Court Guidance and Closures  |  Governor’s Executive Orders  |  Free Lawyer Resources/Webinars  |  Free Legal Resources for the Public  |  SBOT Response Measures  |  SBOT Event Cancellations/Delays  |  Disciplinary System Cancellations/Delays  |  SBOT Committees/Sections  |  Texas Bar Exam  |  Emergency Legal Aid Fund  |  State/Federal Health Resources

State Bar of Texas Response to Coronavirus Pandemic

Person working on laptop

The thoughts of all State Bar of Texas leaders and employees are with everyone affected by the coronavirus pandemic. We are assessing the needs of Texas lawyers and the public and will continue to seek solutions to issues that arise in the coming months.

In an effort to minimize the potential spread of the virus, State Bar employees are working remotely, and State Bar offices are temporarily closed to visitors. We continue to provide essential services, but please bear with us if it takes us a little longer than usual to answer your calls or email messages.

Also, the State Bar of Texas is canceling, postponing, or going online with all live events in line with the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In this difficult time with so many of us, our friends, peers, and colleagues experiencing hardship caused by the pandemic, it’s imperative that we show kindness, compassion, and civility in our practice of law. Many of us have businesses to keep afloat, while others have family to care for, so it’s now more important than ever that we practice the courtesy and cooperation spelled out in the civility oath new Texas lawyers take and in the Texas Lawyer’s Creed we all follow.

We will continue to keep you informed of the State Bar’s response by email, social media, and this web page. You can also sign up for the State Bar’s Daily News Briefing at texasbar.com/dailynews to receive the latest legal news updates in your inbox every weekday.

Sincerely,
Randy Sorrels, President
Trey Apffel, Executive Director

Court Guidance and Closures

Supreme Court of Texas current emergency orders

Office of Court Administration Guidance

  • Court Procedures: The Office of Court Administration (OCA) has released updated guidance on court procedures for the coronavirus. You can read them here.

  • Live-Streaming Proceedings: The OCA is providing judges the ability to stream and host court proceedings via Zoom and YouTube.Only State of Texas Judges are eligible for access to the OCA-provided Zoom accounts. To request access or inquire about a previous request please contact: zoomhelp@txcourts.gov. For more information and an OCA list of resources including Zoom 101, setup help, meeting controls, and other tips, go here. For a list of court YouTube channels, click here.

  • Methods of Document Service: The OCA also advises that because of uncertainty regarding the feasibility of accessing documents delivered by mail, commercial delivery service, fax, or such other similar methods during the COVID-19 pandemic—particularly as shelter-in-place orders take effect and large numbers of people are working from home—email service should be used, whenever feasible, as an additional or alternative method of service. Courts are also advised to use email as an additional or alternative method of notifying parties of orders, judgments, and the like, when possible.

  • Chapter 81 Hearings: The Texas judiciary is preparing for the possibility of needing to hold hearings under Chapter 81, Health and Safety Code (quarantine). One of the provisions of the law requires the appointment of an attorney to represent the person who is subject to the quarantine if the person does not already have an attorney. To facilitate expediency, the Office of Court Administration is gathering the names and contact information of attorneys who are willing or interested in serving as appointed counsel in these cases. If you are interested and willing to serve as appointed counsel, please fill out this form.

Governor’s Executive Orders

  • On May 5, Governor Greg Abbott expanded the types of businesses allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity, including cosmetology and tanning businesses on May 8 and gyms and manufacturing facilities on May 18. Read the order here.

  • On April 27, Governor Abbott issued “The Governor’s Report to Open Texas,” which announces steps and guidelines for reopening businesses across Texas. Read the report here.

  • On April 17, Governor Abbott issued three executive orders that established a “Strike Force to Open Texas,” created a “retail-to-go” model to allow certain Texas businesses to reopen, and revised restrictions on hospital capacity. Read the governor’s news release and view the executive orders here. The governor’s office has created a special web page for the Strike Force. It can be found here.

  • In late March, Governor Abbott issued a series of executive orders relating to COVID-19 preparedness and mitigation. The orders limit public gatherings, mandate quarantines for travelers arriving from select other states, and address other matters. Executive order GA-14 implemented statewide essential services protocols. The protocols direct all Texans to minimize non-essential gatherings and in-person contact with people who are not in the same household. Read the order here. View the list of “essential services” as designated by the order here.

  • Find all of the governor’s executive orders here.

Free Lawyer Resources and Webinars

The State Bar is currently offering 6 hours of free CLE on the TexasBarCLE website, including recent webcasts related to the coronavirus:

  • Tax Stimulus Packages for Law Firms in the Wake of COVID-19 — MCLE Credit: .5 hours. Accreditation for this course expires on March, 31, 2021. Register here to watch the course for free.

