Disciplinary Commission offers attorneys ethical tips during COVID-19 crisis

Hoosier attorneys have been offered some ethical tips from the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission as lawyers statewide continue working remotely during the “new normal” caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Changes to the typical way of working and living will undoubtedly affect the way lawyers practice law, according to a Thursday letter from the commission.

The letter offers several tips on how to remain in compliance with the Indiana Professional Rules of Conduct under the current circumstances, including:

• Keeping clients informed of what’s happening; informing them that the courts are operating under emergency conditions and that their case might not be a current priority for the court; crafting a plan and timeline for the client on how you as their attorney will address their case when normalcy returns. Likewise, be reacquainted with Professional Conduct Rules 1.3 and 1.4.

• Be mindful of the duty of confidentiality, as a work-at-home environment can create confidentiality voids with other family members. Ask whether the security of your electronic system is as robust at home as at the office. Be reacquainted with Prof. Cond. R. 1.6 and 1.15.

• Ask whether you have a succession plan in place if you become sick during the pandemic. Solo practitioners can establish an attorney surrogate in the Indiana Courts Portal. The surrogate process is explained in Admission and Discipline Rule 23, Section 27. If attorneys have to withdraw from representation, be reacquainted with Prof. Cond. R. 1.16(a) and (d).

• Ask whether your office mail is being tended to while your office is closed. Security, confidentiality, competency and diligence can all be compromised if mail is ignored. Develop a plan for mail pick-up and, if possible, have the mail scanned from the office to the attorney’s home location.

• Do not be sloppy with signatures, affirmations, and notary seals. Authentic signature requirements are not relaxed due to the pandemic. See executive order 20-15, which eases government operations, including permitting electronic notary services to remotely review and approve documents. Also see the Supreme Court order  that suspends language that might prohibit notaries and others from administering oaths to witnesses by remote video.

• Consider whether you can e-file from home. Attorneys should be familiarized with the emergency rules of their local court and the appellate courts as they apply to existing filing deadlines. Be reacquainted with Prof. Cond. R. 1.1 and its official comment 6.

“The Supreme Court has a dedicated website to COVID-19 operations and procedures. You can access emergency orders under Administrative Rule 17 that are specific to your county, as well as statewide emergency orders from the Supreme Court that impact appellate practice,” the letter states.

Additionally, attorneys who have an ethics inquiry can access the disciplinary commission’s informal guidance webpage.

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