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Professionalism Today: Pandemics and A Lawyer's Virtual Life

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Professionalism Today: Pandemics and A Lawyer's Virtual Life

In the COVID-19 pandemic environment and perhaps its aftermath, lawyers must operate in a virtual world that requires extensive use of technology. The pillars of professionalism – competence, civility, public and community service, and pro bono work to ensure access to justice – are always relevant. This era’s needs and concerns accentuate the tenets of professionalism, as the legal profession adopts and adapts to virtual practice and communicating professionally.

Presenters

Avarita Hanson
Attorney at Law
Avarita L. Hanson, Attorney

Transcript

Avarita Hanson: Welcome to Professionalism Today, Pandemics and a Lawyer's Virtual Life. I'm Avarita Hanson. This presentation includes a few course materials, including some slides, a complete list of references and some documents and articles, particularly relevant to professionalism and ethics in Georgia and under the pandemic situations as well as virtual practice. How did we get here? Did you ever think there would be a global health pandemic? Did you think about, or have a practice plan for a pandemic? Were you taking care of yourself? Did you care about the legal and greater community? Were you ready to practice virtually? Will you try to go back to the old ways?

  In the COVID 19 pandemic environment and perhaps it's aftermath, lawyers must operate in a virtual world that requires extensive use of technology, and lawyers must operate professionally and ethically. So today's three learning objectives are, first, professionalism requires lawyers to practice competently in the virtual environment. Two, to be professional, lawyers must take care of themselves. And three, professionalism requires that lawyers look out for others, colleagues, staff, clients, friends, neighbors, family, adversaries, and the public good and rule of law, while facing challenges in practice today and in the future.

  So we look at professionalism in Georgia. Georgia's Professionalism Guidelines come from the Chief Justices Commission on Professionalism founded in 1989. The mission of the Chief Justice's Commission on Professionalism is to support and encourage lawyers to exercise the highest levels of professional integrity in their relationships with their clients and other lawyers, the courts, and the public, and to fulfill their obligations to improve the law and the legal system and to ensure access to that system.

  Former Chief Justice Robert Benham, would say that professionalism rest on four pillars, competence, civility, public and community service, and pro bono work to ensure access to justice. Professionalism is more than civility or being nice. Former Chief Justice Harold Clarke, said, ethics is a minimum standard, which is required of all lawyers, while professionalism is a higher standard expected of all lawyers. To apply these tenets, the Commission set the standards in too short, but enduring documents, a Lawyer's Creed and the Aspirational Statement on Professionalism. So as we look at how professionalism and ethics applies to today's pandemic conditions and virtual practice, we will look at those documents for guidance.

  Now, professionalism in a time of crisis like today is a challenge. Lawyers are first responders and we should be prepared. So what does a lawyer do in the face of a global pandemic and other conditions such as structural racism, police brutality and the stresses of American national and local elections that occurred in 2020? Well, let me give you some personal guidance. September 11th 2003 was a sunny day. I was getting ready to go to work. The phone rang. My husband was on the line and asked me, "Do you have the TV on?" "Yes." I answered. I was watching the Today Show live from New York city.

  I saw the video. A plane had run into a building of the World Trade Center. Within minutes, I saw the video of another plane actually running into another building of the World Trade Center. Within a few more minutes, I heard about the third plane incident in the nation's Capital. I felt dizzy. I had just visited the World Trade Center area that August, when I attended my high school reunion. Those streets were fresh in my mind. At that time I was teaching law at Atlanta's John Marshall Law School and serving as Associate Dean. In fact, I had to teach a class that night.

  I called the Law School Dean. I asked him, had he seen what was going on, on the TV? He responded, "Yes." I asked, "Well, what do you think is going on?" He said, "We are under attack." I went to work. It was Tuesday, and not many classes were scheduled for that night. Professors and students were asking whether classes would be canceled. The Dean, a World War II veteran, emphatically said, "No," as if no, and no one, stops lawyers from doing our business. Not even foreign or domestic terrorist. I went into my office, meditated and prayed over the situation. I reviewed my notes for class, client interviewing and counseling.

