Are Lawyers Essential Services in Your State?

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As coronavirus continues to rapidly spread, stay at home orders are being issued in the United States. These orders close all “non-essential” businesses in an attempt to eliminate avenues of viral transmission. But are lawyers considered essential workers?

Most states are following the recommendations of the US federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in identifying what counts as the critical infrastructure sectors and the essential workers needed to maintain the services and functions across America. Access to lawyers and legal services is not considered essential by CISA, even though financial services are.

However, several states have taken their own approach on whether law firms provide essential or non-essential services. Being an essential business means that your physical locations can remain open, and that employees may travel to and from the office. Working remotely is still recommended for essential businesses, but it may not be required.

Are lawyers essential services?

Look to the chart below to see if your state has deemed lawyers as essential services. Note: This chart covers only states for which a stay at home order or similar has been issued.

Last updated: April 6, 2020

State Date Effective Legal: Essential / Nonessential Language
Alabama April 4 at 5 p.m. Essential “Professional Services, including legal services, accounting services, insurance services, real estate services (including appraisal and title services);”
Alaska March 22 Essential* *”Professional services, such as legal or accounting services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities”
Arizona March 31 at 5 p.m. Essential “Professional services, such as legal services, accounting services, insurance services, personal hygiene services (including barber shops and salons) with additional sanitization precautions as recommended for businesses by the Arizona Department of Health Services and real estate services (including appraisal and title services).”
California March 19 Essential* *”when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities and critical sector services”
Connecticut March 23 at 8 p.m. Essential
Delaware March 24 at 8 a.m. Essential
District of Columbia March 25, 2020, at 10 pm, through April 24, 2020. Essential “Professional Services, including legal, insurance, notary public, tax preparation and accounting services, but only when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities, Essential Businesses or Essential Governmental Functions;”
Florida 12:01 a.m. on April 3 Essential (by reference to a list published by Miami-Dade County, emergency order 07-20) “Professional services, such as legal or accounting services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities; “
Georgia April 3 Essential “…as well as entities that provide legal services…”
Hawaii March 25 at 12:01 a.m. Essential “Professional services, such as legal services, accounting services, insurance services, real estate services (including appraisal and title services)”
Idaho March 25 Essential “Professional services, such as legal or accounting services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities”
Illinois March 21 at 5 p.m. Essential “Professional services” but legal is not specifically identified.
Indiana March 24 at 11:59 p.m. Essential “Professional services, such as legal services, accounting services, insurance services, and real estate services (including appraisal and title services).”
Kansas March 30 at 12:01 a.m. Essential “Preform legal services”
Kentucky March 26 at 8 p.m. Essential “Professional services, such as legal services, accounting services, insurance services, real estate services (including appraisal and title services). Professional services firms must implement telecommuting and remote work to the fullest extent possible, and should only use in-person interaction to support Minimum Basic Operations or where telecommuting is impossible.”
Louisiana March 23 at 5 p.m. Non-essential
Maine April 2 at 12:01 a.m. Essential “legal, business, professional, environmental permitting and insurance services;”
Maryland March 30 at 8 p.m. Non-essential
Massachusetts March 24 at 12 p.m. Essential* *”Professional services (such as legal and accounting services) and payroll and employee benefit services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities and critical sector services or where failure to provide such services during the time of the order would result in significant prejudice”
Michigan March 24 at 12:01 a.m. Non-essential* *Sec. 7(a)(10) does include an exemption to the stay at home order “To attend legal proceedings or hearings for essential or emergency purposes as ordered by a court.”
Minnesota March 27 at 11:59 p.m. Essential Legal services. This category is limited to workers who are necessary to provide essential legal services. Essential legal services include:

i. Advice and representation needed to aid the delivery of all critical government services.

ii. Advice and representation required to ensure the immediate and critical health, safety, and liberties of Minnesotans, including but not limited to, end-of-life planning, immigration, essential services to elders and persons with disabilities, child supports, child-protection and domestic abuse matters, protection of personal financial resources necessary to meet basic needs, prosecution or defense in ongoing criminal matters, or all matters in which individuals are held in custody pending a legal proceeding, and proceedings held in the district or appellate courts during the effective period of this order.

iii. Advice and representation related to the continuation of the Critical Sectors identified in this Executive Order, including ensuring compliance with this Executive Order, previous Executive Orders, and all applicable laws, rules, and regulations applying to Critical Sectors.

iv. Supporting housing and shelter-related efforts, including loan applications, loan processing, seeking temporary relief from residential and commercial loan or lease provisions, retention of gas, electric, or water utility services, and seeking temporary relief from residential evictions or foreclosures, or other actions intended to keep people in their homes.

