The United States is currently going through a very strange and difficult time. Nothing like COVID-19 has been seen in over 100 years, since the Spanish Flu swept across America. Our lives now are much different this time around, greatly due to the invention of the internet. Although this tragic situation has clearly impacted the whole nation, fortunately many attorneys, particularly solo and small practices, have plenty of experience working hard on behalf of their clients from home thanks to the internet.
One of the obvious recent changes is the inability to hold in-office consultations. Many circumstances are made more efficient by, or require, having the client to come into the office. These instances may include when a language translator is necessary to improve communication, when documents require notarization, access to or knowledge of necessary technology is limited to non-existent, etc. As an immigration attorney who represents individuals all over the world, I have had to come up with solutions for not being able to meet with clients in person long before this pandemic started. When a client has access to the internet and is even remotely tech savvy, the ability to represent them from anywhere in the world is made possible thanks to video conferencing, email, and document scanning. However, as previously noted some things ultimately require an in-person meeting with the client, such as document notarization. Thankfully as of January 1, 2020, Florida now allows electronic notarization, which offers a potential solution to this problem. Unfortunately, electronic notarization is a new process and therefore not a widely available option. It also does not eliminate the complication of a client who is without internet capabilities, whether that be from lack of access or knowledge. A large number of attorneys have stopped allowing clients into their offices, due to the threat to the safety of themselves, their staff and their clients. Others, knowing that we are very much an essential service for many people, have tried to make accommodations to allow clients to come in when absolutely necessary. COVID-19 is a very serious illness. If a client absolutely has to come in, it is up to the attorney, the attorney’s staff and the client to make sure that all parties involved are being as safe as possible based on the most up-to-date CDC guidelines.
Finally, one of the most frustrating aspects of this pandemic as an attorney (particularly for attorneys who practice areas like immigration that are so fluid and uncertain already) that many clients might not consider, is the uncertainty of advising clients during a completely unique situation. As well-versed as an attorney may be in the law, there is no way of knowing how this completely different situation is going to affect active and prospective cases as we move forward. The situation can be seen as extremely difficult in cases where a client is incarcerated, and in-person interaction is a necessity such as in-court interactions. As much as an attorney may be well-versed in the law, we have no way of knowing how this completely novel situation is going to affect active and prospective cases moving forward. This situation is especially difficult for criminal and some immigration attorneys, where their clients’ cases require frequent in-person/in-court interaction or their clients are currently incarcerated.
The nation as a whole is dealing with the stress, anxiety and uncertainty of this pandemic, and attorneys are no exception. The best strategy moving forward is to hope for the best while being prepared for the worst. The nation will get through this, but it will be much easier if everyone can attempt to be patient and empathetic towards one another.