We are writing to share important updates from the week related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope this message finds you and your loved ones safe and well.
Civility in the Practice of Law
In this difficult time with so many of us, our friends, peers, and colleagues experiencing hardship caused by the pandemic, it’s imperative that we show kindness, compassion, and civility in our practice of law. Many of us have businesses to keep afloat, while many also have family to care for, so it’s now more important than ever that we practice the courtesy and cooperation spelled out in the civility oath new Texas lawyers take and in the Texas Lawyer’s Creed we all follow.
Supreme Court’s Eighth Emergency Order
The Supreme Court of Texas issued its Eighth Emergency Order on April 1. The order amends the First Emergency Order to delay all service and statute-of-limitations deadlines in civil cases from March 13 until June 1. The order does not affect deadlines for filing appeals or other appellate proceedings, but the order notes that requests for any such relief from those deadlines should be “generously granted” by the particular court.
Governor’s Executive Order GA-14 and OCA Guidance
On March 31, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order implementing statewide essential services protocols extending through April 30. The protocols direct all Texans to minimize non-essential gatherings and in-person contact with people who are not in the same household. On April 2, the Office of Court Administration issued a revised Travel Authorization letter noting that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has identified “workers supporting the operations of the judicial system” as essential workers. As officers of the courts, lawyers, as well as their necessary staff, support the operations of the judicial system and are therefore essential workers. The letter also notes that consistent with Gov. Abbott’s executive order requiring even essential services to be provided through remote telework unless they cannot be provided remotely, lawyers should lead by example by working in ways that encourage remote telework and social distancing. The letter replaces the OCA travel authorization issued March 26. Read the full letter here.
Federal Stimulus Package and Small Law Firms
The recently passed CARES Act, a $2 trillion stimulus package, provides access to $349 billion in capital to small law firms and businesses, much of which can be forgiven if handled correctly. Houston-based solo firm owner Philip Silberman wrote How small law firms in Texas can benefit from the $2T stimulus package for the May issue of the Texas Bar Journal, but you can read it now on the Texas Bar Blog.
Paid Leave Regulations
The U.S. Department of Labor announced new action this week regarding how workers and employers can benefit from the protections and relief offered through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The department’s Wage and Hour Division posted a temporary rule issuing regulations pursuant to the new law, effective April 1. FFCRA will reimburse U.S. private employers that have fewer than 500 employees with tax credits for the cost of providing employees with paid leave taken for specified reasons related to COVID-19. Learn more here.
Complimentary Telehealth Subscription
The State Bar continues to seek out member benefits to help Texas lawyers. For a limited time, the Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange is offering all State Bar members a complimentary subscription to telehealth services, with only a $10-per-visit copay. Telehealth physicians assess symptoms remotely and determine the appropriate next steps for every patient they see. Upon expiration of the complimentary period, on May 31, members who wish to continue their telehealth service will have the option to purchase an ongoing subscription for $9 per month but are under no obligation to do so. We recognize some members may have access to a similar service through their insurance or healthcare providers, but others may not. To learn more or enroll in the service, go here.
Legal Aid Assistance
The State Bar is proud to join in partnership with 13 legal aid, access to justice, and volunteer organizations around the state help low-income Texans with civil legal problems resulting from the pandemic. The State Bar is actively promoting its statewide disaster legal assistance hotline—800-504-7030. The hotline connects callers with legal aid providers in their area to seek guidance on matters such as bankruptcy and debt-collection; unemployment applications and appeals; mortgage or foreclosure issues; landlord-tenant problems; and others. Read the news release on the partnership here.
Take Care of Yourselves
Finally, and most importantly, remember to take care of yourselves! Practicing law is stressful even in normal times. We invite you to take advantage of the well-being resources for remote living collected by the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program and to join us at noon CDT on April 8 and April 15 as part of TLAP’s Remote Well-Being Wednesdays series via Zoom.
The State Bar’s COVID-19 resource page at texasbar.com/coronavirus is updated daily, so remember to check there for updates throughout the week.
Randy Sorrels, President
Trey Apffel, Executive Director