  • Practicing Law in the Shadow of COVID-19 — MCLE Credit: 1 hour. Accreditation for this course expires on February, 28, 2021. You must complete the course and report your hours prior to this date to receive credit. Go here to watch the course.

  • Benefits and Challenges of Invoking Force Majeure Clauses in the Age of the Coronavirus — MCLE Credit: 1 hour. Accreditation for this course expires on February, 28, 2021. You must complete the course and report your hours prior to this date to receive credit. Go here to watch the course.

  • For attorneys in financial need who require additional CLE, TexasBarCLE scholarships are available for online classes. Remember, in Texas it is permissible for lawyers to complete all 15 hours of required continuing legal education through online learning. There is no in-person CLE requirement.

Free Bankruptcy in a Box Pro Bono CLE

The state’s three major legal aid programs — Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, Lone Star Legal Aid, and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid — are offering a free three-hour online CLE course designed to help attorneys learn about Chapter 7 bankruptcies while helping others. The only requirement to obtaining the “Bankruptcy in a Box Pro Bono” CLE for free is that each attorney must commit to take two Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases from one of the three legal aid providers during the next two years. The providers are expecting a surge of bankruptcy cases as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information and to sign up for the CLE, email probonodirector@lanwt.org.

Free Family Law Essentials CLE
Attorneys living within a 100-mile radius of Beaumont, Waco, Laredo, El Paso, Weatherford, or Lubbock and who are willing to pick up two pro bono cases from the state’s legal aid providers are eligible for a free 4.5-hour online CLE on “Family Law Essentials.”

The CLE—Family Law Essentials: Giving Back to Your Community—is made possible by the State Bar’s Legal Access Division, the Pro Bono Committee of the Family Law Section, Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, Lone Star Legal Aid, and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. It is offered free to attorneys who are willing to take two pro bono cases from one of the legal aid providers listed within one year of the date of the course. Those who take on four pro bono cases will get a complimentary one-year subscription to the Texas Family Law Practice Manual Online. The deadline to sign up and complete the course is June 30. For more information or to register, email Meredith Warren, program coordinator in the Legal Access Division, at meredith.warren@texasbar.com.

Zoom and Videoconferencing Resources

Please go here for a list of resources related to Zoom, YouTube, and videoconferencing.

Law Practice Management Resources

The State Bar of Texas Law Practice Management Committee has gathered experts from the legal community to host webinars and provide other valuable resources meant to aid attorneys in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. View the committee’s resources here.

Tech Bytes videos: The State Bar of Texas Computer and Technology worked with TexasBarCLE to create a series of short videos about technology-related topics, from legal ethics to cybersecurity.

Free Texas Law App Available

The State Bar of Texas Computer and Technology Section is offering its app designed to deliver Texas laws to users’ fingertips for free to Texas attorneys, paralegals, law students, and clerks through June 30. The app allows the user to download more than 62 civil codes and statutes to any device or web browser. It is keyword searchable and provides links to other code sections. Users also have the ability to print and create PDFs of the content.

App users are not required to join the Computer and Technology Section during this period to obtain access to the app. Use this questionnaire to obtain quick access. To learn more about the app and its content, go here

Prior to the free offer, the Computer and Technology Section created a video on how to install and use the app as part of its Tech Bytes video series.

Free Upgraded Case Research Service

re:SearchTX is providing free access to its premium features through the end of May. re:SearchTX is a web-based platform that allows registered users access to an online repository of court case information powered by the Texas e-filing database. The basic service is free to all registered users through a partnership with the state. The premium upgrade usually costs $30 a month. However, it is being extended for free to all registered users through May 31. After the complimentary period expires, users who prefer the premium service will need to enter a credit card and pay for it.

Complimentary Telehealth Subscription

The State Bar continues to seek out member benefits to help Texas lawyers. For a limited time, the Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange is offering all State Bar members a complimentary subscription to telehealth services, with only a $10-per-visit copay. Telehealth physicians assess symptoms remotely and determine the appropriate next steps for every patient they see.

Upon expiration of the complimentary period, on May 31, members who wish to continue their telehealth service will have the option to purchase an ongoing subscription for $9 per month but are under no obligation to do so. We recognize some members may have access to a similar service through their insurance or healthcare providers, but others may not. To learn more or enroll in the service, go here.

Relevant podcasts, Texas Bar Journal and bar blog articles

Estate Planning Execution

Notary Public via Videoconference: On April 8, Governor Greg Abbott suspended certain statutes concerning appearance before a notary public to execute a self-proved will, durable power of attorney, medical power of attorney, directive to physician, or an oath of an executor, administrator, or guardian. The suspensions allow for appearance before a notary public via videoconference, avoiding the need for in-person appearance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the notice of suspension of statues here.