  I went to my students, some who were visibly shaken, but they showed up. What do you do in a crisis situation? My class focused on the roles of lawyering because this was a lawyering skills class. Think about it. In a crisis, most folks go to a doctor, lawyer or clergy person. I reminded the class that lawyers are often first responders. We must be ready to protect and serve even when, or if we are individually also under attack. The words of the Rudyard Kipling poem, If, came to my mind, and I shared some of those words with my students.

  "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too, if you can wait and not be tired of waiting, or being lied about, don't deal in lies, or being hated, don't give away to hating, and yet don't look too good nor talk too wise." So I go back often to that day and that poem because they reminded me why I became a lawyer and what is expected of me.

  Now, you may not remember September 11th, 2003, but you will probably recall what happened at about March of 2020, when the COVID 19 pandemic swept through our world. And we were ordered to shelter in place, wear mask, employ social distancing. And some of us watched a rising death toll of family, friends and colleagues. Many of us had to look inward and decide what we would do. And that is all part of being professional. For me, I was in place with my husband, an infectious disease physician. He wouldn't let me go past the mailbox. We've been married since we graduated from college and we attended medical school and law schools together.

  We learned a lot from each other. One of his lessons was, "Remember, the patient has the disease. The first thing you do is take your own pulse." And that is just what our profession had to do, take our own posts. The Courts Bar Association's law firm leaders, government officials, and individual lawyers had to stop and think what we would do during this crisis caused by the COVID 19 pandemic. And conditions seemed to get worse each day and not better anytime soon. And that is what necessitated today's adoption of virtual practice.

  Dealing with the COVID 19 pandemic, the legal profession first looked inward. It then addressed actions, adopted virtual options for the Courts Bar Association, law firm leaders, government officials, and individual lawyers. So we started to migrate to virtual practice, where we prepared to practice remotely, virtually, competently, ethically and professionally. What guidance would lawyers get from the courts? What guidance would Bar Associations give us? National state, local specialty, mandatory and voluntary Bars? What guidance did they give us for virtual practice?

  In Georgia, the court migrated to remote operations and virtual practice with a pandemic plan, Judicial COVID 19 Task Force and Court Reopening Guide. All of this was communicated by orders on a regular basis to the Bar. In Georgia, we were extremely fortunate to have our leader of the judicial system, Chief Justice Harold Melton. He had been part of a team of the Georgia Supreme Court that devised a pandemic plan several years ago. So there was a plan to be announced, implemented and tweaked. Chief Justice Melton assembled a Capable and Committee Task Force in May of 2020, to address the challenges of ensuring access to the courts in the midst of the pandemic.

  And both civil and criminal lawyers who often take opposing sides in court cases worked with one another, and with Judges from across the State to develop a Georgia Court Reopening Guide. This Task Force monitored the conditions, needs and concerns on a regular basis, and issued orders to keep the courts and legal professionals advised. Chief Justice Melton issued his first Judiciary Emergency Order on March 14th, 2020, and issued his latest on March 9th, 2021, now reopening the courts to jury trials.

  The Chief Justice's Commission on Professionalism under Chief Justice Melton, and its Executive Director, Karlise Grier, work together to provide free professionalism CLEs to help Georgia's with the changing profession. They address such topics as professionalism in the time of physical distancing, getting the deal done with professionalism during a time of physical distancing, moving forward with professionalism in the midst of a public health emergency and criminal justice professionalism and coronavirus.

  The State Bar of Georgia also gave us some guidance. With excellent leadership, it instituted CLE compliance extensions, virtual accommodations, free webinars, CLE opportunities, features in the Georgia Bar Journal, bar website enhanced pages with new information, wellness information with new resources, law practice management assistance. And all of this was communicated digitally to Bar members. The General Counsel, Paula Frederick of the Bar, early on advised Georgia lawyers about ethical duties in virtual practice. She advised that they gain guidance from their IT professionals, or use the Bar's Law practice Management Program professionals. And in all protect client confidentiality on using electronic meeting platforms like zoom.

  The American Bar Association also instituted its Task Force on Legal Needs Arising out of the 2020 Pandemic. And they included the former Chair of the Legal Services Corporation and our representatives from the Conference of Chief Justices at National Center for State Courts. Calling for a larger network of pro bono attorneys, supported by information and resources on remote service delivery, court operations and legal issues relative to COVID, the ABA formed the complementary Coordinating Group on Practice Forward. And this Group supported members challenged with issues facing the legal profession in courts, social psychology experts, health economics, and technology.

