The Remote Practice of Law

Wooden mallet on laptop keyboard

{Read in 6 Minutes} What an interesting time to be a New Yorker! It has certainly been an interesting several months since the COVID-19 public health emergency started. Between having to completely shut down our physical office for three months and exclusively operating virtually, and then working with Courts that are coming back up to speed, but still have a hybrid mixture of in-person and virtual appearances — there have been a lot of changes in the practice of law in New York in a very short period of time.

Lawyers are cranky! We like things done a certain way and usually, the way things have been done for the past 600 years. And lawyers, while innovative, can either be the first or the last to start engaging in new practices that keep up with changing times and modern technology.

So, what is different? Well, there are a couple of things.

Attorney/Client Interactions

As a Trust and Estates attorney, one of my most favorite things in the world is meeting with people. Why? Because I get to be involved in a very important facet of their lives, even if it’s for a limited time. Whether I’m helping someone write a Will, or helping someone handle the Estate of a recently deceased family member, or helping have a guardian appointed for a minor child, clients and prospective clients often come to me with concerns or problems and I get to — for a very brief time — play superhero and if I’m lucky, address their concerns and solve their problems. A very wise mentor of mine once told me that the best part of being a Trust and Estates attorney is bringing order to chaos. And that is by far, my favorite thing to do every single day.

Since New York went on pause in March 2020, I have had just as many client appointments — perhaps even more — than this time last year. However, if I see one client a week in-person, it’s a lot. When a prospective client contacts our office, we always are happy to schedule a time to meet with them. However, 90+% of these meetings will happen virtually, either by Zoom or FaceTime or by telephone.

There are some times that people would prefer to see me live and in person. These may be people who:

•aren’t familiar with the technological alternatives,

•simply don’t want to deal with the technology involved in this process, or

•feel that for such an intimately important thing, they would rather see me live.

In that case, I’m happy to see them in the office (YES, with face masks, a lot of social distancing, and temperature checks that my office building requires to enter) or perhaps somewhere in the middle. I have been able to visit some clients in an open public space like a public park near their home, and sit on benches and discuss matters with them. Like I always say, the law is a customer service industry, and anything that I can do to help meet my clients’ needs in a safe way during the current public health emergency, I’m happy to do. 

Practicing Before the Courts

A lot has changed with the way we practice before the Courts. While many of the Courts here in New York were initially closed, they have slowly started reopening for limited purposes among the five boroughs. The last few Courts that still didn’t have e-filing available have now fully embraced that technology. Courts have started having virtual hearings. They have started issuing Citations, and also are dealing with the everyday business of running a Court, including issuing Letters to Executors and Administrators.

It will be interesting to see if this is a temporary measure, i.e., if the Court is simply doing this because in-person and traditional appearances are not entirely safe right now, or if the Court will continue having this as an option, allowing perhaps more people to participate in the judicial process without having travel expenses if they are located outside the State of New York. Time will tell.

So, in summary, although there have been some changes in the way we practice law, the practice of law will, of course, go on. I can speak for myself saying that we are still in touch with clients and seeing them, albeit virtually. Speaking for my fellow attorneys, they have all adopted similar sorts of practices within their own law firms. Courts are open and operating and all have plans to get up to speed as quickly as possible. The essential service that Trust and Estates attorneys, clients, and Courts provide will continue to go on as New York returns to its status as a thriving metropolis. 

For more information on this topic, please contact me.

Thomas Sciacca

 

Thomas Sciacca

www.sciaccalaw.com
Tom@SciaccaLaw.com
(212) 495-0317