Free Planning Forms for Emergency Responders: The Dallas Bar Association has created a webpage offering basic planning forms for police, fire, and medical personnel. Forms on the webpage include: planning forms for your signature; summaries of the forms; additional lawyer video explanations; and an article explaining how to successfully complete and execute the forms. The forms can be printed, completed, and signed to put affairs in order as needed. Go to dallasbar.org/COVIDFirstResponders for more information.

Free Access to Texas Guardianship Manual Online: Many attorneys are finding the need to put medical directives, powers of attorney, and other advance documents in place for clients. In order to assist with the increased need, TexasBarBooks is offering free access to the Texas Guardianship Manual Online. The manual includes forms and instructions for creating guardianships, advance directives and powers of attorney, and end-stage planning. To take advantage of it, email books@texasbar.com with your name, bar card number, and preferred email address. Complimentary access to the manual will end on May 31. Learn more here.

Estate Planning Resources: Bill Pargaman, a past chair of the Real Estate, Probate and Trust Law Section of the State Bar of Texas, has prepared a preliminary guide to alternative methods of execution of estate planning documents under existing law, which our members may find helpful. The guide is posted under "COVID-19 Resources" on this page

Family Law Resources

  • As a free service to members, the Family Law Section of the State Bar of Texas is providing access to new emergency procedure forms in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more and download them here.

  • The Supreme Court of Texas Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth and Families has published this resource letter of best practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Texas Bar Blog article: COVID-19 and family law: What every attorney needs to know, by Aimee Key and Lindsey Obenhaus

Well-being Resources

Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program professionals have created a web page full of resources to assist the many attorneys, law students, and families who may be isolated and struggling with a mental health issue or needing recovery support. Review the resources available at texasbar.com/tlaphelps/remote-well-being.

The Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program confidentially helps lawyers, judges, and law students who are concerned for themselves or a colleague with regard to general well-being, mental health, or substance use issues. TLAP provides support and referrals, peer assistance programs, and much more. TLAP can be reached 24 hours a day by calling 800-343-TLAP (8527) or texting TLAP to 555888. Additional resources are available at tlaphelps.org.

The ABA Coronavirus (COVID-19) Task Force

The American Bar Association has created this webpage intended as a national source of information about the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the delivery of legal services. It includes resources on remote service delivery, court access and rules changes, legal needs, public benefits programs, and pro bono mobilization. 

Paid Leave Regulations

The U.S. Department of Labor announced new action this week regarding how workers and employers can benefit from the protections and relief offered through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The department’s Wage and Hour Division posted a temporary rule issuing regulations pursuant to the new law, effective April 1. FFCRA will reimburse U.S. private employers that have fewer than 500 employees with tax credits for the cost of providing employees with paid leave taken for specified reasons related to COVID-19. Learn more here.

Free Legal Resources for the Public

The State Bar is proud to join in partnership with legal aid, access to justice, and volunteer organizations around the state to help Texans with civil legal problems resulting from the pandemic. Please see this page of legal resources: texasbar.com/covidhelp.

SBOT Response Measures

MCLE Deadlines Extended

We understand that the COVID-19 pandemic is making it difficult for some attorneys to complete their MCLE requirements on time. In response, the State Bar of Texas MCLE Department will grant an automatic 60-day extension to attorneys reaching their compliance deadlines in March, April, or May. Attorneys who missed compliance deadlines in January or February will receive an automatic 60-day extension to prevent the assessment of further fees. Attorneys now subject to suspension for failing to comply with MCLE requirements in November or December will have an additional one-month extension. Please contact the MCLE Department at 800-204-2222, ext. 1806, or mcle@texasbar.com if you have questions about the extensions or MCLE compliance requirements.

Adjustments to State Bar Operations 

The State Bar of Texas has taken the following steps out of our commitment to keep the health and safety of our members, employees, and the general public at the forefront of our actions in this rapidly changing situation: 

  • In an effort to minimize the potential spread of the coronavirus, State Bar employees are now working remotely, and State Bar offices are temporarily closed to visitors. We continue to provide essential services, but please bear with us if it takes us a little longer than usual to answer your calls or email messages.

  • All State Bar live events scheduled through at least May 10—including TexasBarCLE live courses—have been canceled, postponed, or changed to online meetings in an effort to minimize the potential spread of the coronavirus. Registrants will be contacted directly about any postponed events.

  • TexasBarCLE in-person courses scheduled for May 11 through June 30 have been converted to a webcast format. All TexasBarCLE in-person courses beyond June 30 are still on the schedule at this time, but we are evaluating their status daily and will take additional steps as needed.