  The National Bar Association that represents and supports the needs and concerns of African-American lawyers, Judges, and communities is headed this year by Atlanta Attorney, Tricia CK Hoffler. Her priorities were the COVID 19 pandemic, structural racism, police brutality, and voter suppression. The NBA provided support to the greater community and Bar Associations on those issues, including its three Georgia affiliates, the Gate City Bar Association, Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys and the DeKalb Lawyers Association. So now, what were we supposed to do with virtual practice?

  With the global public health emergency caused by COVID 19, shelter in place orders and quarantines, lawyers needed guidance for ethical and professional virtual operations. Those guidelines evolved to meet those emergency pandemic situations. They were practical, somewhat inconsistent, subject to interpretation, and there was no fixed period in sight. In Georgia, our Professionalism Guidelines require lawyers to offer clients faithfulness, competence, diligence, and good judgment, and to represent them in how they would want to be represented and to be trustworthy.

  So how do these Professionalism Guidelines translate to virtual practice where one does not meet in person with your clients? And the closest thing to face-to-face connecting is via a digital platform like zoom? In Georgia, the courts did not approve all suggested pandemic options, like alternative fee arrangements. But the courts provisionally admitted recent graduates to the Bar and temporarily suspended CLE rules to allow lawyers to complete all of their CLE hours with online courses. The governor issued executive orders, allowing remote notarization and attestations.

  Courts amended rules for the state's trial and appellate courts, mentoring, networking, and Bar Association meetings were to be done virtually. Business and social events were offered through video conferencing. Virtual Practice, how do we do that? On March 10th, 2021, almost a year later, the ABA issued some welcome guidance on ethically, practicing virtually. These Guidelines are founded in the ABA Formal Opinion 498 on Virtual Practice. The ABA defined Virtual Practice as technologically enabled law practice beyond the traditional brick and mortar law firm. This opinion did not address evolving issues of Interstate virtual practice and unauthorized practice of law.

  Overall, the opinion advises lawyers that they can practice law virtually, but must ensure adherence to their ethical responsibilities, including the duties of competence, diligence, communication, confidentiality, and supervision. Now regarding competence and diligence, lawyers engaging in virtual practice must follow ABA Model Rules 1.1 and 1.3. Within the duty of competence, lawyers must stay abreast of the benefits and risk associated with relevant technology. In accordance with Comment Eight to Model Rule 1.1, they must ensure they pursue client matters diligently and without necessary delay. Lawyers must also fulfill their duty of communication under Model Rule 1.4 and reasonably consult with clients and update them on matters.

  Regarding confidentiality, lawyers must take steps to ensure confidentiality of client information, including installing any security-related updates and using strong passwords, antivirus software and encryption. When using Wi-Fi connections, lawyers should consider the use of virtual private networks, and ensure that virtual meeting or teleconferencing platforms like zoom and Microsoft teams are securely used. The opinion also cautions that likewise, any recordings and transcripts should be strongly secured. On ethics and supervision, the opinion says under Rules 5.1 and 5.3, in addition to their own work, lawyers who supervise subordinate lawyers and non-lawyer assistance retain their ethical responsibilities in virtual practice, and should exercise their ethical duties in compliance with the ethical rules.

  This duty requires regular interaction and communication with, for example, associates, legal assistance and paralegals, and there are limits to virtual practice. The opinion advises that there are limits to virtual practice and technology. The lawyer must still be able to write and deposit checks, make electronic transfers, and maintain full trust accounting records. The opinion ends on this note. Finally, although e-filing systems have lessened this concern, litigators must still be able to file and receive pleadings and other court documents. So we are quite grateful that the ABA has spoken out and given us some specific guidance. And of course, we suggest that we look at that under the Georgia Rules of Ethics, which are found in the Rules of Professional Conduct, as well as our professionalism documents.

  Now practicing virtually also requires us to look at how we communicate. Here's some considerations. Lawyers are ethically required to communicate with clients. We're supposed to return phone calls, that kind of thing. Working remotely and virtually with a global reach, however, puts us in more cultural context and interacting with more diverse people. So communicating has more challenges and opportunities. Lawyers may need to look at, and beyond, the means of communication to the conditions, especially in a pandemic under which we are communicating, and to the needs and concerns and unique attributes of the people with whom we communicate.

