Navigating Court Closures During the Pandemic
Massachusetts' Bar Association president shares advice and resources for attorneys
Published in 2020 Massachusetts Super Lawyers magazine
By Katrina Styx on April 10, 2020
John J. Morrissey is a founding partner of Morrissey, Wilson & Zafiropoulos in Braintree, Mass., as well as the president of the Massachusetts Bar Association. We recently spoke with him about how the COVID-19 pandemic response is impacting Massachusetts courts and legal cases.
How is COVID-19 affecting Massachusetts courts?
Massachusetts courts are generally open and available for in person appearances only for emergencies that cannot be handled electronically, by telephone or by video conferencing. Appearances are further subject to safety protocols. The courts are addressing nonemergency matters remotely as circumstances and resources will allow.
How is this impacting case schedules and filing deadlines? Are attorneys still able to work their cases?
COVID-19 has delayed case schedules because the courts have been forced to limit in-person appearances to emergency matters. The courts have issued a series of orders extending filing deadlines and providing other accommodations to minimize the impact of COVID-19 and allow attorneys to continue to work on their cases, but delay is unavoidable. The ability of attorneys to work on their cases during the crisis is also dependent on their ability to work remotely and access to technology.
I am the president of the Massachusetts Bar Association and we formed a task force to address the impact of COVID-19 on the legal community and the people we serve. The task force created the COVID-19 webpage as resource for attorneys during the COVID-19 crisis. The webpage includes information about the court procedures during the crisis, access to resources for lawyers and law firms to assist them in working remotely during the crisis, and MBA webinars and on demand programing.
Are there certain types of cases that are affected more than others?
Any case or matter that requires the immediate attention and resources of the courts have felt the greatest impact.
What has been the biggest challenge for you, in your own practice?
I consider myself extremely fortunate because my family is healthy. I am also equipped to work remotely as necessary, but the delays created by COVID-19 limiting access to the courts has had a significant impact on my clients. I represent people that have been seriously injured or killed in accidents and while working. Many of my clients are in desperate need of medical treatment and lost wage benefits and the only way for my clients to access medical care and lost wages is through the courts. The delays imposed by COVID-19 is causing real hardship to my clients.
What advice do you have for other attorneys navigating court closures?
It is important for attorneys to know they are not alone in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis and there are resources available to help them navigate the challenges of working remotely and accessing the courts. The MBA has been in close contact with the judiciary during the crisis and the MBA COVID Response Task Force provides alerts of court orders affecting access to the courts to our members; if our members have any specific questions, the webpage provides a portal to submit those questions directly to the task force and we will do our best to answer them.
Any other thoughts?
I think it is vitally important for lawyers to remember during the crisis to pay attention to their own well-being. The practice of law is very stressful in ordinary times, but COVID-19 has increased the level of stress exponentially. We all need to be aware of this stress and the impact it can have on our health and well-being. I would encourage lawyers to pay attention to this stress and look for healthy ways to deal with it. The MBA COVID Response Task Force has also provided resources for attorney health and well-being.
For more information and articles for legal professionals navigating COVID-19 as it relates to their law practice and clients, visit FindLaw’s COVID-19 resource center or visit superlawyers.com/articles (search for COVID-19).
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