It is amazing what difference a week can make in handling an elder law practice or any business for that matter. As I am sitting here in my home operating from a “remote location,” I consider how different the world can be from what we have been used to. In the past week several orders have proceeded from state and local governments consistent with measures taken and being taken throughout the United States, and throughout the world, for that matter to contain the extremely contagious Covid-19 virus. Most of them concern social distancing, a newly recognized term for the need to separate from others to avoid contagion. Both service businesses and production are hit but, since many quality service businesses have traditionally prided themselves on close contact with clients, the idea of distance may seem difficult, but necessary, to assimilate.
It began with sanitizing offices, advising clients and staff to remain at a distance, advising anyone who feels sick not to come to the office (although the virus can be spread by subjects who do not yet feel sick), and limiting in-person appointments. As matters became more serious and urgent, the Governor’s office designated counties including those where I practice in Philadelphia suburbs and also Allegheny County (Pittsburgh area) for further restrictions. There have been several orders since the first and, as of this writing, attorneys seem basically to be conducting their businesses from home or other “remote locations” while clients are essentially housebound except for life-sustaining activities.
In case it may seem like an extended holiday to conduct business from home, actual experience could put this idea to the test. As one example, today I began the day with a 7:30 am teleconference/Zoom call, followed by two more teleconferences and will end the day with a 7:00 pm Zoom call which will probably extend into the night. I am grateful there are alternatives today, some of them pieced together in haste. I am also grateful for my staff including my daughter who is our Notary close at hand and associate attorney, Jennifer Feld, Esq. also operating at a remote location. I have used remote teleconferencing and videoconferencing before but not as the primary method of communicating with clients. That is slated to change certainly for now.
I worry about clients in nursing homes. Fear and loneliness can infect anyone and most especially when not feeling well to begin with. This is a time for creativity to find ways to reach out and help.
A question that elder law attorneys have asked themselves in multiple email messages and through our Pennsylvania state and our national organization is are we an “essential business?” Another is are we “life sustaining?” These are questions we will likely continue to ask. Some of what we do can fit those categories. If a vulnerable client needs placement or could be denied critical care an elder law attorney could be contacted.
Notarizations are an especially tricky issue. The person may need a power of attorney or health care power of attorney now more than ever but the document needs to be witnessed by unbiased individuals and executed in the presence of a notary. States and organizations are looking at their notary rules and wondering how to handle them in a crisis where direct contact might not be possible.
There have been emergency orders from the Courts and amended emergency orders. Trial and meeting dates have been changed. We will work through the details but things have been pulling together sooner than expected.
One of my favorite bloggers is Michael Kitces, in the financial services field. Michael today authored a post titled “Pivoting Quickly To A ‘Work From Home’ Model: What Advisory Firms Need To Know.” [email protected]. In it he says “With the coronavirus pandemic triggering widespread quarantines and social distancing, many advisory firms are implementing measures to set up their operations as a Work-From-Home (WFH) environment. While this allows everyone in the business to do their part preventing the spread of disease, it also poses challenges for these firms of simply staying operational and providing seamless customer service.” This is what it is – a challenge – and one of many we can and will handle together.
Esquire, Colliton Law Associates, P.C. Janet Colliton has practiced law for over 38 years, 37 of them in Chester County, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her practice, Colliton Law Associates, PC, is limited to elder law, Medicaid, including advice, applications and appeals, and other benefits planning including Veterans benefits, life care and special needs planning, guardianships, retirement, and estate planning and administration.