Free Legal Assistance Available to Midland-Area Flood Victims

image from www.michbar.orgA toll-free legal aid hotline is now available to victims of Michigan’s recently declared flood emergency in Midland, Arenac, Iosco, Saginaw, and Gladwin Counties. The service, which allows callers to request the assistance of a lawyer to aid in flood-related matters, is a partnership between the State Bar of Michigan, the State Bar of Michigan Young Lawyers Section, Lakeshore Legal Aid, Legal Services of Eastern Michigan, and private law firms who are volunteering services including Dykema, Bodman, Honigman, and Miller Canfield.

Flood victims facing legal issues who are unable to afford a lawyer may call 1 (866) 418-8315 between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. on Friday, to request assistance. When connected to the hotline, callers should identify that they are seeking disaster-related legal assistance, brief details of the assistance needed, and in which county they are located. Individuals who qualify for assistance will be matched with Michigan lawyers who have volunteered to provide free legal assistance. Legal consultations will be scheduled for a mutually agreeable time following the initial call-in and matching process.

The type of legal assistance available includes:

  • Assistance with securing possible FEMA and other government benefits available to disaster victims
  • Assistance with life, medical, and property insurance claims
  • Help with home repair contracts and contractors
  • Replacement of wills and other important legal documents destroyed in the disaster
  • Assistance in consumer protection matters, remedies, and procedures
  • Counseling on mortgage-foreclosure problems
  • Counseling on landlord-tenant problems

Victims should be aware that there are limitations on disaster legal services. For example, assistance is not available for cases that will produce a fee (e.g., those cases where attorneys are paid part of the settlement by a court). Such cases are referred to a local lawyer referral service.

Currently, disaster relief services are available to flood victims in Midland, Arenac, Iosco, Saginaw, and Gladwin Counties. For all other flood victims, contact the State Bar of Michigan lawyer referral service at 1 (800) 968-0738.

Related: Resources for Midland Lawyers Affected by Flooding

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Resources for Midland Lawyers Affected by Flooding

image from www.michbar.orgAs the Midland area deals with the impact of two dams failing and mass evacuations, we are compiling resources that we hope will be of use to Central Michigan attorneys during this difficult time.

If you need more help, please call our Practice Management Resource Center Helpline at (800) 341-9715 or email pmrchelpline@michbar.org.

Here is a checklist of things you might find helpful to think about following a flood:

1. Within the first 24 hours following a disaster, or when safe, an initial damage assessment should be made. This is a cursory review of damage caused by an emergency or disaster to get a quick financial estimate of damage to report to your insurance company, and if a community-wide disaster, to your local government emergency coordinator. Your damage assessment checklist should include such items as:

  • Facility structural damage
  • Damage to library and supplies, including records
  • Damage to office equipment, computers, vehicles
  • Damage to property
  • Personal injuries
  • Cost to recover (library, records, and supplies)
  • Cost to recover (equipment, computers)
  • Cost to recover (repairs and maintenance)
  • Cost to recover (staff and outside labor)
  • Loss of revenue estimate based on duration of work disruption

2. Recovering water-damaged documents successfully requires drying the documents as quickly as possible. Restoration experts caution that in any weather, mold will appear within 48 hours in unventilated areas.

  • Use your phone to photograph or scan water-damaged documents.
  • Check with your insurance carrier before you destroy any records to determine whether your carrier has a special provision for the salvage of records.
  • If you can freeze and store important documents at a temperature of minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, you can give yourself some time for finalizing arrangements for proper drying and restoration by an authority in restoration. Freezing the documents stops further damage from the diffusion of water but does not kill mold spores.
  • Try to separate documents by wax paper or freezer paper but handle the documents as little as possible to avoid further damage.
  • If drying documents yourself, remove all paper clips and staples to prevent rust before ironing individual sheets of loose paper with low heat from an iron or hair dryer.
  • Stack documents between sheets of absorbent paper, such as pages of a newspaper. Change the paper every two to four hours as needed.
  • Air circulation, cool temperatures, and dehumidification are important. Leave air conditioning running 24-hours a day and bring in dehumidifiers and fans as needed.
  • Photocopy wet papers inside Mylar document sheet protectors and discard the damaged original if possible.