  Virtual communicating, okay, basics, get your internet up to speed, get your equipment, secure it. Learn the platforms like zoom and Microsoft teams and how to use them ethically and professionally. There's a lot of training, and help is always available. So how do you communicate ethically with clients in a pandemic? State Bar of Georgia General Counsel, Paula Frederick, advises lawyers to not forget the basics of communicating, and that there are special requirements for a pandemic situation. She says people are anxious, and that anxiety extends to their pending legal matter. At the same time, lawyers may be checking messages less often and devoting less time to non-essential matters.

  Rule 1.4 requires communication that is appropriate for the circumstances. In the ordinary circumstance of a global pandemic... In the extra-ordinary circumstance, that is, of a global pandemic, clients may require more hand-holding than usual. So to execute your communications, Frederick suggests lawyers promptly acknowledge communications, even if they just say, "More time is needed for a full response." She advises that lawyers inform clients, opposing counsel, and potential clients about how best to reach them and if possible, how the pandemic will affect their legal matter.

  Then lawyers should provide information digitally through use of as many formats and places, including their firm, Facebook page, updating outgoing voicemail messages and websites, and lawyers should always return client's phone calls. Now don't fall into some pitfalls with your communications. Obtain cultural competence, avoid micro aggressions and implicit biases. Virtual practice affords lawyers the opportunity to practice anywhere in the world, where there is internet, and to interact with people around the world. It also challenges us to communicate professionally and effectively with the diverse people of the year.

  How do you gain cultural competence? How do you become aware of microaggressions? A general aspirational guidance is found in the Aspirational Statement on Professionalism that advises lawyers to, "Avoid all forms of wrongful discrimination in all of my activities, including discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, age, handicap, veteran status, or national origin. The social goals of equality and fairness will be personal goals for me." So there are many ways to acquire cultural competence, avoid implicit bias, and learn about these deterrents to good client interactions that are beyond the scope of this discussion.

  Be aware that microaggressions are the subtle ways in which body and verbal language convey oppressive ideology about power or privilege against marginalized identities. And you can learn more about this topic as well. And these deterrents to good communications are also communicated virtually. Our takeaways here are, to effectively represent your clients, you must be knowledgeable about, respectful of, and able to communicate professionally outside of your familiar setting. Communicating thoughtfully can enhance your practice. Despite the evidence that more diverse workplaces are often more profitable, employees are then in better health and perform better, the legal profession continues to operate with conscious and unconscious biases.

  Consider that your diversity and inclusion practices can enable lawyer well-being by giving lawyers a sense of belonging, allowing for their authentic identity, fairness, non-discrimination realistic and fair performance expectations. Well, let's talk about lawyer wellness now, taking care of yourself. In terms of fitness to practice law, a Lawyer's Creed and Aspirational Statement on Professionalism and the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct are silent about a lawyer's duty to take care of herself. Competence is addressed only in terms of duties owed to clients. Professionalism is guided in the context of relationships we have with clients, opposing parties and their counsel, the courts, the profession, and the public.

  The profession, our professional organizations, and the courts know the importance that our mental, physical and social wellbeing are intrinsic to how competent, fit we should be when practicing law, in addition to having the skills and knowledge required. In terms of lawyer wellness, well, that's something we cannot always control, but there are things that we can do to be well. In emergency and pandemic situations, we are advised to take our own pulse and to check on stress, anxiety, and the pain being experienced by our colleagues, neighbors, and Judges.

  The State Bar has a wealth of information and programming on mental, physical, and social health, through its website activities and CLE activities, as led by its Wellness Committee and under its initiative, Georgia Lawyers Living Well. The Bar's resources, and here's the laundry list, are the Lawyer's Assistance Program that is totally separate from the Bar and General Counsel's offices. And I have to tell you, every Georgia lawyer can get six free counseling sessions every year to support mental health and other issues. There's the SOLACE Program, Support of Lawyers, All Concern Encouraged. And the SOLACE Program connects lawyers experiencing extreme hardship with lawyers willing to help them.

