COVID19 Impacts Oregon Legal Community

Author’s Note: Court, Oregon State Bar, and PLF operations have changed since this post was published.

See: Court Operations Restricted, Statewide Postponements, OSB and PLF Closures.

COVID19 and the Oregon Legal Community

In a recent NW Sidebar post, the Washington State Bar Association explores whether the legal profession is ready for a pandemic. The upshot? Take COVID19 seriously and prepare now:

  • Create a list of important emergency numbers that can be quickly accessed in printed and electronic form.
  • Establish remote access to critical client records.
  • Prioritize your firm’s functions by criticality.
  • Have a “go kit” of technology, files, and other necessities if you need to work from home.
  • Review the answers to frequently asked questions published on the Oregon State Bar website.

For a complete list of suggested steps, see the ABA booklet Surviving a Disaster and resources from the Professional Liability Fund [Select “Disaster Response and Recovery” under Practice Management > Forms.]

For COVID19 specifically:

  • Ensure the workplace is clean and hygienic with surfaces regularly wiped down with disinfectant.
  • Promote hand-washing at the office with posters and other communication. And make sure visiting clients have places wash their hands with soap and water.
  • Brief staff and clients if COVID-19 starts spreading locally.
  • Direct anyone in the office with even a mild cough or low-grade fever (99 degrees F or more) to stay home, and make clear to employees that they will be able to count this time off as sick leave.

Law Firms Taking Action

On March 6, Reuters Legal reported that the Seattle office of K&L Gates has asked employees to work from home. Will Oregon firms follow suit, as the need arises? We should.

Status of Oregon State Bar and Professional Liability Fund Services

Meanwhile, the Oregon State Bar issued the following statement appearing on its home page:

As of March 12, Gov. Kate Brown has banned gatherings of more than 250 people within Oregon through April 8. Social distancing can reduce transmission of the virus, helping to delay and slow the spread of the COVID-19. The OSB will continue to monitor and follow recommendations from authorities and has already taken steps to reduce our own community impact. Our goal is to support and protect the well-being of our members and the public we all serve.

All live events, in-person CLEs, and in-person counseling services available through the Oregon State Bar, Professional Liability Fund, and Oregon Attorney Assistance Program are cancelled. Oregon lawyers can access practice management assistance and attorney assistance programs via phone, email, and video conferencing.

Court Operations

Check your local circuit court to learn how court operations are being affected in your area. Multnomah County Circuit Court has postponed trials, hearings, and arraignments. Check court websites frequently for further announcements. Be sure to scroll down to the heading “Latest News.” Read the guidelines issued by Chief Justice Walters here.

Workers Comp Board

All in-person hearings and mediations at all WCB locations have been cancelled. The WCB expects to resume hearings and mediations on Monday, March 30, 2020. Lawyers who have an urgent need on a particular case are directed to contact the assigned ALJ or mediator.

In addition, several health insurance companies have agreed to waive co-pays, co-insurance, and deductibles for COVID-19 testing. Visit the WCB COVID-19 page to learn more about the agreement and review frequently asked insurance and financial questions.

Act Now

You’ll be glad you did.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2020

Idaho Allows Fee Disgorgement for Breach of Fiduciary Duty

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In a case of first impression, the Idaho Supreme Court recently held that fee disgorgement is available as a remedy against a lawyer for breach of fiduciary duty even if there are no resulting damages.

Parkinson v. Bevis, 448 P.3d 1027 (Idaho 2019), involved comparatively simple facts: A lawyer representing plaintiff Rebecca Parkinson in her divorce proceedings shared a confidential attorney-client communication with opposing counsel. In a subsequent lawsuit against the lawyer, Parkinson conceded that she was not damaged by the unauthorized disclosure—instead framing her claim as one for breach of fiduciary duty seeking fee disgorgement as a remedy. The trial court dismissed the claim, but the Idaho Supreme Court reversed.

The Idaho Supreme Court first distinguished breach of fiduciary duty from legal malpractice: “A breach of fiduciary duty claim is an equitable claim for which a defendant may have to disgorge compensation received during the time the breach occurred, even if the plaintiff cannot show actual damages.” 448 P.3d at 1033.

via Idaho Supreme Court Allows Fee Disgorgement for Breach of Fiduciary Duty — NWSidebar

A result of interest to Oregon lawyers, since a fee disgorgement claim not involving negligence is unlikely to be covered by the Professional Liability Fund.