3. Contact the proper authorities and emergency resources and support such as:

  • Building management
  • Fire department
  • Police department
  • Health Department
  • Local utility companies: gas, electric, water, phone
  • Insurance agent

4. Videotape or photograph all damage. Include a yardstick or ruler in the image as a frame of reference.

5. After the initial 24 hours following a disaster, you'll need to look at recovery and salvage processes that will need to be taken. This is when you will prepare a comprehensive damage assessment. Coordinate with your insurance claims adjuster. Do not overlook tracking expenses incurred during the recovery and response process such as:

  • Travel
  • Phone bill
  • Equipment rentals
  • Temporary facilities
  • Temporary staffing
  • Outside consultants
  • Notification of existing clients, court, other lawyers, and vendors
  • Security measures and risk management to prevent additional damage

6. During the response phase, be prepared to implement any necessary contingency arrangements.

  • Identify hot client matters, especially where postponements are needed. If necessary, review court dockets.
  • If necessary, recreate an active client list from calendars, phone call logs, and collective staff memory.
  • Until you can adequately screen for conflicts, resist taking on new clients.
  • Make appointments for clients whose legal documents must be recreated.
  • Establish an emergency communication system for communicating with the courts, other lawyers, staff, clients, and vendors.
  • Designate an information liaison outside the disaster zone.
  • Post signage at your office with directions about how best to reach you.
  • Locate an alternate storage space for records.
  • Provide staff with a script to inform and reassure callers and clients.
  • Contact vendors to lease equipment or replace damaged items:
    • Computers
    • Copiers/Scanners/Fax Machines
    • File storage
    • Network servers
    • Office furniture
    • Printers

7. To ensure the financial health of your firm, give priority to collecting outstanding accounts receivable.

8. Get immediate professional assistance to help in the recovery and repair of your computer system. Your top priority is the data, not the equipment itself. A reputable repair shop can clean and test the system. More likely than not, the data stored on the drive can be recovered.

9. Contact your insurance agent, who can refer you to a professional service for help with repairing, sterilizing, and drying the areas where records are to be stored—such as shelving, cabinets, and desks. Carpet, carpet padding, or liners must be dried and treated for mold and mildew or replaced. Investigate tile or other flooring for similar damage. Continue inspecting damaged areas for mold, mildew, and other damage for at least one year.

10. Keep an inventory of anything that must be destroyed or removed from the premises for drying by a commercial service. For client documents, track:

  • Client/matter name
  • Client/matter number
  • Items destroyed
  • Inclusive dates
  • Reason destroyed

11. Rebuild your law library. Identify the items to be replaced as soon as possible. Inquire whether prior vendors will provide a hardship discount for replacing books.

12. Contact the State Bar of Michigan Practice Management Resource Center (800) 341-9715 for assistance.

Other resources:

Full text of Executive Order 2020-94, Declaration of State of Emergency

City of Midland emergency services and contact information

Steps to stay safe from the dangers of floodwaters

Steps to stay safe when reentering a flooded home

National Weather Service report for Midland

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July 2020 Bar Exam to be Remote Online Essay Test

image from www.michbar.orgThe Michigan Supreme Court announced that the Board of Law Examiners has shelved the traditional two-day format for the July 2020 bar examination in favor of a single-day, essay-only, remote option. Uncertainty regarding the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and the ability to accommodate in-person gatherings necessitated the change.

Originally scheduled for July 28-29, the modified test will be held on Wednesday, July 29. The 15-question essay exam will cover both state and federal law topics similar to those that would be addressed in the 200-question Multistate Bar Exam, which cannot be administered online this year.

“The board conducted extensive research and consultations to make this decision, including outreach to Michigan public health officials and law school deans, while monitoring developments in the pandemic and approaches of other states,” Justice Brian K. Zahra, the Court’s liaison to the Board of Law Examiners, said in a press release. “Law school graduates can sit for the exam without risking public health.”

Since this year’s summer applicants will be on the same professional track as previous July examinees, the Board of Law Examiners did not recommend any limited licensure because of the change.

“I am confident the Michigan essay examination will adequately test the applicants’ legal knowledge and skill,” Justice Zahra said. “The public can be confident that those who pass this exam will have requisite knowledge of state law to become a member of the Michigan bar.”

The BLE is working with Michigan’s five law schools and the University of Toledo to make sure that individuals with disabilities who cannot take the exam online are able to take the test in person with appropriate safety measures.

The full extent of Michigan Supreme Court Order 2020-15 addressing the July 2020 bar exam modifications can be found here.

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2020 Economics of Law Practice Survey More Important Than Ever

image from www.michbar.orgThe 2020 Economics of Law Practice survey is more important than ever, as it will capture information from 2019—providing a crucial benchmark for how things were before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The information collected is used to update a comprehensive database that many Michigan courts reference to determine attorney fees. We take your privacy very seriously. Your secure response will be anonymous, and all results will be reported in aggregate only—no individual responses will be identifiable.

The 2020 Economics of Law Practice Survey is closing soon. If you have not yet completed the survey, please take a few minutes to do so now.

  • Private Practitioner Survey
  • Non-Private Practitioner Survey

And—to make it a little more fun—you will be able to register for a drawing for the chance to win prizes, including $500 Amazon gift cards.

Thank you for participating in this especially important initiative!