  There's a Suicide Awareness Campaign, the Law Practice Management Program, the Sudden Health Crisis Succession Plan and Lawyers Living Well that supports other activities. I have to put a plug in here for the Sudden Health Crisis Succession Plan that was developed by the senior lawyers section. And I'm on that Committee, and it is not just for senior lawyers. As we know, this pandemic has created a lot of crises. And so we commend people to that planning for when people may need to close down their practice, or to have some issues addressed where they cannot practice because of a sudden health crisis. And that information is also available on the State Bar's website.

  The American Bar Association provides excellent, timely resources to support lawyer wellness in its publications, on its website, and even an Annual Wellness Conference. Most of its resources are available to lawyers without being paid members. But of course it offers a lot. It addresses many aspects of lawyer wellbeing in the workplace, including mindfulness, mental health, coping with stress, depression, substance abuse, suicide prevention, and provides a lot of wellbeing strategies for individuals and law firms to build resilient work cultures.

  How do we protect our profession now, our colleagues, staff, and others in the profession? In terms of dealing with colleagues, our Professionalism Guidelines tell us, we owe a duty to our colleagues, including concern for your welfare. "I will strive to make our Association a professional friendship, and we should aspire to recognize and develop our interdependence, to respect the needs of others, especially the need to develop as a whole person, and to assist my colleagues become better people in the practice of law, and to accept their assistance offered to me." So in terms of dealing with colleagues, it's really a two-way street. During the pandemic, we know our colleagues share many of our concerns for our health, our loved ones' health, sheltering with others, and the stress on our practices and personal lives.

  Professionalism guidance found in A Lawyer's Creed says, "To opposing parties and their counsel I offer fairness, integrity, and civility. I will seek reconciliation and if we fail, I will strive to make our dispute a dignified one." One approach to practice at this time need not be tactical warfare. It can be diplomatic resolution. And I've heard my colleagues and yours say recently that they are finding folks that just want to resolve the matters. And the Judges are also finding a willingness for people to resolve matters as opposed to warfare in the courtroom. So we also moved to concern for our colleagues when the Georgia Bar acknowledged and took action on seeking equal justice and addressing racism and racial bias.

  Recent racially-charged incidents brought issues home to Georgia. Incidents surrounding the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, that shed light on structural racism, unequal justice, race show bias, and police brutality were made real to Georgia and Georgia lawyers. The State Bar of Georgia Headquarters Building sustained damage when protestors and others in the streets of Atlanta near the CNN Center marched by the Bar Center. Members of the Bar went to downtown Atlanta the next day to secure the Building, its security staff, contents and operations. Bar leadership found the need to secure the profession by meeting head on the challenges of structural racism in both the profession and greater society.

  So the State Bar of Georgia acknowledged another pandemic, structural racism, police brutality, unequal justice, and racial bias. Newly-installed President Dawn Jones recommended, and Bar leaders approved, formation of the new Bar Standing Committee, Seeking Equal Justice and Addressing Racism and Racial Bias Committee. To address the two pandemics of the coronavirus and racial injustice, President Jones says, Bar leaders must work together, get at the root causes and find a cure. She has a unique background as a former Critical Care Nurse who became a lawyer. And she has been quite a leader of this Bar. She is the second African American lawyer to lead the State Bar of Georgia, and somehow serendipitously during this difficult time.

  She also says that diversity, equity and inclusion are important in the legal community and working together is not just important during a pandemic. It remains important into the future. This Committee is presenting a series of programs called courageous conversations, because the first things that we as a legal community needed to do, was to talk amongst ourselves, and then to come up with some action plans. So we commend our Bar leadership for taking that on. Serving the community, the public, ensuring access to justice and protecting the rule of law, are all professionalism issues before us also today.

  Our professional obligations for public and community service are found in the Lawyer's Creed and Aspirational Statement on Professionalism, as flows. "To the public and our systems of justice. I offer service. I will strive to improve the law and our legal system to make the law and our legal system available to all and to seek the common good through the representation of my clients." The Aspirational Statement asks us to aspire to, "provide pro bono representation that is necessary to make our system of justice available to all," and, "to support organizations that provide pro bono representation to indigent clients."

  We are also called upon to, "improve our laws and legal system by... serving as a public official, assisting in the education of the public concerning our laws and legal system, commenting publicly on our laws, and using other appropriate methods of effecting positive change in our laws and legal system." So during this pandemic, our Georgia lawyers have been serving as legislators, the Mayor of Atlanta, Mayors of other cities throughout Georgia, County Commissioners, advocates and leaders, for those who do not have legal representation and need our leadership, and need the legal system to work for them and their loved ones.

