The challenges faced by bar associations globally in the face of COVID-19 have been major and the UK Law Gazette has published an article from Jonathan Goldsmith, a former secretary general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe is worth re-publishing here.
I wrote about it last week. But I am writing about it again because there are useful lessons in how bars around the world are dealing with the pandemic. Each one covers different areas, and so by putting them all together we can begin to compile a more comprehensive list on what are likely to be the important consequences for lawyers.
First, the Law Society issued its own guidance on ‘COVID-19 and residential conveyancing transactions’ on Friday of last week, following numerous questions from solicitors. The kinds of questions put were on liability for risk regarding topics such as:
- requests for properties being decontaminated
- refusal to vacate on completion because seller in isolation
- inability to obtain search results if people are not available to carry out the searches
- reluctance on the part of removal company employees to enter properties
- difficulties in obtaining witnesses
Since the impact of the virus is clearly going to be felt beyond conveyancing, the Law Society has a page of ‘Coronavirus advice and updates’ where further guidelines on other areas are likely to be issued in the coming days. The page also has useful links to government advice, and to other parts of the legal system.
This is in contrast to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which has issued no guidance, at least not to be found on its website at the time of writing. That is not because coronavirus does not affect a legal regulator. The Law Society of Scotland, for instance, in its detailed COVID-19 information for Scottish solicitors, says: ‘We would advise our members to review their current contingency or continuity plans for emergencies … to ensure they can meet their clients’ needs as far as possible … the Society’s inspection function will adopt a proportionate response to the impact [it] may have on firms’ compliance.’
The American Bar Association (ABA) has taken a different approach. It is offering free webinars to members on a range of interesting topics, like:
- remote working in a time of COVID-19: cybersecurity issues you need to know – how will you and your firm keep your telecommuting secure and your clients protected? (For non-ABA members, here are some tips from ENISA, the EU Agency for Cybersecurity)
- COVID-19: legal strategies for nonprofit meetings – what can you do now about the threat to your organization’s scheduled meetings and conferences, and what should you be thinking about as you plan for the coming year?
- COVID-19 top 10: what GCs need to know about coronavirus – the legal, strategic, and practical considerations crucial for general counsels and other legal and compliance professionals to consider
The Law Society could consider advice to the profession in all these areas. Many solicitors will be working from home, and will have inboxes piling up with cancelled meetings and conferences.
The German Federal Bar (BRAK) has taken yet another approach. It reports that many lawyers wonder how they should behave in the event of illness or quarantine. Inevitably in Germany, there is a law, which says that lawyers must arrange for cover if prevented from practising, or if leaving the law firm, for more than a week.
BRAK goes on to say that lawyers should take precautions to work in quarantine if necessary. It is therefore advisable to carry necessary technical equipment such as a laptop, card reader etc. with them on a daily basis.
Looking at the website of the French National Bar (Conseil National des Barreaux, CNB), it is clear that it is consumed with a different issue altogether. The French President, Emmanuel Macron, has been trying to reorganise the French national pension system. One of the parts being reformed sounds curious to our ears: each profession has its own pension scheme, and French lawyers are not happy at all about being subsumed into a national system. There have been strikes and protests, and the CNB’s website is drowning in information on the topic. A letter of protest in English can be read here.
But just this last weekend, the first coronavirus advice that I could find suddenly appeared on the CNB website. It was a circular from the French government about the courts and other institutions, which was covered in the Gazette last week.
Nevertheless, the Paris Bar has been more active and has set up a COVID-19 committee, as well as a special e-mail address for questions from lawyers.
I would expect these and other ideas to form the basis of further content and procedures which the Law Society might use to expand its own tailored services in the coming weeks.
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