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New Executive Order Extends Order Allowing for Remote Notarization

image from www.michbar.orgExecutive Order 2020-74, issued May 5, 2020, extends Executive Order 2020-41, which encouraged the use of electronic signatures and remote notarization, witnessing, and visitation during the COVID-19 pandemic. E.O. 2020-74, which took effect immediately, continues through June 30, 2020.

These orders facilitate the completion of legal documents that are more crucial now than ever, but were otherwise difficult or impossible to handle during the pandemic.

“The problem of how to validate critical legal documents in a quarantine environment was a difficult and crucial issue,“ State Bar of Michigan President Dennis M. Barnes said when E.O. 2020-41 was issued. “The State Bar thanks the governor for the thorough and thoughtful guidance provided in the executive order. We also applaud the Probate and Estate Planning and Elder Law and Disability Rights sections of the State Bar for proactively raising this critical issue and for using their subject matter expertise and valuable insight in offering a solution to this unprecedented problem.”

Here are the highlights for lawyers:

  • Strict compliance with the rules and procedures of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act and the Michigan Law on Notarial Acts is temporarily suspended under specified conditions.
  • Any requirement under Michigan law that an in-person witness attest to or acknowledge an instrument, document, or deed may be satisfied by the use of two-way real-time audiovisual technology, under detailed conditions spelled out in the order. The recording must be kept for at least three years, or a different period of time required by law.
  • State laws requiring an individual to appear personally before or be in the presence of either a notary at the time of a notarization or a witness at the time of attestation or acknowledgment are satisfied if the necessary persons can communicate simultaneously by sight and sound via two-way real-time audiovisual technology at the time of the notarization, attestation, or acknowledgment.
  • Financial institutions and registers of deeds must not refuse to record a tangible copy of an electronic record on the ground that it does not bear the original signature of a person, witness, or notary, if the notary before whom it was executed certifies that the tangible copy is an accurate copy of the electronic record.

Related: Guidance on Remote Notarization & Witnessing Under EO 2020-41

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Michigan Bar Journal to Return in June

image from www.michbar.orgDue to the COVID-19 pandemic, the State Bar of Michigan will not publish a May issue of the Michigan Bar Journal. We will continue to offer timely news and updates of interest to Michigan lawyers on michbar.org.

Make sure you stay in the loop by signing up for our newsletters, and connecting with us on social media. We’re on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

We look forward to returning with a Michigan Bar Journal in June. We plan to feature articles related to the scheduled theme of bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, we’re looking for online article submissions related to COVID-19 and the practice of law. If you’re interested in sharing your story or expertise as a lawyer practicing during the pandemic in an article for michbar.org, we’d love to hear from you. Information about submitting an article can be found here. Please contact editor Linda Novak with any questions.

If you have questions about advertising, please contact Stacy Ozanich.

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New Executive Order Allows for Remote Notarization

image from www.michbar.orgThe latest executive order from Gov. Whitmer encourages the use of electronic signatures and remote notarization, witnessing, and visitation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Executive Order 2020-41 will facilitate the completion of legal documents that are more crucial now than ever, but were otherwise difficult or impossible to handle during the pandemic.

“The problem of how to validate critical legal documents in a quarantine environment was a difficult and crucial issue,“ State Bar of Michigan President Dennis M. Barnes said. “The State Bar thanks the governor for the thorough and thoughtful guidance provided in the executive order. We also applaud the Probate and Estate Planning and Elder Law and Disability Rights sections of the State Bar for proactively raising this critical issue and for using their subject matter expertise and valuable insight in offering a solution to this unprecedented problem.”

Here are the highlights for lawyers:

  • Strict compliance with the rules and procedures of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act and the Michigan Law on Notarial Acts is temporarily suspended under specified conditions.
  • Any requirement under Michigan law that an in-person witness attest to or acknowledge an instrument, document, or deed may be satisfied by the use of two-way real-time audiovisual technology, under detailed conditions spelled out in the order. The recording must be kept for at least three years, or a different period of time required by law.
  • State laws requiring an individual to appear personally before or be in the presence of either a notary at the time of a notarization or a witness at the time of attestation or acknowledgment are satisfied if the necessary persons can communicate simultaneously by sight and sound via two-way real-time audiovisual technology at the time of the notarization, attestation, or acknowledgment.
  • Financial institutions and registers of deeds must not refuse to record a tangible copy of an electronic record on the ground that it does not bear the original signature of a person, witness, or notary, if the notary before whom it was executed certifies that the tangible copy is an accurate copy of the electronic record.

The executive order, which took effect immediately, continues through May 6, 2020.

Among its many upsides, the order makes it easier to complete important legal work for those on the frontline of the pandemic response. The State Bar of Michigan is launching two initiatives in response to the COVID-19 crisis that give you opportunities to help. More information can be found here.

