The Ethics of Social Distancing: Attorney-Client Communication in the Era of Coronavirus

By: George S. Mahaffey | 3.30.20 | Media

With many of us practicing social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, in-person meetings are rare. Attorneys, who are increasingly faced with foregoing client visits, are still obligated to provide status updates on their clients' cases. This can sometimes be a challenge during normal conditions, but what happens during a pandemic? In this article, we examine the ethical obligations and prudent responses for Maryland lawyers in particular. 

Visit our  COVID-19  Resource PageMaryland Rule 19-301.4 governs attorney-client communications and states that, among other items, an attorney "shall…keep the client reasonably informed about the status" of his or her case. The rationale for the rule is that the attorney needs to keep the client abreast of developments in the case in order to allow him/her to make "informed decisions regarding the representation."  

With the coronavirus and social distancing in full swing, attorneys still need to be mindful of their ethical obligations under the pertinent rules, including Rule 19-301.4. With an inability to conduct in-person meetings, attorneys may have to implement new methods of communication, including Skype and Zoom (in addition to the usual phone calls, emails, and text messages). Prudent attorneys will create a "coronavirus log" of any Skype or Zoom sessions (which details date, length, and substance of each session) as a means to demonstrate that the communications actually took place. This may be a vital piece of evidence in the event that any client complains about the representation in the future. 

In addition, Maryland courts have issued a number of orders as a result of the coronavirus. Prudent attorneys will forward these orders to their clients and detail how the orders might impact the status of their case (while keeping copies of all communications, of course).

While everyone hopes the corner will soon be turned on the pandemic, social distancing does not do away with the requirement to keep clients informed about the status of their respective cases. 

If you have questions about your ethical obligations as an attorney, we can help. Contact the author, George Mahaffey, for assistance in addressing your concerns.