COVID-19

Frequently asked questions

Last updated:  10 January 2022

We have provided answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about impacts on solicitors from COVID-19 pandemic. We update this page on a 'as needed' basis.

Vaccine mandates and QLS

How is QLS classified as an organisation and do vaccine mandates apply?

QLS is regarded by the Government as an Essential Business and our facilities are not used for non-essential leisure. This means that Law Society House is not a venue where vaccination mandates currently apply.  

Can unvaccinated visitors attend Law Society House?

Yes. QLS provides a variety of public services, including court ordered mediations, licencing and admissions services. Further, we have other occupants in the building who provide and facilitate legal services and other services to members of the public and have visitors who may not be vaccinated. Like our Courts, this will mean that unvaccinated people will have access to Law Society House for these purposes. Any unvaccinated people attending Law Society House will be asked to advise the organisation they are visiting in advance so that physical distancing arrangements can be made and should wear a mask.

Do vaccine mandates apply to events at Law Society House?

No. QLS events at Law Society House are typically work-related, educational or professional in nature. They are not entertainment or hospitality based and Law Society House is not a hospitality, leisure or entertainment venue where vaccines are mandatory.

Can QLS mandate that all QLS staff and visitors to Law Society House must be fully vaccinated?

QLS is not a non-essential business so the Government mandates for full vaccination do not apply to us. We do have an obligation to the health and safety of staff and visitors and any policy regarding vaccine mandates that we adopt must be lawful and reasonable and therefore must consider the risk profile of the industry we are in and the type of work we are engaged in. We will be very closely monitoring changes in community transmission and or outbreaks / variants of the virus and will vary our direction according to the risks and our health and safety obligations.

What are the current restrictions on law firms in Queensland?

All law firms in Queensland

10 January 2022

Law firms in Queensland remain an essential service and may operate as normal, subject to some restrictions: 

  • Law firms must take reasonable steps to encourage visitors to the premises to practise physical distancing to the extent reasonably practicable. (Paragraph 5 of the Movement and Gathering Direction - Physical distancing includes remaining at least 1.5 metres away from other persons where possible).
  • Persons attending law firms must wear a face mask covering the person’s nose and mouth at all times when in an indoor space, except where:
    • it is not reasonably practicable to provide or receive a business service wearing a face mask, or
    • a person is undertaking work or education for which clear enunciation or visibility of the mouth is essential, or
    • a person is sitting at a workplace or standing at a workstation and can maintain physical distance from other persons (Paragraphs 5(a), 7(h), 7(j) and 7(t) of the Public Health Face Mask Requirements Direction).

The operations of law firms are not restricted by the Public Health and Social Measures linked to vaccination status Direction and may operate as normal, with physical distancing and public health controls observed to the extent possible and subject to any other applicable Public Health Directions (Paragraph 10).

Traditional style law firm offices would not be considered a “business to which the public is ordinarily given access for the purpose of accessing retail goods and retail services” and accordingly would not be obliged to collect contact information through the Check In Qld app. Law firms may choose to collect this information through the app to assist in public health contact tracing.

Given advice from Queensland Government for employees to work from home where practicable, it is recommended that law firms consider whether it is desirable to adopt work from home arrangements.

QLS has posted work from home protocols to assist in managing working from home, https://www.qls.com.au/Practice-Support-Tips/Work-from-home-protocols 

General

Do I still need to attend conveyancing settlements?

In all of Queensland - Yes, legal practice remains an essential service, but physical distancing and mask wearing requirements must be observed

Attending to conveyancing settlements remains an essential business, activity or undertaking and should be progressed, electronically or in paper with appropriate physical distancing and wearing masks where physical distancing can not reasonably be maintained. 

The Titles Office continues to receive documents. The Office of State Revenue is maintaining usual services. Social distancing and mask wearing requirements for businesses do not prevent settlements from occurring.