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2020 SBM Election Information

image from www.michbar.orgVacancy information and nominating petitions are available on the State Bar Election Notice for the 2020 elections. Petitions are used to submit your name for one of the leadership roles at the State Bar of Michigan or Judicial Tenure Commission. Petitions must be filed with the State Bar between April 1, 2020, and April 30, 2020.

Due to the COVID-19 situation, please follow the following procedures for completing and submitting petitions:

  • Please scan and email your completed petitions, rather than fax or mail. They can be sent to mbossenbery@michbar.org or csharlow@michbar.org.
  • As a substitute for physical signatures, we will accept electronic confirmation of nomination support in the following format:

I support the nomination of [CANDIDATE ATTORNEY’S NAME] to serve on the [POSITION] for the [XX] District/Circuit.

My office is located in the [XX] District/Circuit.

[NOMINATING ATTORNEY’S NAME]

[NOMINATING ATTORNEY’S P NUMBER]

[NOMINATING ATTORNEY’S OFFICE ADDRESS]

Michigan lawyers are advised that the following elections will be held in June 2020:

  • A statewide election for a non-judicial member of the Judicial Tenure Commission
  • Elections for the members of the Representative Assembly in 38 judicial circuits
  • Elections for members of the Board of Commissioners in four commissioner districts
  • Elections for members of the Young Lawyers Section Executive Council in three districts

All ballots will be electronic and sent to all active State Bar attorneys by June 1, 2020, to the email address on file with the State Bar. To ensure you receive a ballot and notifications about the election, please make certain that the State Bar has your current email address on file. Ballots must be completed online no later than June 15, 2020.

If you have questions, please contact Marge Bossenbery at mbossenbery@michbar.org, or Carrie Sharlow at csharlow@michbar.org.

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Clio Pledges $1 Million to Help Legal Community During Pandemic

image from www.michbar.orgClio, the world’s most widely used, cloud-based practice management system and a State Bar of Michigan member benefit partner, has pledged $1 million to help lawyers and firms navigate the challenges they face in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to company co-founder and CEO Jack Newton, Clio’s COVID-19 Legal Relief Initiative is available to the entire legal community.

“If your firm needs to figure out how to maintain business continuity or collaborate across a newly remote workforce while still providing quality services to your clients, we’ll help you navigate that,” Newton said in a statement on the company's website. “If you are a legal organization or charity providing mental health support during this stressful time, we want to assist. If you are part of the legal community and have expertise to share or are looking for best practices from an industry leader, we want to help bridge that connection.”

The aid application can be found at clio.com/covid-relief.

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Breaking News & Critical Documents for Michigan Lawyers

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold.

New Executive Order. Today, Gov. Whitmer issued an Executive Order directing all Michiganders to stay in their homes for at least the next three weeks, except for under very limited circumstances.

Here are the highlights for lawyers:

  • The order does not specifically exempt attorneys from the stay at home order as "critical infrastructure workers" necessary to sustain or protect life.
  • The order allows individuals to leave home to attend legal proceedings for essential or emergency purposes as ordered by a court.
  • For purposes of managing and maintaining a law practice, the members of your staff whose job it is to facilitate the ability of others to work remotely may carry out their work in person. You will be required to designate who those persons are in writing by March 31.
  • The order provides "nothing in this order should be taken to interfere with or infringe on the powers of the legislative and judicial branches to perform their constitutional duties or exercise their authority."

New Michigan Supreme Court Order. The Michigan Supreme Court issued an order extending all deadlines pertaining to case initiation and the filing of initial responsive pleadings in civil and probate matters during the state of emergency declared by the Governor related to COVID-19. The order does not preclude a court from ordering an expedited response to a complaint or motion in order to hear and resolve an emergency matter requiring immediate attention.

The Michigan Supreme Court’s earlier Administrative Order, limiting trial courts to essential functions, remains in effect. Chief Justice McCormack and Justice Viviano outlined the reasons why closing Michigan courts isn’t an option in an op-ed over the weekend.

New COVID-19 Resources. We wanted to share with you all the resources we have available to you during this unprecedented situation:

  • We understand that you need to know exactly what the law says. We’re compiling important primary documents here, so you can quickly access the exact language you need. We’re going to start including these crucial primary documents in our NewsLinks newsletter. Please sign up here to get it in your inbox each weekday.
  • We are answering questions from Michigan lawyers here. In some cases, the questions we're receiving have not yet been answered by the decision-makers involved. Know that we are in touch with them and will share answers as we have them. If you have a question that hasn’t yet been answered, please ask us here.
  • We also have guidance to help you keep practicing and keep your equilibrium during the pandemic here.

We know that what you need to best serve your clients and the public is changing by the hour, and we are doing our best to help. Keep telling us what you need and we pledge to do everything possible to provide it.

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