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COVID-19 – What Social Distancing Means for the Profession

Public health agencies have recommended a number of measures to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19, including social distancing. Notwithstanding the fact that there are some legislative requirements that require in-person contact with clients, we are recommending that all members practice social distancing.

More particularly, lawyers should consider conducting routine meetings with clients by phone or using video-conferencing options such as Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and other platforms in order to comply with public health recommendations regarding social distancing. Where an in-person meeting is required, please continue to engage social distancing techniques including, avoiding common greetings (including handshakes) and keeping a distance of two (2) meters from others.

Lawyers should be mindful of their obligations to communicate effectively with clients in selecting an alternative means of communication:

Commentary [3] to Rule 3.2-1 of the Code of Professional Conduct provides that [3] A lawyer has a duty to communicate effectively with the client. What is effective will vary depending on the nature of the retainer, the needs and sophistication of the client and the need for the client to make fully informed decisions and provide instructions.

If lawyers are planning to change the means by which they communicate with clients, they should ensure that clients are made aware as soon as practicable.

We again remind you that the Insurance Programme has issued Loss Prevention Tips that may be helpful during this time:

Homewood Health has also provided the attached document outlining tips and facts for those who find themselves working from home as a precautionary measure to limit the potential spread of COVID-19.

The Law Society has received several inquiries from the membership relating to:

  1. The requirement to be in the physical presence of a client to commission an oath (i.e. an Affidavit) or witness a Will.
  2. How, if at all, will limitation periods outlined in Provincial Legislation, including the Limitations Act, be affected by COVID-19?
  3. Clarification for what is deemed urgent and non-urgent in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Notice to the Profession and General Public as well as the protocol for the Supreme Court’s drop box.
  4. Who is presently designated to accept service of documents on behalf of the Provincial Government?

The Law Society has already reached out to the Department of Justice and Public Safety for direction on some of these issues and is in the process of reaching out to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador on others.

We will provide you with updates if and when they become available.