BBA President Christine Netski appointed a COVID-19 Crisis Response Working Group which has been working to identify and monitor the impact of emerging issues during the COVID-19 crisis, and to recommend changes in or clarifications regarding practice. We caught up with Working Group Chair and BBA President-Elect, Marty Murphy. Murphy discusses some of the emerging issues the group is tackling, ways the legal community has met these extraordinary challenges with collective persistence, and his predictions for how these changes will affect the profession long term.
- What are some of the major themes that the Working Group has identified over the last couple of months?
We’ve been working hard to identify how the BBA can best address the unprecedented range of issues the bar and the public are now facing. We’ve been particularly interested in addressing issues that impact individuals who have been hit the hardest, and have even in ordinary times a hard time making their own voices heard. So we have, for example, publicly supported the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures the Legislature enacted and the Governor signed into law, and we also filed a an amicus letter in the SJC supporting expedited, individualized, consideration of release of prisoners in Houses of Corrections and state prisons. We’ve also taken on a number of issues that impact day-to-day practice in many areas—like the remote notarization of documents (also, fortunately, approved by the Legislature and the Governor.)
- What responsibility does the BBA have to speak out on these issues?
Ensuring access to justice for all citizens is at the heart of the BBA’s mission. The challenges faced by individuals facing extraordinary economic hardship and having to face the pandemic while in custody are precisely the kind of issues where the expertise of the BBA’s lawyers can play an important role in shaping the public debate.
- What have you learned about the current state of legal practice and the court system through your work with this group?
I have been incredibly impressed by the dedication of lawyers and judges tackling some extraordinarily challenging issues without any playbook. The commitment of the lawyers who brought challenges in federal and state court seeking the release of prisoners and ICE detainees, and the Judges who heard those cases so expeditiously is an extraordinary blessing that we should all be grateful for. The SJC’s first-of-a-kind marathon telephone hearing on the CPCS/MACDL petition was a testament to the quality of advocacy—on all sides–and judging we are fortunate to have here. And United States District Court William G. Young’s willingness, day-after-day, to wade into the personal circumstances of dozens of detainees to determine whether each should be released demonstrates the kind of persistence that is a hallmark of our judiciary.
In ordinary times, this is a great place to practice law. These unprecedented circumstances have tested the mettle of our lawyers and judges, and none have been found wanting.
- Have any changes emerged, whether positive or negative, that you think will last beyond this pandemic?
I think the jury is out on that one—though I am pretty sure that it’ll be some time before offering to shake hands will be viewed as anything other than a declaration of hostilities. It’s hard to know how much of our new virtual reality will stick, and how much will pass by the boards. But I do believe that, in the future, we will all spend more time planning for potential calamities—pandemics, or other threats, like cybersecurity, that could tax our ability to carry on our day to day lives.
And I hope we will all embrace and support new lawyers in this unique time. The pandemic has thrown a monkey wrench into the ordinary rhythm of the bar exam bar, bar admission, and new crop of lawyers we are always excited to bring aboard each fall. They will need our help.