Tips for Minimizing Law Firm Liability During the Covid-19 Crisis – Part 2


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By Nicole Hyland

This article was originally published on May 4, 2020. 

The Covid-19 crisis has upended the legal industry, forcing law firms to adapt quickly to an almost entirely remote work environment.  As with any significant upheaval, this sudden and radical transformation of the legal profession creates new risk management challenges for law firms.

In this four-part series we discuss some of the risk management issues that law firms face during the Covid-19 pandemic and offers some tips for minimizing those risks.

Client Intake and Conflicts

One of the silver linings of our new remote-work environment is a slight relaxing of professional formalities.  Business meetings held by video conference are routinely interrupted by cats walking across keyboards, children hopping into laps, and the sounds of leaf blowers and lawn mowers.  Humans, being the incredible adapters that evolution has made us, have quickly modified our expectations to this new reality.  We smile indulgently at our colleagues’ adorable pets, we greet their precocious children by name, and we sympathize about their inconsiderate, noisy neighbors. Then, we go back to our business discussion.

A little informality is great.  But, when it comes to client intake and conflicts, let’s not get too comfortable.  As with hoarding and dabbling (discussed in Part 1 of our series), lawyers who are anxious to bring in business may be tempted to relax some of the barriers to entry for new clients.  Giving into that temptation now means trouble later, when that client whose red flags you ignored becomes a nightmare or that missed conflict gets you disqualified from a multi-million dollar litigation.  Law firm management should remind lawyers that client intake and conflicts procedures are still in place and should be strictly followed.  This includes running conflicts and opening up new matters for all Covid-19 related inquiries, even for existing clients.  Send around email reminders on these policies and consider conducting a remote ethics CLE to make sure these issues are front-of-mind for your lawyers.

Deadlines and Statutes of Limitations

Over the past month or so, governmental authorities have issued various emergency orders temporarily extending court deadlines, statutes of limitations, and tax filing deadlines.  These measures provide some relief for lawyers and their clients as they struggle with the challenges of working from home, without access to their customary resources.  But, lawyers should play it safe when taking advantage of these extensions.  Double and triple check that your deadline is, in fact, covered by the emergency order (some deadlines may not be).  In addition, it is possible that some of the governmental authorities that issued these orders will be found to have exceeded their power, leading to messy court challenges down the road.  If it is possible for you to meet a deadline without relying on an emergency extension, minimize your risk by doing so.  Moreover, even though New York has implemented some of these temporary protections, do not assume that other jurisdictions have done the same.  Lawyers should check each jurisdiction where they have active matters to ensure that they are complying with the local requirements.  And most importantly, continue to maintain a centralized law firm docketing and calendaring system to minimize the risk of missed deadlines.

Check out the rest of our four-part series for more tips.

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