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COVID-19 Considerations

Accessing Legal Services During the Pandemic

The novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is heavily impacting our local area, and many people are realizing that they are in need of legal counsel for a myriad of concerns.  Unfortunately, the pandemic has shut down many businesses.  These shut downs have left people reeling and unsure of where and when they will be able to have their needs met.  Fortunately, essential businesses are still operating, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and financial institutions.  In addition, in Massachusetts as in many other states, legal services have been deemed to be essential services.  Local attorneys are hard at work responding to the increased demand for legal services, while also doing all they can to minimize the risk of spreading infection.

Many law firms have formed special teams of attorneys within their practices to address concerns specifically related to COVID-19.  These teams are generating articles and presenting free web-based seminars to inform the general public of the issues that are arising, the responses that are coming into being, and how legal counsel can assist with accessing resources to address these issues.  These teams are also developing strategies for completing the legal work requested by their clients during a time of social distancing.

Some of the areas of law that are seeing an increase during COVID-19 are as follows:

  1. Business Matters – Businesses are making difficult decisions regarding the future of their businesses and their work force.  Their ability to understand the newly enacted CARES Act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, as well as local grant and/or loan programs, and to access the newly available supports is crucial to their decision making process.
  2. Family Law Issues – As people are obeying requests to socially distance and remain at home, numerous disputes are arising centered around shared custody, parenting time, travel between states, and home schooling efforts.  Others may find that after weeks of being at home with their spouse, their marital union has reached a breaking point and divorce is on the horizon.
  3. Estate Planning – A large number of lives are being lost to the virus, which is motivating people to establish a Will, many for the first time in their lives.  Others are feeling a keen need to update their existing plan that has become outdated.  Similarly, many people are finding themselves incapacitated by illness, in which case having a previously appointed legal decision maker can make all the difference as to medical and financial affairs being handled for the ill person.
  4. Bankruptcy – Despite the best efforts of our government, some individuals and businesses will be financially devastated by the impact of COVID-19.  These individuals and businesses may need to petition our Bankruptcy Courts for relief.
  5. Estate Administrations – The grim reality is that a significant number of people are dying from COVID-19 infections.  Their loved ones need help addressing estate concerns from probate proceedings to estate taxes.

During the pandemic, legal work is typically being completed in controlled environments.  Attorneys who can work remotely are not coming into the office.  Law firms are staffed with rotating schedules to avoid personal contact whenever possible.  Masks and gloves are being employed.  Hand sanitizer and handwashing materials are abundantly placed for use.  Modern technology, such as video conferencing, is being utilized to conduct necessary meetings with the least amount of risk to all involved.  Document reviews are being done in advance via telephone or video conference to ensure that any physical meeting time necessary for signing is kept to an absolute minimum.  Measures are being taken to clean public offices spaces more regularly, with most offices sterilizing meeting rooms in between meetings.  In an attempt to prevent infections, some firms have even constructed transparent barriers to stand between the attorney or staff member and the clients who must come into the office to sign documents.  Each pen is being used by only one person, and clients take their pen with them when they leave.  At the time of the writing of this article, the Massachusetts legislature is grappling with pending legislation allowing remote notarizations, which may be enacted at least temporarily.

As COVID-19 bears down on our communities, the legal community is mobilizing to ensure that their clients’ needs are being met efficiently and in the safest possible way.  If you are facing legal concerns, do not fret.  Reach out to your local legal community, and you will find a helping – although most likely gloved - hand being extended.  We are here to help.

Gina M. Barry is a partner with the law firm of Bacon Wilson, P.C., Attorneys at Law.  She is a member of the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys, the Estate Planning Council, and the Western Massachusetts Elder Care Professionals Association.  She concentrates her practice in the areas of Estate and Asset Protection Planning, Probate Administration and Litigation, Guardianships, Conservatorships and Residential Real Estate.  Gina may be reached at (413) 781-0560 or