Opinions of The General Counsel, 0520 ALBJ, 81 The Alabama Lawyer 230 (2020)

AuthorRoman A. Shaul.
PositionVol. 81 3 Pg. 230


Vol. 81 No. 3 Pg. 230

Alabama Bar Lawyer

May, 2020

Roman A. Shaul.

Practicing in the Age of Pandemics

The current coronavirus crisis is distinctive and unprecedented in many ways. However, our obligations as lawyers to inform ourselves and respond appropriately are not exceptional, even when dealing with the coronavirus. Whether dealing with massive hurricanes, tornados, or pandemics, our clients are depending on us to know what to do in times of crises. Here are a few considerations:

Rule 1.1, Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct, addresses a lawyer's obligation of "competence." A lawyer's ethical duty of competence includes obtaining the requisite "legal knowledge" needed to prepare a case or reasonably advise a client, including staying up to date on both substantive and procedural changes that may affect clients. The Alabama Supreme Court has issued several administrative orders in the last several weeks. Subsequent orders often clarify previous orders. Therefore, it is very important to always know you have the latest information.

The Alabama Supreme Court has also empowered presiding judges in each circuit to deviate from the administrative orders when legally or constitutionally required or justice requires. Many probate judges are also posting recommendations for lawyers practicing in their courts. As of now, most federal courts have issued guidelines outlining their expectations for lawyers dealing with quarantine issues. Whatever your practice area, it is incumbent on you to know what the administrative bodies and courts are doing in your jurisdiction.

The duty of competence further requires a lawyer to be mindful of certain key personnel, i.e., a paralegal, who may have specialized knowledge about client issues. The lawyer in charge of a file has an obligation to make sure clients can maintain access to important information should those key employees fall ill. If a lawyer is retaining important information or funds that a client may need during these uncertain times, a plan of action should be created to facilitate or address those concerns.

Rule 1.4, Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct, outlines a lawyer's ethical obligation to communicate with clients. The lawyer should keep a client "reasonably informed about the status of a matter...and...explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make...

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