With the spread of COVID-19, most industries are having to adjust their normal practices of conducting business. The legal profession is no exception.
For anyone who has a pending case or a legal issue that needs attention, communication with a lawyer is crucial. Under normal circumstances, face-to-face consultation between client and attorney is the standard. But to prevent further spread of COVID-19, many attorneys have sought to minimize in-person contact with existing and potential clients. Fortunately, attorneys are finding ways to implement effective precautions while still providing legal assistance to those who need it.
Phone communications. Lots of attorney-client communications already occur over the phone. Some law offices have remained open, so attorneys and staff are available to take calls as usual. However, many firms that have opted to close their offices for the time being are rerouting calls to their attorneys and staff who are working remotely.
Email and file-sharing applications. With the availability of email and file-sharing applications (like Dropbox and Google Drive), you can usually avoid having to physically handoff documents to an attorney. Documents that are scanned or photographed can be downloaded and emailed or shared between attorney and client.
Video conferencing. Phone communications have certain limitations. So, many lawyers and firms are now utilizing secure video conferencing for communications with clients and other lawyers. Most video conferencing applications can be used with any device (including a smartphone or laptop) that's equipped with a camera. Video conferencing is especially useful when communications involve more than two people or situations where someone needs to share his or her screen with the other participants in the meeting.
In situations where face-to-face communication between a client and attorney is necessary, taking certain precautions can reduce infection risks.
Keeping your distance. Practicing social distancing (staying at least six feet away from other people) has been suggested by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as a way of slowing the spread of COVID-19. So, if you do meet with an attorney in person, skipping the handshake and staying a safe distance from each other are probably advisable.
Cleaning surfaces. The CDC and medical experts recommend various ways to minimize the spread of the coronavirus through disinfecting surfaces such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and the like. If you have concerns about going to an attorney's office, ask ahead of time what kinds of precautions the office is taking.
Meeting outdoors. The CDC suggests—when an in-person is necessary—to choose a location that's outdoors or in an open, well-ventilated area. So, in most instances, it's probably best to conduct in-person meetings outdoors if at all possible.
The criminal justice system has been and certainly will continue to be impacted by coronavirus concerns. So, the way criminal defense attorneys communicate with clients is also changing in some respects.
Of course, most jails, prisons, and other detention centers have adjusted operating procedures in response to the coronavirus. Many of these institutions have suspended all "contact visits" (visits where a prisoner or detainee is physically in the same room as the visitor without a glass separation) and dramatically restricted other types of visitation taking place at the facilities where prisoners and detainees are housed.
Fortunately, many institutions are equipped for video visiting, which the visitor (whether an attorney or loved one) can utilize without actually coming to the facility. Some facilities are also still allowing in-person attorney-client visits, though the normal procedures may have been restricted in certain ways. For instance, some jails are allowing attorney-client visits only in booths where the attorney and client are separated by a glass barrier and communicate using a phone system.