We are living in unprecedented times. Amidst the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, much of the world has come to a standstill. And yet, people are still getting injured at work, at home and elsewhere every day. When they do, they are often confused about what steps to take next in this chaotic and confusing time.
For example, one question we here at Enjuris have been wondering is: Are law firms considered essential businesses?
To get to the bottom of this question and more — and to help better understand how coronavirus shutdowns are impacting the legal sector and injury plaintiffs in various states — we asked each of our Enjuris Premier Attorney Members a few questions about how their team and their clients are coping during the pandemic.
Here’s what Colorado workers’ compensation and personal injury attorney Mack Babcock of The Babcock Law Firm had to say.
Q: Are law firms and legal services considered “essential businesses” in Colorado?
A: Colorado’s governor, Jared Polis, and the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment have issued a Public Health Order requiring Coloradans to stay at home. However, the Order indicates that “critical businesses” are exempt, subject to some limitations.
The Order outlines 13 categories of critical businesses. One of those categories — Financial and Professional Institutions — explicitly states that legal services are exempt from the Order. As such, law firms may continue operating in the state of Colorado.
However, even critical businesses are to comply with social distancing requirements at all times. In Colorado, those requirements are as follows:
- Maintain at least a 6-foot distance from other individuals,
- Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds as frequently as possible, or use hand sanitizer,
- Cover coughs or sneezes using a sleeve or elbow, rather than hands,
- Clean high-touch surfaces regularly, and
- Refrain from shaking hands.
The Order also requires critical business to adopt work-from-home or telework policies for any operations that can be done remotely, and implement any other strategies available to create more distance between workers as they carry out the critical functions of their position.
A: Our firm has quickly and efficiently responded to all city and state directives during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, we took measures to protect our staff and clients before any formal directives had been put into place by local or state government.
In early March, we began encouraging everyone in the office to keep as much distance between one another as possible, wash hands regularly, and avoid in-person meetings with current and prospective clients.
Then, as of March 17, 2020, we made the decision to move the majority of our team to work exclusively from home. At this point, only the practice manager and attorneys enter the office in order to do essential tasks such as open mail and write checks — and even then they do so as infrequently as possible and on a staggered schedule. Moreover, all meetings with current and prospective clients are being done remotely, either over the phone or through a video conferencing service.
Q: What top concerns and questions do your clients have right now regarding their case?
A: We are happy to report that the majority of our clients’ cases have been unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting shutdowns. The Colorado Division of Workers’ Compensation and Office of Administrative Courts have continued to operate, meaning that hearings and prehearing conferences are still being conducted, and settlements are being approved (as all settlements in Colorado must be approved by the Director of the Division of Workers’ Compensation or an administrative law judge).
Moreover, most insurance companies and defense firms have moved to remote work environments similar to ours, meaning that the other elements of our practice are largely unaffected by the pandemic.
Aside from seeking general reassurance that the courts and our office are still operational, the most common questions we receive from our clients have to do with seeking medical care. We have a few clients who have been unable to move forward with elective surgeries, while others have reached out to request that non-imperative treatments or physical exams be rescheduled for a later date or completed via telemedicine.
Like law firms, hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities are exempt from the Public Health Order requiring Coloradans to stay at home, but we are working with those facilities and our clients to continue to limit exposure as much as possible.
Q: What would you like prospective clients to know during this crisis?
A: We want our current and prospective clients to rest assured that we remain open for business and that both our office and the courts are fully operational so that we may continue to serve them and advocate on their behalf. Even before this pandemic, our office had the technology necessary for attorneys and staff to work remotely, so we have been able to respond to this crisis quickly and efficiently.
Q: What’s the best way for people to reach you during this time?
A: We utilize a Voice Over Internet Protocol (“VOIP”) phone system, which allows our paralegals and attorneys to send and receive calls on their cell phones through the firm’s standard number. In fact, when we take or receive a call on our cell phones, the other party on the call has no way of knowing that we are not in our offices (unless they hear a dog bark or a baby cry in the background).
As always, we are also receiving faxes and electronic mail communications, and we have the ability to send and receive text messages through the firm’s standard telephone number.