As you are all no doubt aware, precautions in place to protect against the spread of COVID-19 (the Coronavirus) will have a profound effect on our law practices, our clients, and our everyday lives over the next several weeks. Our State and federal courts are closed for “in- person” proceedings, many law offices are working remotely, and many State buildings are closed. The Governor has issued orders closing schools and restaurants for in-house dining.
The impact on each of us will be unique, as will the precautions we take to protect not only ourselves, but those whom we may come into contact with. The New Hampshire Supreme Court’s order suspending in-person court proceedings gives discretion and flexibility to judges to allow alternative filing, the use of teleconferencing, e-mail, and video conferencing as technology permits. Perhaps more importantly, it extends deadlines set forth in court rules, court orders, statutes, ordinances, administrative rules and orders set to expire between March 16 and April 6, 2020. This should allow the rescheduling of depositions, mediations, arbitrations, and other proceedings to minimize personal contact.
Transactional attorneys, mediators, arbitrators, stenographers, and other service providers will have to make common sense decisions that are in the best interests of their clients, employees, and customers, but we hope they will do so with due consideration for the health and safety of others who may be especially at risk for the effects of COVID-19.
One of the Bar Association’s roles is to assist the courts, government agencies, and others in disseminating information to lawyers. We will continue to remain in contact with those groups and provide information on the website, social media sites and through other means as this situation develops. The Bar Association remains willing and able to assist its members as necessary.
We have taken precautions to protect our employees and the public that currently include postponing all in-person CLE programs and section meetings. Our staff will, for the most part, work remotely and our IT partners have made adjustments necessary to allow those working remotely to access their phone messages from home to ensure continued service to members. Some essential personnel will remain in the office, but the Bar Center is closed to the public.
In the coming weeks, we expect that we will be receiving calls for assistance with the myriad problems that will inevitably result from business closings, illness, and other effects of the pandemic and the response of government and business to it. George and his staff are working diligently to put together a plan to respond to the needs of our members, the public, and the courts that will inevitably result.
The guidance from our state and federal courts cannot cover all situations, nor give all of us comfort about how we will pick up where we left off before the various measures the courts have employed. New Hampshire’s long tradition of civility and professionalism may be tested at times as we move forward, but we hope will remain a touchstone for each member of our association in dealings with opposing counsel on the difficult issues that will inevitably arise in cases and transactions. For litigators, the New Hampshire Bar Association Litigation Guidelines remain a good repository of what has developed into unwritten practice over the years in New Hampshire. It is important that all of us work cooperatively with opposing counsel and avoid seeking advantage and do what we can to keep the challenges of Covid-19 from impeding the delivery of justice.
There is no single answer to how lawyers will respond to the pressures that the pandemic will place on them, their businesses, and their clients. The best advice we can give at this time is to be smart, be safe, and continue to help and serve your clients and communities, and we will get through this together.
Edward D. Philpot, Jr., Esq.
New Hampshire Bar Association President