   Access to justice in a pandemic, well, access to justice is not presumed even in good times, but a global health pandemic, coupled with a structural racism pandemic and police brutality, accentuate some of the long-standing issues of access to justice. Lawyers are charged with insuring access to justice and the courts with pro bono service, and supporting those who cannot afford attorneys. Many will be unrepresented, and because of court closures, do not have access to self-help or legal aid assistance available inside the courthouse. Not everyone in Georgia has access to, or reliable internet service.

  We have some counties in Georgia that had no internet service. So when we told children to go home to learn at home, they couldn't be supported because there was no internet service in those counties. Well, if we can't teach our children, how can we provide legal representation and access to the courthouse? Many Georgians don't have the devices necessary to access the internet. If they have a phone, they don't have an unlimited phone plan. They may not have a smart phone, and they cannot participate in virtual hearings and proceedings.

  So people who do not have any, or limited internet capable devices, they might have caregiver or parental duties, they might need a witness or an interpreter, they might need accommodations, or even have evidence, cannot access the courts. And that's why we need to get our courts back operating. And we need our lawyers to understand and help these clients who are so challenged. So courts have had to be innovative, accommodating, and develop protocols and adopt ways to handle the business of the judicial system in ways that are fair, just and safe. And they have been, and they have provided more opportunity for virtual proceedings. Lawyers have had to share some of their devices, internet service with potential clients who have needed their help.

  But we know, just like there's a backlog of patients who did not get regular medical care or non-COVID care, there's a backlog of clients who are going to be needing divorces. They need to get away from domestic violence. They're going to need somebody to help them deal with an eviction or debt advice, or even social security disability, a whole range of things that have not been handled during this COVID crisis. And of course opposing counsel need to be more cooperative and adaptive to move cases along. In looking at our greater good, and in the profession, the insurrection of the United States Capital on January 6th, 2021 was a stark visualization of the confusion at best and violence at worst brought out by a divided America.

  For many lawyers, it was a threat to the rule of law, and our precious American legal system, and democratic government institutions. Lawyers are called upon to protect the rule of law. State Bar President Jones is an ardent supporter of the work that Georgia lawyers must do to protect the rule of law. And her February 2021 Presidents Page Message in the Georgia Bar Journal, Jones addressed the rule of law, liberty and justice for all. Her message is both historic and timely, and is a worthy read for all of us. Her conclusion is, "As members of the State Bar of Georgia, we are equally responsible for upholding the law and all it represents including justice, equality and freedom." It is our solemn duty.

  And just this month, President Jones and the Chief Justice's Commission on Professionalism explored how Bar members, "In these times of unparalleled political division and social unrest, can create a sense of unparalleled unity among ourselves and encourage lawyers to lead efforts to help bridge the divisions in America despite our differences." And there, they looked at how lawyers can serve the public and the common good by using our tools of professionalism to draw us closer, to a sense of unparalleled unity with one another and lead our fellow Americans in bridging our divisions, despite our differences. So Georgia lawyers have been tasked with bridging the gap and upholding the rule of law.

  So let's talk about change. During this pandemic, we've been asking, is there a new normal? Will there be a new normal for legal practice? What can it be, and what can lawyers do now? So where we've been this year or is the future now? It's helpful to review how our legal profession went virtual and remote during the COVID 19 pandemic. How we handled business, protected ourselves and those around us, represented clients, kept the courts working, protected the public, and looked out for our colleagues. Several scholars and practitioners have analyzed current affairs, lesson learned and a hybrid approach to operating virtual, and remote, and in-person. The State Bar of Georgia, in fact, plans to hold a hybrid annual meeting this June with in-person and virtual options for conducting business and CLE programs.

  In terms of the courts, courts adopted livestream, oral arguments and hearings as previously used in some state prisons and jails. Pandemic-driven use of video conferencing was quickly adopted in Texas, for example, and it's predicted to continue because it benefits lawyers, litigants and staff, particularly in large states or rural areas. It reduces the need for travel time and cost. And it's particularly useful for brief proceedings. Courts have also expanded their use of e-filing, e-service and online dispute software. Georgia courts, led by Chief Justice Melton, issued consecutive orders on court and bar operations, including suspension of jury trials, remote notarization of documents, mandatory virtual CLEs and virtual bar meetings.

