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Bar President's Message

Richard D'Addario, Esq., President, Rhode Island Bar Association

Looking Toward the New Normal for the Legal Profession 

Lynda L. Laing, Esq.
President, Rhode Island Bar Association

"RIBA has not lost sight of the challenges and hopes to continue to be a voice assisting the Court as they reopen to conduct jury trials and other in-person hearings."

After 15 months of COVID restraints, we see Rhode Island reopening. RIBA has an opportunity to help our members emerge from the pandemic to the “new normal.” As we transition from working from home and virtual learning, the Bar can help identify the things we learned from the pandemic and adopt what worked well going forward. Attorneys and the courts adapted to new technology; we worked and learned remotely. Earlier this year, RIBA conducted a COVID-19 Impact Survey of our members which showed that well-being and financial stability are among the issues of concern within the practice. 
The survey showed that many members struggled to balance work and family. Many members enjoyed the flex policies allowing them to work from home. Most members do not want to see remote work disappear completely. They found they were just as efficient working remotely as when they were in the office and enjoyed the work/life balance it afforded them. However, despite this, some attorneys found they missed socialization, felt isolated, and many of the childcare issues fell to female attorneys. RIBA hopes to support our members and encourage participation in our wellness programs. I encourage you to make time for yourself and enjoy mindfulness, exercise, and/or other stress-reducing activities. The Bar intends to use the survey data to develop resources and programs to help it meet the ongoing challenges as we move into the “new normal.”
The survey showed that many attorneys experienced only a slight decrease in business volume and their income remained the same. We worked about the same number of hours. The ABA also conducted a COVID-19 Impact survey which found that 55% of those surveyed found it harder to get new business. Some attorneys will be rethinking where they practice, and some may decide to leave the practice. RIBA hopes to assist our members during this time by providing seminars and encouraging members to use limited scope representation. This a la carte menu for legal services helps our members get new business and allows litigants to pay for the services they need. Using limited scope representation will permit those litigants an opportunity to hire a lawyer when they might not otherwise be able to afford one. Also, Limited Scope Representation (LSR) transitions into the virtual platform easily as the tasks to be performed are determined by the attorney and the litigant. The best feature of LSR allows the client to retain the attorney for the next step of the litigation or task to be performed by creating a new agreement. 
Our members did like WebEx hearings and are looking forward to keeping remote proceedings and hearings by appointment going forward. Attorneys found remote hearings to be efficient and cost-effective. This allowed attorneys to handle more cases without travel time and waiting in the court hallways. Clients benefited as the costs of the hearings decreased. RIBA hopes that the courts will continue remote hearings. Despite the change to remote hearings, attorneys still worked tirelessly for their clients and found civility increased between attorneys. 
Other attorneys used remote notarization to carry on their real estate practices when conduct¬ing remote closings. Probate attorneys also used remote notarization of probate documents. Many attorneys found remote notarizations to be challenging, but they prevailed. Some attorneys surveyed expressed a desire for remote notariza¬tion to continue. 
RIBA has not lost sight of the challenges and hopes to continue to be a voice assisting the Court as they reopen to conduct jury trials and other in-person hearings. The survey showed that the Bar wants the courts to “open up,” which they are moving towards. As stated in Presiding Justice Gibney’s May 10, 2021 letter to Bar members, the Superior Court is restricted to two jury trials at any one time. In order to assist the Bar, the Court is offering a Mediation Program to assist counsel and their clients. You can find the form on the Superior Court website. 
RIBA wants to support our members in their practice as we reopen. We will continue to provide Continuing Legal Education courses and hope to transition to a hybrid format for seminars starting in the fall. RIBA will continue to provide our members with the opportunity to learn by covering topics related to changes in representation of clients after COVID-19. Our survey gave us suggestions for topics along with a request to continue updating attorneys with any changes made by the courts. The survey responses also suggested that members want RIBA to provide assistance with technology issues. We encourage our members to watch Red Cave Consulting’s free, non-credit, Compare & Contrast webinar series. The series covered a variety of technology-related topics and is available to view on the Bar’s Law Practice Management page of our website. The Compare & Contrast programs will start up again in the fall. 
As we transition to the new normal, we hope to keep Bar members up to date on changes within the court system and the new rules that may develop from the re-entry. Our focus remains on serving and supporting our members as we face new challenges in the practice of law.