Meeting Me in the Age of Covid

Lately, you may have been thinking about your mortality and deciding that you definitely need to have your last will and testament drafted—the one you’ve been putting off for years.  While you were at it, you wanted to have a living will and financial power of attorney drafted. As with your Will, you’ve been putting off having these documents drafted for years, too.  You know the documents are very important, something everyone should have, but you just didn’t see the immediately need.

You may have been reading my articles for years, thinking, I’m going to go see that John Callinan someday and have him draft my Will.  The problem with procrastination is that the event that finally brings the thing you’ve been putting off to the fore also prevents you from finally accomplishing the thing you’ve been putting off.  For instance, you want me to draft your Will, living will, and power of attorney, but with the statewide emergency, you find it difficult to come see me or you think you cannot come see me.

For the past month, I’ve been “seeing” clients through calls, conference calls, Facetime, and video conferencing.  I find that these methods of meeting with clients are highly effective.  I’m able to counsel the client and mail the client draft documents to review.

Even without the coronavirus crisis, I typically give clients four to five weeks to review draft documents before I get together with the client to sign the documents.  Four to five weeks from today is mid-May.  Hopefully, by that point in time, the stay-at-home restrictions will be eased somewhat.

Even with the current stay-at-home order, Governor Murphy says that law firms can continue to operate.  So, I could simply meet clients in my office.  I’m going to hold off on that for a few more weeks, though.  For the next several weeks, I’m telling clients that I will continue to meet with them via the remote services mentioned above.  After I mail draft documents to the client, I’ll review their documents with them before they come to my office to sign.  At the office, I’ll have the clients sign the documents outside in the open air.  My staff will maintain social distancing rules and wear masks and gloves.

For those clients who are extremely reluctant to leave their homes, I could do remote notarization of their documents using a video conferencing program such as Zoom.com.  Governor Murphy recently signed into law a remote notary act that permits a notary to notarize a document using a video conferencing service.  I am a notary public.  Under New Jersey law, lawyers are also permitted to take acknowledgments and, now, remote acknowledgements using a video conferencing service.

Using the remote notary act to sign documents would work as follows:  I would mail the client draft documents.  Once the client is satisfied with the draft documents, I would mail the client finalized documents.  The client and I would participate in a video conference call.  I would witness the client sign the documents that I mailed to the client.  I would then sign a notary page at my office affirming the fact that I witnessed the client sign the documents.  The client would then attach the notary page that I signed to the finalized documents. Viola!  The client has fully notarized legal documents.

The fact of the matter is, given modern technology, I can freely meet with clients and can have clients sign any documents that need to be signed and notarize those documents.  In some ways, remote technologies make the attorney-client relation better than before, more convenient for the client.  I think people need to acclimate themselves to the fact that all of us may be spending more time meeting other people through remote technologies.

People are used to meeting face-to-face with their attorney, but people are also used to meeting face-to-face with their doctors.  Yet, I just participate in a tele-medicine appointment with a doctor this past week, and I’m sure many of my clients have participated in tele-medicine meetings with their doctors as well.

In sum, I think it’s healthier for you and healthier for me if we meet remotely and I think those meetings can be highly effective, but if you want to meet face-to-face, I’m going to begin having meetings in the office in the next few weeks.

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