  As vaccinations and reduced COVID infection rates clear the way for more in-person gatherings within CDC guidelines, courts are calling for a rational approach to re-instituting jury trials. Judges have different views on when it is safe to resume in-person jury trials, and some will weigh local circumstances, as local as their own courtrooms. The guidance from infectious diseases experts for resuming in-person court proceedings include re-imagining the courtroom space, airflow, types of mask use, lawyers physical movements, protecting jurors and visitors, and when to suspend proceedings. Courts will balance innovation with access in remote proceedings and look at hybrid models in that balancing act.

  Well, lawyers have reacted differently. Some law firms found reduced cost of real estate and greater ability to attract some employees who like remote work, while some lawyers found virtual practice a game changer that allows both lawyers to sustain their practices and broaden access to justice. With successful use of technologies, will lawyers continue to use them for deposition, mediations, witness preparation, meetings, trainings, conferences, and social events? Past State Bar President, Robin Frazer Clark, opine that the use of video depositions, particularly of experts, may even the playing field in litigation, since plaintiffs will not have to incur the cost of conducting depositions out of town, and is an effective way for plaintiff's lawyers to gather information.

  Well, will there be a backward movement to the old ways? Will some mature lawyers step up their clock on retirements? Will others, having learned the new technology, truly embrace it and increase its use now and in the future? One Law Professor, Heidi Brown, says the profession can learn four lessons from the COVID 19 pandemic. First, our definition of talent needs to expand. Second, our communication skills are overdue for an upgrade. Three, to amplify unheard voices, we must change how we engage and, four, serious wellbeing initiatives are as essential as oxygen.

  Professor Val Brown thinks things will never be the same, and to survive and thrive, institutions must reject outdated hierarchies and systems that continually attract and promote the same people. Sustainable entities will seek out and champion non-traditional talent and skills. These employees will have emotional intelligence, empathy toward clients who are stressed, and be able to work effectively, remotely, with excellent communication, problem solving and collaborative skills. Professor Brown also adds that more engaging communication may involve the opportunity for one-on-one uninterrupted discourse, recognition of engaging introverted persons, and strategically address the mental physical, and mental health of all of those concerned in our legal communities.

  Well, what can lawyers do and need to do for themselves and their practices in the midst of change? One option is, withdrawal. You must or may need to withdraw from difficult client relationships when conflicts arise, or when you have grounds for permissible withdrawals. Often lawyers who stay in difficult client relationships can get into disciplinary trouble. One experienced lawyer says, "Over the years I've counseled lawyers, one thing has become clear. Quite frequently, firing a troublesome client has contributed immensely to lawyer wellbeing."

  So lawyers should check the Rules of Professional Responsibility for ethical options for withdrawal, local practice, and if there are any rules particular to the pandemic for this situation. They can also in Georgia consult our State Bar of Georgia Ethics Hotline to get anonymous assistance from the General Counsel's office. Lawyers can also engage in other actions to improve your practice in the midst of change. In terms of your website, you can improve your communications by improving your website, which is probably the first contact most outsiders may have with your firm. You can get some help, both technical and from a marketing standpoint.

  The experts advise, search engines currently reward copy and web pages that are authoritative, and provide useful information that web searchers are looking for. To perform well in organic search now, law firm website content must satisfy the needs of both search engines and human beings doing the searches. So get those websites up to snuff. Password protections. So while you are improving your internet presence, spend some time upgrading how you manage your passwords. Colleagues, a sticky note on your computer monitor does not engender confidence on how to treat your clients' confidential information.

  Some other actions you might undertake at this time is to review and improve all of your office internal technologies. Look at your partnership, accountability, legal project management, document management, business development and employee wellbeing, as well as remote practice security issues. There's a lot of online assistance, webinars, CLEs on these topics. And while you are evaluating where you're going to go, whenever this pandemic is over, this is a great time for you to evaluate your office operations. And of course you should be seeking out timely CLE, like this one on Ethics and Professionalism, to update and remind yourself of your duties and responsibilities.

