As we continue to watch the rapidly evolving situation regarding the worldwide spread of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), we must remember that knowledge is power, and preparation is always better than panic. We’ve talked about the importance of knowing the facts about the disease and the best ways to keep yourself, your family and your employees safe. Now let’s discuss some of the possible ramifications the Coronavirus could have for your law firm.
Changing How You Do Business
The good news is that for the most part, your clients will still need your legal services regardless of the health crisis surrounding them. However, we may need to find different ways to address their needs, especially in the event of a quarantine or other disruption. Thanks to modern technology, we have more tools at our disposal today than law firms had the last time the world saw an illness scare of this magnitude. Some possible ways you can continue to serve your clients if a quarantine occurs:
- Schedule consultations by phone or video chat, rather than in-person meetings. Most of your clients likely have Internet access and would appreciate the opportunity to confer with you without having to leave the office.
- Transfer and sign documents digitally. DocuSign might be an excellent investment at this time if you don’t already have it.
- Conferences, mediations and negotiations can also be handled by video if necessary.
- If you must be in court, take all necessary precautions. Wash hands frequently, avoid close contact with those who are ill, etc.
- Allow your team to work from home when possible. Much of your administrative work can be done through telecommuting, even with a mandatory quarantine restriction in place.
Possible New Legal Challenges
For most of us, if not all, Coronavirus represents the first significant global health crisis in our lifetimes—and it’s happening in an age where technology, science, and travel advances have made our world look much different than the last time we saw a serious epidemic like this (e.g., the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918). Depending on your area of practice, don’t be surprised if the Coronavirus eventually causes you to address a whole new realm of legal questions. A couple of theoretical examples:
· A business or manufacturing plant threatens to fire its employees for not coming into work. As a result, people come to work sick, and the Coronavirus spreads across the workforce, resulting in lost wages, and in some cases, death. Can the employer be legally held liable for personal injury, negligence, endangerment and/or wrongful death?
· A person infected with the Coronavirus deliberately exposes someone else to the disease, and that other person gets sick. Uninsured or underinsured, the victim survives but is now strapped with huge medical bills and lost wages. Or worse—the victim dies. Can the perpetrator now be charged with criminal assault—or in the case of death, murder? Can he/she be held legally liable for the financial losses?
While the Coronavirus poses enough of a threat to cause concern, you can weather any possible disruptions with a bit of preparation. Most importantly, remember your priorities, especially if you happen to fall ill. Your business is not more important than your life—or the lives of your employees. Take care of yourself and your team, and get well. You can always rebuild a business, but you only have one life.