As counties across the state begin to reopen some businesses and loosen some restrictions, Pennsylvania Bar Association President David E. Schwager on May 13, 2020, issued the following guidance and reminders of resources for association members:
At the PBA, we have been advocating on our members’ behalf so that all of us can return safely to our offices and devote our full attention to our clients. We recognize that many businesses, including law firms, are facing difficult financial circumstances and frustrations, and that many clients have a serious need for legal services that cannot be fully satisfied in the current environment.
To date, however, the orders from Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine do not permit many law offices to re-open and to resume “normal” operations. Lawyers are to use their offices under limited circumstances (even those counties recently updated to the “yellow phase” of business operations are advised to continue use of telework practices whenever possible) and all lawyers are to follow health and safety guidelines.
On April 13, 2020, the governor’s March 19 executive order closing the physical operations of all non-life-sustaining businesses to slow the spread of COVID-19 was upheld by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. In addition, on May 7, 2020, the governor’s order was upheld when the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition for an emergency stay of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision.
The Rules of Professional Conduct include an obligation to comply with court or other governmental orders, particularly if the failure to do so causes actual harm, or puts clients, staff or others at risk of harm. Because of the potential that lawyers may be subject to discipline under Pa.R.P.C. 8.4 for violating an order, we urge our members to act consistently with the orders of the Governor and the Secretary of Health, with the hope that we all will be able to return safely to our offices soon.
In the meantime, as a helpful guide to lawyers, we continue to encourage members to consult the formal opinion of the PBA Committee on Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility that specifically details lawyers’ ethical obligations while working remotely. This opinion has been cited by the legal press across the country as a helpful tool to lawyers adjusting to the COVID-19 crisis.
Other helpful information can be found in the online PBA COVID-19 Resources Guide. A project of the PBA COVID-19 Task Force, the guide is routinely updated with links to critical information and insightful tips. Be sure to check the recently added section on reopening guidance for businesses.