Yesterday the Governor ordered all non-essential businesses to close or limit their operations to work that can be done by staff in their homes. Practicing law is not essential in Michigan. My understanding is that lawyers did make the cut in other states with similar orders. Not sure why our lawyer-governor left us out – but she did.
The exception to the “don’t go to work” rule are designees that a business can appoint. For businesses, like law offices, that don’t have animals or inventory, the designee can show up in the office for only one of two reasons: (1) to facilitate payroll or (2) to enable the remote staff to function. I would include collecting checks from the mail, depositing those checks, generating bills, and sending out bills as part and parcel of the payroll function. But that’s it.
The Governor’s Order is in place through April 13, 2020.
The Michigan Supreme Court also issued an order yesterday. That order says that so long as the state of emergency declared by the Governor is in place, all deadlines for commencing a probate or civil action, or objecting to an action, are tolled. For probate lawyers this would apply to, among other things, the time limits to contest a will or trust, or object to an accounting. The MSC order does not appear to extend the time to file an appeal.
Well before yesterday, local courts had issued orders setting limits on what types of cases will be heard in the courtroom, which types will be handled remotely, and which types will be deferred by this crisis. Most of the things we, as probate and elder law attorneys do, are being kicked.
The April 13 date that appears in the Governor’s order, and other early April dates that seem to be associated with most every COVID act, are curious. I’ve yet to talk to anyone who thinks things are going to change so dramatically in the next few weeks that these orders will be lifted. Almost universally, it seems, people believe these dates are simply placeholders and that these orders will be extended before the end date arrives. I agree.
The real question seems to be whether we are looking at May, June, July or later.
Yesterday I sat in the lobby of our East Lansing office and watched staff cart off their computers and printers, so that they can get set up in their homes. After 18 years of building it, I won’t lie, it was emotional. Above is a photo of the empty lobby.
I said to staff as they left: “See you on the other side.” But in my heart and mind, I wondered. There was a Noah’s ark quality to it that I am still processing.
In any event, I intend to practice law to the best I am allowed, and I intend to continue to write. Writing helps me feel normal. I hope you will continue to read.