 

Should MCLE Requirements Follow Emerging Trends?

The Washington Supreme Court Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) Board says yes.

As reported by NW Sidebar, the board voted to send such an amendment to the Washington BOG for its approval. The proposed changes would require one credit hour each of:

  • Equity, inclusion, and anti-bias,
  • Mental health and addiction, and
  • Technology education focusing on digital security

per MCLE reporting period. The three credit hours would be part of WSBA’s ethics requirement (six credits overall).

Where Oregon Stands

Equity, inclusion, and anti-bias

Presently, Oregon requires three introductory Access to Justice (AJ) credits per reporting period. Equity, inclusion, and anti-bias are often folded into Access to Justice programming. For examples of AJ CLEs, visit the PLF Website.

Mental health and addiction

Beginning January 1, 2019, all Oregon State Bar members are required to obtain one credit hour per reporting period on the subject of mental health, substance use and cognitive impairment (MHSU). You can learn more about MHSU credit here.

The Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP) has a wide variety of past CLE programs that qualify for MHSU credit. To find MHSU programming, visit the PLF website. Under “Credit Type,” choose Mental Health and Substance Use, then click the blue SEARCH button.

On October 17, 2019 in Bend, Oregon the OAAP will present “Supporting Lawyer Well-Being: What is Your Role?” The program includes an optional reception and social with fellow Deschutes County attorneys and the Professional Liability Fund Board of Directors. For more information, or to register, click here. The CLE and social are free.

Technology education – Digital Security

Oregon does not yet require explicit training on issues of digital security, but don’t be surprised if this is added to our curriculum.

Oregon and Washington seem to follow each other in tandem when it comes to policy changes, such as MCLE requirements. Further, the Oregon bar has already made clear that competent representation includes competent use of technology and protection of clients’ digital information. Can a new MCLE credit be far behind?

All Rights Reserved 2019 Beverly Michaelis

 

When Former Client Conflicts are Disqualifying

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Division 1 of the Washington Court of Appeals recently issued a significant decision applying a new standard for former client conflicts in the disqualification context. In Plein v. USAA Casualty Insurance Company, the plaintiff homeowners filed an insurance “bad faith” claim against their property insurance carrier, defendant USAA, over coverage for a fire and subsequent…

via Court of Appeals: New Standard in Disqualification for Former Client Conflicts — NWSidebar

How to Terminate an Employee the Right Way

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Let’s face it, no organization is immune from having to make the tough decision to terminate an employee. Of course no one likes to do it, but that still leaves the real question of how and when you should do it? This is especially true for lawyers beginning a new practice or expanding their existing practice…

via Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: How to Terminate an Employee the Right Way.

Assuming the employee has not committed an act that warrants immediate termination, consider these suggestions from the post referenced above:

  • Document, Document, Document: Scrupulously document disciplinary issues (if it’s not documented, it’s as if it didn’t happen).
  • Start with Warnings: When addressing performance issues, consider using a progressive disciplinary approach: For example, an escalating series of verbal, written, and other more serious notifications to the employee so they can attempt to improve their performance. However, this would not apply to serious performance breaches, nor for new employees who clearly don’t have the skills for the job.
  • Be Consistent: Take the same disciplinary approach for all employees—being mindful of each individual’s unique background and characteristics such as race; color; religion; pregnancy; gender identity; sexual orientation; national origin; age, 40 or older; disability, visible or invisible; or genetic information.
  • Document Some More: Always document the termination with a concise termination memo. If you do not provide the reason(s) for termination, the employee might assume the actual reason for their discharge was due to whatever protected category applies to them, such as race, gender, or age.
  • Don’t Waver: In the termination meeting, be professional but firm in your decision. The termination memo should do much of the talking for you.
  • Stick to the Script: Do NOT say anything different to the employee than what’s included in the termination memo—this is not the time to be overly reassuring and retreat from the true reasons for discharging the employee.
  • Go in as a Team: Try to have a manager who knows the employee present for the termination. A team approach—two management representatives, or a management representative and a human resources representative, or a management representative and a career counselor, etc.—is preferable because one person can take notes and there will be more than one witness to confirm what is said.

The Professional Liability Fund offers a Checklist for Departing Staff and sample office manuals, which may be helpful. From the home page, select Practice Management > Forms and peruse the “Staff” and “Office Manuals” categories.

All Rights Reserved 2019 Beverly Michaelis