COVID-19

Last updated 30 August 2021

Frequently asked questions

What are the current restrictions on law firms in Queensland?

Entering Queensland from the border zone to operate a law firm

30 August 2021

While law firms can operate in Queensland as normal with physical distancing and mask wearing restrictions only, crossing the Queensland border to operate a law firm is presently restricted under the Border Restrictions Direction (No. 39).

A person who lives in the Queensland border zone and operates a law firm in Queensland may only enter Queensland if:

  • They have not been in a COVID-19 hotspot outside of the border zone in the preceding 14 days, and
  • They are to perform essential work that cannot be done from home (paragraph 7(d)).

However, the Direction includes the following definition of essential work:

Essential work refers to work that is urgently required for safety reasons, for emergency repairs, or that is necessary to maintain essential services and supplies to the community, or to a part of the community, performed by:

  • a medical practitioner or other prescribed health practitioner; or
  • a pathology collection worker, including a pathology courier; or
  • an aged care or disability worker, where considered essential to maintain continuity of care for aged care recipients or people with disability; or
  • by an emergency health services or emergency services worker; or
  • national defence, state security or police worker; or
  • a freight or logistics operator; or
  • an emergency infrastructure worker; or
  • air crew or maritime crew; or
  • by an emergency volunteer; or
  • by a disaster management worker; or
  • by a critical infrastructure worker; or
  • by a tradesperson or construction worker for essential or emergency construction or essential or emergency repairs only; or
  • a person endorsed by the chief executive of a Queensland Government agency as an essential worker.

Note: Vaccination requirements apply to people undertaking essential work (see paragraphs 17 to 20).

Cross-border operators of law firms should consider closely if they or their cross-border employees are essential workers for this new definition before attempting to cross the border. It is unlikely that legal practitioners or law firm employees will meet the new requirements.

Law firms should consider whether their services can reasonably be performed from their principal place of residence using technology or with the assistance of town agents or locums. 

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  and other advisory for firms dealing with COVID-19, https://www.qls.com.au/Practising-law-in-Qld/Resources/COVID-19/Assistance-for-firms.

Information on locum services can be found at https://www.qls.com.au/Services/Professional-Services/Locum-Service

Law firms in the remainder of Queensland

30 August 2021

Law firms in the remainder of Queensland remain classified as ‘essential businesses, activities or undertakings’ under the Restrictions on Businesses, Activities and Undertakings Direction (No. 26).

An essential business, activity or undertaking in an impacted area may operate as normal, with physical distancing and public health controls observed to the extent possible and subject to any other requirements such as face masks and other applicable public health directions (paragraph 17).

Physical distancing includes remaining at least 1.5 metres away from other persons where possible.

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.

Dancing in law firms is not presently restricted.

Law firms in South East Queensland post lock down?

30 August 2021

Law firms in the eleven nominated local government areas of South East Queensland remain classified as ‘essential businesses, activities or undertakings’ for the Restrictions on Businesses, Activities and Undertakings Direction (No. 26).

An essential business, activity or undertaking in an impacted area may operate as normal, with physical distancing and public health controls observed to the extent possible and subject to any other requirements such as face masks and other applicable public health directions (paragraph 17).

Physical distancing includes remaining at least 1.5 metres away from other persons where possible.

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.

SEQ law firms also have obligations under the Restrictions for Impacted Areas (No. 15) (SEQ eased restrictions Stage 3) Direction. In carrying on an essential business, activity or undertaking, a person only needs to wear a face mask in an indoor workplace if they cannot practice physical distancing (paragraph 7(b)).

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.