  • State Bar committees have been instructed to meet only by teleconference or videoconference.

  • State Bar sections are strongly encouraged to hold meetings remotely. We recommend that sections avoid air travel and out-of-state travel where possible, and that they consider canceling events where air travel or out-of-state or international travel are involved.

  • Enhanced disinfection of common areas in the Texas Law Center and regional offices continues to occur.

  • Non-essential business travel by State Bar staff is not allowed.

The State Bar’s leadership team is closely following developments related to the coronavirus, including government travel guidelines and health advisories, and will notify members of additional disruptions to State Bar services or events.

SBOT Event Cancellations and Delays

  • After careful consideration, the State Bar of Texas has canceled the 2020 Annual Meeting scheduled for June 25-26 in Dallas. The State Bar will provide full refunds to all registrants. Meeting registrations and hotel reservations will be canceled automatically; no action by registrants is required. While the COVID-19 pandemic prevents us from holding an in-person Annual Meeting this year, the State Bar is working to offer key features of the meeting in a virtual format, including the swearing in of Larry McDougal as the new State Bar president, a keynote address, and some of the planned CLE programs. Information on how to register for this online event will be announced soon.

  • All State Bar of Texas live events scheduled through at least May 10—including TexasBarCLE live courses—have been canceled, postponed, or changed to online meetings in an effort to minimize the potential spread of the coronavirus. Registrants will be contacted directly about any postponed events.

  • TexasBarCLE in-person courses scheduled for May 11 through June 30 have been converted to a webcast format. All TexasBarCLE in-person courses beyond June 30 are still on the schedule at this time, but we are evaluating their status daily and will take additional steps as needed.

The State Bar’s leadership team is closely following developments related to the coronavirus, including government travel guidelines and health advisories, and will notify members of additional disruptions to State Bar services or events.

Disciplinary System Cancellations and Delays

  • Pursuant to the Supreme Court of Texas’ 12th Emergency Order, all deadlines pertaining to the attorney disciplinary system that would have expired between March 13 and June 1 have been extended to July 15. Unless and until extended, this Emergency Order expires on June 1, 2020; deadlines that fall after June 1 are not tolled.

  • All evidentiary hearings scheduled through June 1 have been postponed in an effort to minimize the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus. Parties to these proceedings, their counsel, witnesses, and panel members will be contacted directly by staff at the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel about next steps with regard to these evidentiary hearings.

  • Investigatory hearings are being conducted via video/teleconferencing across the state. These hearings will continue to be scheduled and held remotely by agreement of the parties until such time as staff at the State Bar of Texas is no longer required to work remotely. Upon release to return to work in the State Bar of Texas offices, the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel will evaluate the viability of conducting in-person investigatory hearings and evidentiary hearings based on the best guidance on COVID-19 safety measures available to the State Bar and the Supreme Court of Texas at that time. In the event that safety concerns continue to preclude in-person hearings, the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel will schedule and hold investigatory and evidentiary hearings remotely through available video/teleconferencing technology in lieu of in-person hearings.

  • As courts across Texas resume conducting proceedings via video/teleconferencing technology, parties and their counsel with trial settings are encouraged to contact the trial attorney in the Regional Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel handling their case to determine next steps.

SBOT Committees and Sections

  • State Bar committees have been instructed to meet only by teleconference or videoconference until further notice.

  • State Bar sections are strongly encouraged to hold meetings remotely. We recommend that sections avoid air travel and out-of-state travel where possible, and that they consider canceling events where air travel or out-of-state or international travel are involved.

Texas Bar Exam

The Texas bar examination set for July will continue as scheduled, but an additional testing date also will be offered in September, according to the Texas Supreme Court’s 13th Emergency Order, issued April 29.

The second testing date allows the Texas Board of Law Examiners to employ social distancing and other health considerations that will limit by about half the number of graduates who normally take the exam in July, according to the court.

The order sets out that some applicants may no longer wish to take the July exam due to personal health considerations and makes provisions for them to take the September examination or postpone to another future date in Texas. The alternative testing dates will be September 9 through 11, location to be determined. Applicants who choose to take the July exam will be allowed to do so based on their registration date.

The order also adopts revised rules to govern who can practice law under supervision while waiting to take the exam.

Read the full order here.

Emergency Legal Aid Fund

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation has created an emergency legal aid fund designed to support the civil legal needs of Texans affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The foundation reports that traditional revenue sources for legal aid have dropped dramatically and officials believe a spike in the number of Texans eligible for services will mean the need will become even greater.

To learn more about the fund and donate, go here.

State and federal health resources

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