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COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Task Force identifying ways to help members deal with the health crisis

Senior Editor Top Stories

Mike TannerPresident Dori Foster-Morales’ COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Task Force is off to a running start — with a major webpage redesign nearly complete and a host of projects well underway.

“Good morning everybody, it’s good to see you,” Chair Michael Tanner began the panel’s third meeting on August 25. “I sent our first status report to the Board of Governors on Friday.”

At the task force’s first meeting on July 15, Tanner urged members to be flexible and to work quickly to identify concrete ways to help fellow Bar members deal with the health crisis. The status report shows that task force members have taken the charge to heart.

By August 24, the Board of Governors had unanimously approved an initial task force recommendation to defer late fees to help Bar members who may be hurting financially.

When it goes live August 26, the new webpage will include, among other things, links to health information, state and federal courts, court clerks, free CLE, and the Bar’s career center network, attorneys exchange and classified employment ads.

“I think you’ll be pleased with it, it’s got a lot of information on it,” Tanner told panel members.

The task force’s mission is to “study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Florida’s legal profession, identify key issues facing citizens of Florida and Florida Bar members, and advise The Florida Bar president and executive director on how to best address those key issues.”

In addition to board members, the 13-member panel includes a YLD board member who is also a government lawyer, the immediate past chair of the Business Law Section, the head of the lead child welfare agency for South Florida, and a prominent family law practitioner.

The task force has been studying data from anonymous surveys and suggestions that members have been sharing with Foster-Morales in her 20-circuit listening tour of “Virtual Town Halls.”

Foster-Morales convened her ninth virtual town hall August 25 for the Second Judicial Circuit. The rest will be held through the end of September. See the schedule here.

One of the most frequent concerns Bar members have raised during the pandemic is a dearth of childcare that is pushing some parents to the breaking point.

The task force is reaching out to an executive with “Care.Com” in the hope that the app-based service, which links subscribers with child and senior care services, could be added to the Member Benefits Program, Tanner said.

“If we do this, we should be working with a national or regional child-care chain or outfit,” Tanner said. “That makes sense instead of working with hundreds of regional or local groups.”

Task force member Stephanie Marchman described herself as a satisfied customer.

“I’ve used it for a number of years, it’s super easy, secure, safe, and a number of my friends use it,” she said.

The task force is also looking into potential attorney/client privilege issues that could arise from the use of videoconferencing platforms, Tanner said.

User agreements give some providers the right to record sessions, unless a user disables the recording function, Tanner said.

At the task force’s request, Assistant Bar Ethics Counsel Heather Savage Telfer prepared a column for the News, Tanner said. The task force may also consider requesting an ethics opinion from the Professional Ethics Committee.

The task force has been collaborating with the Trial Lawyers Section to develop a plan for advocating for the use of senior judges, county judges, and specially appointed “trial masters” to help deal with a backlog of cases when the courts resume normal operation.

According to the task force status report, “the Trial Lawyers Section is preparing a white paper on the constitutional, statutory, rule, budgetary, and other implications.”

The white paper is expected to be completed September 11, Tanner said.

The task force recently received suggested rule changes from an administrative judge in the 11th Circuit following a partially remote civil jury trial that was conducted in Miami-Dade County in July.

And a Fourth Circuit workgroup is preparing a list of suggested rule changes based on the fully remote civil jury trial that was successfully convened in Jacksonville in August.

“After the 4th Circuit suggestions are received, the Task Force will review all the suggestions for further possible action,” according to the status report.

Both circuits participated in a five-circuit, remote civil jury trial pilot program that Chief Justice Charles Canady authorized in June.

The task force also hopes to identify client services during and after the pandemic, such as assistance with consumer debt, mortgage foreclosure, eviction relief, domestic relations, and unemployment benefits.

“The task force has reached out to the leadership of the Business Law Section, the Family Law Section, and the Labor and Employment Law section for training materials in these practice areas,” according to the status report.

The task force will encourage the use of the YLD Lawyers Advising Lawyers program to assist members in providing these services, and some of the training materials will be posted on the website, according to the status report.

Another solution would involve “increasing recruitment of LRS members for these practice areas and increasing marketing to the public.”

The task force is also studying CLE and/or best practices guides for handling COVID-related law office management issues, such as positive test cases in the office and the need for attorneys/staff to stay home when schools/daycares are closed.

The YLD is working on a solution, according to the status report.

Task force member Jay Brown suggested that the panel consider looking at the long-term effects of the pandemic.

“I think we do need at some point to talk about how COVID is going to change the practice of law,” Brown said.

Tanner agreed, and asked Brown to head the effort.

Meanwhile, the task force’s work is far from over, with meetings scheduled every two weeks before an October 21-23 board meeting.

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