. Our talented team of cloud experts is ready and waiting to serve you and your team during this time – and always.
  5. Performance – No waiting on slowness or downtime, your employees need better given that they are connecting remotely. Our cloud solutions are optimized to perform across a broad spectrum of internet connections.

I want you to know, we’re not exploiting these benefits because of COVID. These have always been, and will always be, the benefits of Afinety’s cloud solutions.

Additionally, I want to provide a few resources for businesses that may help them navigate this ever-changing environment. While we cannot stay up to date on every program available, these resources do a great job of laying out the options.

Resources for Small Business

  1. COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan. (Application)
  2. SBA Paycheck Protection Program (Details)
  3. Unemployment Insurance Shared Work Program (Details)
  4. Federal Small Business Stimulus Aid Programs (Details)

Afinety has a proven track record of unlocking the benefits of cloud-based IT solutions for Healthcare, Financial Services, and Legal organizations. Our team is second to none, and our process has been proven over two decades. Resilient IT infrastructure is more vital now than ever, and we’re ready to serve you.

For more information about making the cloud work for your organization, connect with one of our Cloud Experts at 818-708-8455 x3.

We’re in this together,

Sumeet Sabharwal

Managing A Law Firm Remotely

Remotely Operate A Law Practice Successfully

The onset of the COVID-19 virus brought with it a period of confusion and difficulty in the business world. Precautionary measures imposed by governments now require professionals in many industries to work from home. While those practicing law are more readily equipped to handle a shift to full-time remote work than professionals in other fields, especially when they employ the use of cloud computing to store, distribute and share their files, the process can still be difficult.

If you are in a managerial position at a law firm and struggling with the transition to remote work, this guide could be helpful. This article will cover strategies and tools that can aide in successfully overseeing a firm under these unique circumstances.

Remotely Operate A Law Practice Successfully blog image_Afinety, Inc.Leadership is a crucial role in times of transition.

Set clear goals and objectives

Structure is important during times of uncertainty. Establishing realistic expectations with clients and setting remote work procedures with staff is key to ensuring the remote model works successfully for your firm. Identify, write and distribute best practices material to make sure everyone is on the same page and stays on track.

Equip your staff for remote work

Cloud technology can be one of the most crucial tools when it comes to functioning on primarily remote work as a law firm. Your attorneys and other staff need constant access to case files and documents, from wherever they happen to be located. Encrypted data helps ensure the safety and the accessibility of your clients’ information. The Afinety Cloud Platform was developed to cater to the need of lawyers and law firms. With capabilities and support for apps like iManage, ProLaw, TABS3, Worldox, TimeMatters and more, Afinety offers lawyers complete liberation from the physical office and eliminates the need for onsite servers and maintenance – even after the quarantine and social distancing period caused by COVID-19 has passed.

It’s your responsibility as management to make sure everyone on your staff, including attorneys, paralegals and office management staff has access to a computer and an internet and cellular connection from their home.

Keep track of productivity

Create a regular schedule of meetings with members of your team to keep track of their daily tasks. National Law Review suggests you discuss the prioritization of certain tasks, cases and projects above others to ensure your most pressing work is completed in a timely manner.

Maintain client relations

Due to quarantine and social distancing mandates following the spread of the coronavirus, your firm will be unable to hold in-person meetings with clients, according to The National Law Review. Rather than canceling them, transition those meetings to phone and video conferences. Email, text, and instant messaging can be used to remind staff and clients alike of upcoming trial dates, mediations and document signings.

For more guidance on increasing the productivity of your law firm or practice during this confusing time, you can depend on Afinety. Not only is our cloud platform specifically designed to support lawyers, but we also offer resources to help them succeed. Contact us today to learn more.