Editor’s Note: State Bar of Texas President Randy Sorrels and Executive Director Trey Apffel sent the following message to members on Friday.
We hope this message finds you safe and well. We are writing to share the latest updates related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Stay Home, Stay Safe” Orders and Travel Authorization for Lawyers
Many Texas cities and counties have issued “stay home, stay safe” orders in response to the pandemic. The State Bar is collecting the orders here as a service to members and the public. It’s important to note that these orders generally provide exceptions for essential services, including the provision of legal services.
To provide guidance on these orders, the Office of Court Administration (OCA) issued a Travel Authorization letter on March 26 for attorneys and staff. It states that as the need for legal services increases during the pandemic, Texas lawyers should lead by example with telework, alternatives to in-person meetings, and social distancing, but that they also must be permitted to practice law during local stay-at-home orders and other restrictions on travel and business practices—as long as every effort is made to avoid risks to the public health. Read the letter here. The OCA released a similar travel authorization letter for judges, clerks, and their staff. Read that letter here.
To read all of the court operations guidance released by the OCA on Thursday, click here.
Videoconference Proceedings and Resources
The OCA is providing judges the ability to stream and host court proceedings via Zoom and YouTube. Only State of Texas judges are eligible for access to the OCA-provided Zoom accounts. To request access or inquire about a previous request please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information and an OCA list of resources including Zoom 101, setup help, meeting controls, and other tips, go here. For a list of court YouTube channels, click here.
Alternative Service by Email
The OCA also advises that because of uncertainty regarding the feasibility of accessing documents delivered by mail, commercial delivery service, fax, or such other similar methods during the COVID-19 pandemic—particularly as shelter-in-place orders take effect and large numbers of people are working from home—email service should be used, whenever feasible, as an additional or alternative method of service. Courts are also advised to use email as an additional or alternative method of notifying parties of orders, judgments, and the like, when possible.
Free CLE and MCLE Deadline Extensions
The State Bar is currently offering 5.5 hours of free CLE on the TexasBarCLE website, including two recent webcasts related to the coronavirus: “Practicing Law in the Shadow of COVID-19” and “Benefits and Challenges of Invoking Force Majeure Clauses in the Age of the Coronavirus.” For attorneys in financial need who require additional CLE, TexasBarCLE scholarships are available for online classes. Remember, in Texas it is permissible for lawyers to complete all 15 hours of required continuing legal education through online learning. There is no in-person CLE requirement.
Also, as we previously reported, the State Bar has granted automatic 60-day extensions to attorneys reaching their MCLE compliance deadlines in March, April, or May. Attorneys who missed compliance deadlines in January or February received an automatic 60-day extension to prevent the assessment of further fees. Attorneys subject to suspension for failing to comply with MCLE requirements in November or December received an additional one-month extension. Please contact the MCLE Department at 800-204-2222, ext. 1806, or email@example.com if you have questions about the extensions or MCLE compliance requirements.
State Bar Operations Continue Remotely
We are pleased to report that the State Bar is fully operational with the exception of in-person meetings, which have been canceled, postponed, or moved online through at least May 10. In an effort to minimize the potential spread of the coronavirus, all State Bar employees are now working remotely, while State Bar offices remain closed. The April 7 State Bar budget public hearing and April 17 Board of Directors meeting will be held by videoconference pursuant to Gov. Greg Abbott’s March 16 order temporarily suspending certain open meetings provisions. These will remain open meetings with public participation welcome.
Student Education Resources
We know many of you are not only trying to practice law remotely, but you’re also trying to educate your children while their schools are closed. For anyone looking for resources to use, we suggest the Texas Law-Related Education website at texaslre.org. Free resources are available for all grade levels.
The Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program professionals have created a webpage full of resources to assist the attorneys, law students, and families who may be isolated and struggling with a mental health issue or needing recovery support. You can review the resources at texasbar.com/tlaphelps/remote-well-being.
The State Bar of Texas is here to help ensure the administration of the legal system continues and that Texas lawyers have the tools and guidance they need to carry on their practices throughout this crisis. We will continue to post the latest updates online at texasbar.com/coronavirus. As always, your questions, comments, and ideas are welcome.
Randy Sorrels, President
Trey Apffel, Executive Director