The Stress of COVID-19

The Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP) provides confidential and free counseling assistance to lawyers, judges, and law students.

If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed, the OAAP is here for you.

The OAAP remains open and attorney counselors are available for individual appointments by telephone or video conference. Set up an appointment today.

Advice for Oregon Lawyers Amid COVID19 Closures and Postponements

With COVID19 news changing daily here are some suggested guidelines for keeping clients informed. This list first appeared on March 17. Modify as needed to comply with Governor Brown’s anticipated Executive Order of March 23 and Chief Justice Walters’s coming update to CJO 20-006.

Keeping Clients Informed Amid COVID19

  • Post notices on your website.
  • Keep your outgoing voicemail message up-to-date.
  • Send an “all client” status email.
  • Post reduced hours or closures at your office.
  • Limit or suspend in-person client visits.
  • Conduct appointments by phone or video conference.
  • Work at home if you can. If you can’t, follow CDC recommended health practices like washing hands frequently and sanitizing surfaces.
  • Prioritize client files. Follow-up with clients whose matters are now postponed or those with upcoming court dates.
  • For specific client outreach, use your phone, not email. Why? Clients will have lots of questions. If you persist with email the likelihood is you’ll be bouncing back and forth for some time addressing all their concerns. You will save time by calling and clients will be reassured when they hear your voice. If calls are running long politely explain you have other clients anxious to hear from you.
  • Use staff to spread the load. They can be a huge help reaching out to and responding to clients.
  • Get virtual help if you need it. To avoid being overwhelmed by calls, consider services like Ruby Receptionist who can help you remotely.
  • If you feel overwhelmed, call the confidential Oregon Attorney Assistance Program. They are available to take your calls and emails.
  • If you are worried about potential legal malpractice claims, reach out to the PLF by email.
  • For ethics questions, see this FAQ. Bar counsel’s office is available by phone or email or you can reach out to private ethics counsel. Keep in mind this is a living document which bar counsel continues to update.
  • Practice patience and kindness – especially toward yourself

Staying On Top of the Latest News

Visit the Oregon State Bar home page frequently for what applies “today.” Current restrictions, closures, and postponements may change.

All rights reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

Court Operations Restricted, Statewide Postponements, OSB and PLF Closures

Trials and hearings statewide are postponed, with a few exceptions. Visit the Oregon State Bar home page for full details. Here is the announcement:

Oregon State Bar and Professional Liability Fund

The OSB Center, including the Professional Liability Fund, is CLOSED to visitors until March 31 and operating with reduced staff.

Going Forward

Status of state offices, administrative hearings, etc. are changing daily. Plan for reduced hours, reduced staff, and likely closures. Do what you can online and call or visit websites frequently for updates.

Keeping Clients Informed

  • Post notices on your website.
  • Keep your outgoing voicemail message up-to-date.
  • Send an “all client” status email.
  • Post reduced hours or closures at your office.
  • Limit or suspend in-person client visits.
  • Conduct appointments by phone or video conference.
  • Work at home if you can. If you can’t, follow CDC recommended health practices like washing hands frequently and sanitizing surfaces.
  • Prioritize client files. Follow-up with clients whose matters are now postponed or those with upcoming court dates.
  • For specific client outreach, use your phone, not email. Why? Clients will have lots of questions. If you persist with email the likelihood is you’ll be bouncing back and forth for some time addressing all their concerns. You will save time by calling and clients will be reassured when they hear your voice. If calls are running long politely explain you have other clients anxious to hear from you.
  • Use staff to spread the load. They can be a huge help reaching out to and responding to clients.
  • Get virtual help if you need it. To avoid being overwhelmed by calls, consider services like Ruby Receptionist who can help you remotely.
  • If you feel overwhelmed, call the confidential Oregon Attorney Assistance Program. They are available to take your calls and emails.
  • If you are worried about potential legal malpractice claims, reach out to the PLF by email.
  • For ethics questions, see this FAQ. Bar counsel’s office is available by phone or email or you can reach out to private ethics counsel.
  • Practice patience and kindness – especially toward yourself.

All rights reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

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

Create Distraction Free Time

 

All or most of these activities come with the job of being a lawyer. But we also need time to think and get work done. If you’re looking for answers, consider the following strategies.

Six Steps to Becoming a More Productive Lawyer

Set aside specific time during the day to respond to communications. Don’t allow the rings, dings, and beeps of technology to constantly interrupt your concentration. Check emails, calls, and texts when you arrive and before the end of the day. If a lunch-time check is feasible (or necessary in your opinion), add it in.

On days when your schedule won’t allow for check-ins, set up appropriate auto-replies to manage client expectations. If you have staff, let them screen and manage incoming requests. If you’re going to be gone for an extended period, inform clients beforehand.

Identify your most productive time of day and use it to do legal work. Schedule meetings during “down” time and inform staff of your preference (and when they can break the rules).

Set boundaries for using the Internet if you find that you spend too much time browsing, shopping, or looking at social media. Consider deleting cookies, logins, and bookmarks for pages that eat away at productive time.

Once a quarter, block out one week with no meetings so you can catch up. Don’t wait. Choose for weeks now. Use the time to clean up your desk and workspace, go through your to do list, attend to filing, scanning, or closing files – whatever you’ve been putting off. If you’re caught up, enjoy the uninterrupted time.

Delegate or outsource as much as you can, when you can, so you can focus on the tasks that only you can do. Billable time is precious and should be maximized doing billable work.

Feeling Overwhelmed?

There’s free help for that.

If you, or someone you care about, is feeling overwhelmed by stress, contact the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP).

OAAP attorney counselors can help you explore ways to reduce your stress, manage your time, and achieve a healthier work-life balance. If needed, they can also refer you  to other health professionals to make sure you get the help you need. All contact with the OAAP is confidential.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis