The update covers the Safer at Home executive order, Bar resources for members, and the status of Bar meetings.
Dear Fellow Florida Bar Members:
I hope this correspondence finds you, your families, and friends well in these uncertain times. Although we Floridians are very resilient when it comes to hurricane planning and recovery, this pandemic provides unique dilemmas every day, day after day. Please be assured Bar leadership and our staff are working to the best of our abilities to assure continued member services and Bar operations at the highest level.
Above all, I hope you are observing the health and safety guidelines and working remotely if possible to reduce community spread of COVID-19.
This update covers the recent Safer at Home executive order, the Bar’s resources for members during the pandemic and that status of meetings as of today.
Provision of Legal Services During the Pandemic
We’ve heard from a number of members who have questions about the statewide Safer at Home Executive Order 20-91, issued on April 1 by Governor Ron DeSantis, as to its application to the legal profession.
The Executive Committee of The Florida Bar Board of Governors met on March 23 and took a position that law firms are essential businesses, either entirely or when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities. The Bar’s position respectfully requested that any state, city and county protective pandemic protocols include a statement that law firms are essential businesses either entirely or when “necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities” especially when time-sensitive legal work is necessary to assist the public in solving urgent needs during these unusual times. On March 27, I sent a letter to the Governor’s General Counsel regarding this request.
The Safer at Home Executive Order 20-91 refers to essential services and activities. Although specifics are not provided regarding provision of legal services, you should carefully review this, and all other relevant orders, and use your best judgment to determine whether your work meets the mandates of the order. The Governor said he has received questions about the meaning of essential activities under his Safer at Home order. “It’s less important what you do, than how you do it,” DeSantis said, and he went on to say that the goal is to avoid close contact with people outside your home to reduce the transmission rate. The Governor also advised that local municipalities can place more stringent restrictions than the statewide order, so we must be vigilant to assure we’re meeting state and local requirements.
We stress that the absolute best course to take at this time is to work remotely using electronic communications and to avoid in-person contact as directed. When that isn’t possible, you should follow the health and safety guidelines issued by national state and local health officials (posted on our COVID-19 webpage) concerning proper hygiene, social distancing, and other recommended protocols.
Also, you should frequently check for current court orders and notifications from the clerks of court. We have links to all of the courts’ and clerks’ websites under Member Resources at www.floridabar.org/covid19.
Member Resources Expansion
Daily updates are being made to the Bar’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage. It now includes sections on court announcements, Florida Bar announcements, and member and consumer resources. Please read more about what’s available in the Florida Bar News story. This is also a good time to follow the Bar’s social media for timely information.
May Board of Governors Meeting
The next scheduled Board of Governors meeting and its individual committee meetings are being transitioned from in-person events to virtual meetings on May 14-15. Board committee chairs will work with staff liaisons to identify pending matters that either need to be addressed or may be deferred.
Section Meetings, CLEs and Other Activities Through May
In the interest of the health and safety of members and staff, section and committee leaders are being asked to postpone, cancel, or transition to electronic or virtual activities any planned in-person events through May 31, 2020. The Florida Bar will continue to work with the section and committee leaders to assist in any rescheduling, cancellation, or moving activities to an electronic format.
In addition, please remember that deadlines for members with three-year cycle CLE reporting in February, March, April, and May, have been extended to August 31, 2020. Although many in-person CLEs have been cancelled, the 24/7 OnDemand CLE catalog is active and LegalFuel offers many free online CLEs that may be helpful.
In closing, please know how grateful I am for your dedication to your clients, our courts, and our Bar during these difficult times. We are all in this together, and together we can recover and restore our legal system to normal operations as soon as possible. Please feel free to contact myself or President-elect Dori Foster-Morales with any questions and above all stay safe.
John M. Stewart