Missouri April 6 at 12:01 a.m. Non-essential
Montana March 28 at 12:01 a.m. Essential “Professional services, such as legal services, accounting services, insurance services, information technology services, real estate services (including appraisal and title services);”
Nevada April 1 Essential “Professional or technical servicesincluding – Legal”
New Hampshire March 27 at 11:59 p.m. Essential “Professional services (such as legal and accounting services) and payroll and employee benefit services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities and critical sector services or where failure to provide such services during the time of the order would result in significant prejudice”
New Jersey March 21 at 9 p.m. Non-essential
New Mexico March 24 at 8 a.m. Essential* *”Professional services, such as legal or accounting services, but only where necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities;”
New York March 22 at 8 p.m. Non-essential* *Solo firms may be exempt. “Any business that only has a single occupant/employee (i.e. gas station) has been deemed exempt and need not submit a request to be designated as an essential business.”
North Carolina March 30 at 5 p.m. Essential “Professional services, such as legal services, accounting services, insurance services, professional engineering and architectural services, land surveying services, real estate services (including brokerage, appraisal and title services) and tax preparation services.”
Ohio March 23 at 11:59 pm. Essential “Professional services, such as legal services, accounting services, insurance services, real estate services (including appraisal and title services)”
Oklahoma March 25 Essential “NAICS 541
Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services”
Oregon March 23 Not Applicable
Pennsylvania March 23 at 8 p.m. Non-essential
Puerto Rico March 15 at 6 p.m. Non-essential
Rhode Island March 28 Non-essential
Tennessee March 31 at 11:59 p.m. Essential “Professional Services. This includes, but is not limited to: legal services, accounting services, msurance services, or real estate services (including appraisal and title services); “
Texas April 2 at 12:01 a.m. Non-essential
Vermont March 25 at 5 p.m. Non-essential
Virginia 11:59 p.m., Tuesday, March 24, 2020 until 11:59 p.m., Thursday, April 23, 2020 Non-essential
Washington March 23 Essential* *”Professional services, such as legal or accounting and tax preparation services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities and critical sector services”
West Virginia March 24 at 8 p.m. Essential “Professional services, such as legal services, accounting services, insurance services, real estate services (including appraisal and title services).”
Wisconsin March 24 at 8 a.m. Essential “Professional services, such as legal or accounting services, insurance services, real estate services (including appraisal, home inspection, and title services). These services shall, to the greatest extent possible, use technology to avoid meeting in person, including virtual meetings, teleconference, and remote work (i.e., work from home). “

In total, 42 states have enacted stay at home orders so far. Of those states, lawyers are not considered essential workers in 12 states. And, for several states on the list, lawyers are only considered essential services for specific circumstances.

What Should You Do:

If a stay at home order has been issued, and law firms are essential businesses in your state

In this case, we still strongly recommend working remotely if you can to keep your clients, employees, and families safe. More and more states are issuing such orders, so if you’re still technically required to stay open, we recommend treating this as a bit of extra time to transition your firm to remote operations.

Our guide to working remotely as a lawyer has the information you need to help your firm transition to remote work.

If you absolutely need to stay open, limit in-office interactions to ones where you’re legally required to meet in person, and follow this Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If a stay at home order has been issued, and legal services are not considered an essential service in your state

Here, you may need to act quickly. Do not violate a stay at home order, but collect essential equipment you’ll need from your office if you are able (your computer, including your keyboard and mouse, and any essential files) so that you can prepare to transition your office to a virtual one from home.

We recommend seeking out guidance on how this order impacts your ethical obligations to clients as soon as possible—especially if you’re in a position where you can’t transition your practice online quickly.

You should also inform your clients that your firm has been impacted by the stay at home order and inform them what changes to expect in services: Even if you haven’t figured what those changes will be yet, letting your clients know that you’re aware of the stay at home order, are seeking out guidance, and will update them shortly on next steps will provide peace of mind and allow you to focus on making appropriate transitions for your business.

If your state doesn’t appear on this chart

We recommend preparing to work remotely as soon as possible whether law firms are classified as an essential business in your state, and whether your state has issued a stay at home order, or not. With the current trend being towards asking more and more people to stay at home, being prepared is the prudent approach for you, your business, and your clients.

There are plenty of resources available to help your law firm work from home. However, this shouldn’t be overwhelming. Your work-from-home setup doesn’t need to be perfect out of the gate—focus on ensuring you have access to case details, knowing how your clients will contact you, and knowing how lawyers and staff will collaborate, and improve things in small ways from there.

Most importantly, if you’re unsure of how to legally or ethically handle a challenge resulting from a stay at home order (for example, you’re not an essential service, but an in-person signature is needed in a timely manner), seek out as much guidance as possible, and think carefully through the process you’ll use to get around this. Be clear on your thinking about why you believe this approach made the most sense under the law should you be asked to justify this at a later time (for example, if you witness signings via video and courier documents).

Note: This post is provided for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal, business, or accounting advice. If you are unsure or concerned about how a stay at home order might affect your law firm, contact your local or state authorities for clarification. The information in this article applies only to US practices.

Categorized in: Business

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