Lawyers should consider closely the provisions of any relevant contracts of sale to be satisfied that any delay or force majeure clauses have in fact been triggered by the current state of events. This includes understanding the consequences of the current directives issued by Government regarding the requirement to wear masks, practise social distancing and other health protection measures. For Lexon insured practices, see Lexon’s alert 7 of 19/20 dealing with Suspension of Time concepts in the REIQ contract.

At this time it is also important for solicitors to be mindful that they have an obligation to represent clients with contracts on foot and have a variety of alternate methods available to them to bring about settlements such as settlement agents, other firms as town agents, electronic conveyancing, settlement intermediaries and electronic lodgement with the Titles Office.  If a solicitor considers that there are circumstances where it is not possible for them to continue to represent a client, please contact the QLS Ethics and Practice Centre for guidance as to the way in which they should move forward with the client matter.

Am I prepared for another COVID-19 lockdown?

If you were given notice at 1pm today that you would not be able to return to your office the next day:

  • What would you need to do?
  • Could you work from home/remotely effectively?
  • Could your staff/team work from their home?

During prior lockdowns solicitors and law firm staff were classed as ‘essential workers’. This may not be the case for future events. 

Give yourself a score of 1 for each of the following you have implemented in your practice. NB: ‘Ability to access’ means you have already used and tested this technology, and staff have been shown how to use it. All ‘Essentials’ should also be in place. 

Essentials:

  • Secure at-home computer equipment and internet access for all staff
  • EFT funds transfer authority for your trust account
  • Secure remote access to your Practice Management System/Office 365. If not possible, a way of securely transferring client and accounting information.
  • Video conferencing platform and hardware, video and audio recording, for example, Zoom/Teams
  • Suitable place to work to ensure confidentiality of client documents, data and conversations. Desk and adjustable chair preferred.
  • Redirection of phone calls to appropriate number(s), ability to alter redirection if needed
  • Arrangements for collection of mail from mail box, or redirection. 

Ability to access:

  • Scan, copy and print facility
  • An electronic settlement platform (for example, PEXA or Simplii) either using your own subscription (preferred) or a settlement agent
  • Electronic Titles Office lodgements
  • Court portals
  • E-signing platform
  • A remote client identification platform
  • Secure messaging facility (not rely on email), for example, MS Teams messaging app
  • Courier services
  • Electronic safe custody records
  • Postage supplies
  • Email broadcast service to quickly provide updates to all clients and contacts of the practice
  • Voice messages/forwarded calls. Updated recording if a voicemail box will not be monitored.
  • Network of colleagues or access to a locum
  • Checklist of vital documents, security keys, tokens, and passwords. 

How did you go?

1-5: Unless you are already working from home, it looks like you would struggle if there was an extended lockdown. Call the QLS Ethics and Practice Support Centre – 3842 5843 – for advice on how to implement some changes to ensure your practice is pandemic ready.

6-10: You have made a start, but a pandemic lockdown would cause considerable stress and time as there are many aspects of your practice that still require you to be in the office.

11-15: Great work¸ it looks like your practice would be able to move to a work from anywhere (that is, home) model. There are some additional measures you could take which would make the transition easier.

16-21: Congratulations. It looks like your practice is pandemic ready – you and your staff will be able to relocate at short notice and continue to provide professional services to your clients.

What are the requirements for mandatory vaccinations for law firms now?

There is no current legislative requirement for law firms to mandate vaccination of their workers. But there are some current legal vaccination requirements which may apply to workers in Queensland law firms in certain circumstances:

  • non-restricted border zone resident entering Queensland to perform work or volunteering that cannot reasonably be done from home, or
  • as a Queensland resident who is returning from the Border Zone, or
  • as a Queensland resident returning as a domestic traveller by air travel from a COVID-19 hotspot.

Law firms also have a duty under Work Health and Safety laws to eliminate, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace so far as is reasonably practicable. Some law firms have implemented employment requirements related to vaccination in response to their obligations. More information is available on relevant considerations for employment related measures from the FairWork Ombudsman and the Queensland Human Rights Commission.

Human rights and employment law issues relating to mandatory vaccinations were recently examined in QLS Proctor.