  And let us not forget our future as a profession. We have thousands of law students and recent graduates who went to law school under conditions they did not choose. They have deferred dreams, large law school debt, and decreased employment opportunities. Some State Bar Georgia members and committees found ways to reach out to, and support law students and educators. The Wellness Committee, for example, includes law school representatives who are including wellness programming for students under their care at the law schools, virtually.

  The Committee to Promote Inclusion in the Profession, reached out to law students to provide virtual support and programming with mentoring online, job opportunities, internships, and skills training for job seeking. Local Bar Associations continue fundraising virtually to support scholarships for needy law students and other social justice programs. Addressing the needs and concerns of law students and recent graduates makes them ready to join our profession as competent, ethical and professional colleagues and strengthens our profession's future. There are a lot of ways that we can do this online.

  There are a lot of places that we've been that some of us have never been before in just this last year. Ask yourself, how many of you ever heard of zoom before 2020? How many of you ever tried to use it and learn its capacity? And I assure you, I have no stock in zoom. I wish I did, but I don't. I myself had to learn how to use zoom. And my first few tries at using it, I would simply cue it up on my eye pad, click on, and go to the meeting, put my picture on, my face not my picture, and start engaging in the conversation. The more I used it to help put together seminars, the more I learned its use of being able to add PowerPoint to it, being able to add video, upload all kinds of pictures and documents, how to time meetings.

  I learned about virtual backgrounds that some of the people... I did not have to share what was in the backyard of my house or what was in the background of whatever room I was in at the time. I learned how to put my name in, put a nice headshot in, and how to really use that wonderful, powerful platform that, for many people who want to use it, can be free for the first 40 minutes or so. And then how to buy a license for a very reasonable cost and business expense and turn it on and use it to connect people and to get information out there. And admittedly, I learned how to use it better practicing on friends and family with virtual events. And I went to online webinars that actually zoom schedules for you, or you can get online through its website.

  So once I started playing with the platform, I really appreciated how important it is to have these skills to connect us. And so I don't think I can go back to always the old way. Conference calls, it's nice seeing people. In fact, I've seen people around the world I haven't seen in years, in person. So I really suggest if you haven't already used these platforms, start playing around with them and you will be a convert to virtual communications.

  In closing, let me just say, with the advent of COVID 19 vaccinations, continuing commitment to social distancing, masking, good hygiene, testing, and the increasing march towards herd immunity, after so many people have contracted and survived COVID 19, I truly believe there is hope for better days. None of us know when those days are going to come. But my assessment is that practicing professionally while employing virtual tools will not be over after the COVID 19 pandemic is under control, and the profession as a whole, most likely will not return to business as usual. I heard a colleague describing how she was coping with her personal and professional life and duties as a law school administrator, ask the question, "Can you give me some grace?"

  According to the Oxford University Press Dictionary, grace means, among other things, courteous goodwill. I thought that is fitting advice for applied professionalism in today's situations and virtual practice in the midst and urgency of dealing with pandemic situations. Grace encompasses competence, caring, cooperation, and service for the good of others, and is much like civility, a core principle of professionalism that centers on relationships. Lawyers should be concerned with taking care of others, ourselves, our profession, the public, the planet, and the rule of law.

  Competence, civility, public and community service and pro bono service to ensure access to justice, reign supreme in our lives and our work as lawyers, and are our obligations to society and the profession. As lawyers and for our institutions to survive and thrive, we must commit to wellness, exhibit emotional intelligence and strive for resilience. As Georgia's own profit, reverend Dr. Martin Luther king Jr said, "We can all be great because we can serve." As our late Georgia Congressman, John Lewis said, "When you see something that is not right, you must say something, you must do something."

  Democracy is not a state, it is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we call the beloved community, a nation and a world society at peace with itself. Not just embracing, but mastering technology with professionalism is a key to the future of our profession. Whether we practice virtually or in person, as I always say, ultimately, what counts is not what we do for a living, it's what we do for the living. And so I encourage all Georgia lawyers and others, to do that well and good. The only thing constant is change, and some things will never be the same.

  Thank you for joining us today for this discussion of Professionalism, a Lawyer's Virtual Life. For more information, please check out the course material, slides, documents, and articles at our list of references. Thank you for choosing this presentation for your CLE needs. Be well.

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1h 1m 10s

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