Brooklyn Boro

State Bar creates task force on COVID-19 to help small and solo practitioners

April 13, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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While the coronavirus has impacted the entire legal community, small firms and solo practitioners are perhaps among the hardest hit as many practices have completely ground to a halt while courts are only accepting emergency applications.

The hope is that even though there is a lack of work right now, and small practitioners struggle to pay their employees and bills, that once the courts open up again there will be more than enough work to make up for it.

The New York State Bar Association created the Emergency COVID-19 Task Force on the Effects on Small Firms and Solo Practitioners to make sure that it is able to help with all needs between now and once things go back to normal.

“My practice is down to zero,” said Domenick Napoletano, a solo-practitioner, treasurer of the NYSBA and co-chair of the task force. “I can’t do anything. My (landlord and tenant) practice is completely shut down. If I can’t get documents served and filed I might as well not even be here. People are trying to do real estate closings remotely and from what I’m hearing it has turned into a nightmare.”

Virtual notarizations have been allowed to help attorneys continue to work, but Napoletano said that not all banks, not all clerks and not all title companies have accepted them. He also said that banks aren’t always willing to give out loans to people who are not there to sign them in person.

“As far as the small practitioners are concerned, depending on the type of work they do, we’re pretty much dead,” Napoletano said. “There is a certain amount of real estate transactional work you can accomplish, but it’s a pain in the ass, litigation, you can’t file anything unless they deem it an emergency. And what you think is an emergency doesn’t matter because if the courts don’t agree.”

Napoletano, a former president of the Brooklyn Bar Association, is co-chairing the task force along with June Castallano, a solo family law practitioner from Rochester. There are about 30 members on the task force plus Justice George Silver is assisting the Downstate courts and Justice Vito Caruso is assisting the Upstate courts.

There are six subcommittees that include Economic Assistance for Members, Access to Legal Services, Effect of Crisis on Court-Mandated Representation, Law Office Management, the Effect of the Crisis on Rural Areas, and a Direct Information subcommittee.

“We meet once a week, the first week we met twice, and from that point we’ve been meeting once a week,” Napoletano said. “Each subcommittee meets when they want and they’ve been meeting all the time, they report back, we’ve drafted several resolutions.”

Napoletano predicts that even though this two-week-old committee was created to meet a need in an emergency, it will stick around for at least a while even after things go back to normal as the NYSBA has recognized the need to keep its members prepared for emergency situations like this or even a terrorist attack, hurricane, or similar catastrophe.

“The court, to the extent that it closed to protect everyone and now are working on a way to get things up and running again, it was a great response,” Napoletano said. “I think that the NYSBA needs to be proactive to emergencies in the future to have a plan in place. If, God forbid, we should find ourselves in this type of a similar situation again, we need to use this as a learning experience and can’t take for granted that it won’t happen again.”

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