Few people could imagine a day when many Nevada lawyers would close their doors to clients, opting instead to offer virtual meetings. The State’s COVID-19 shutdown, which started in March, has altered life as we know it. But the State Bar of Nevada is trying to help its members through these unprecedented times.
The State Bar’s executive committee, which is made up of officers and members of the Bar’s Board of Governors, has been trying to assist the Bar’s more than 11,600 members, says Nevada State Bar Executive Director Kimberly Farmer.
“Right now, there is a lot of what we want to bring to our members regarding COVID-19,” she says. That includes virtual “townhalls.”
“We don’t have an active (COVID-19) committee, but we are talking about our Executive Committee being a resource,” Farmer adds.
“We do a (Continuing Legal Education) program on a regular basis,” Farmer explains. “But the townhalls were different forums to get our members educated on a daily basis. They started (in mid-March).”
Many law firms have decided to not allow clients inside their offices, to allow for social distancing. More and more attorneys are advertising virtual consults with clients.
The Coronavirus shutdown in Nevada, which officially started with Gov. Steve Sisolak’s directive on March 17th, has added to the typical stress and pressures that lawyers face, Farmer adds.
“We have put a couple of resources in place for lawyers who might have been impacted by COVID-19. Maybe their firms are closed,” she explains.
While law offices are allowed to stay open as “essential businesses” in Nevada, abiding by social distancing guidelines can result in closure of the brick-and-mortar offices to the public.
The State Bar of Nevada is also offering virtual ‘townhalls” due to the Coronavirus outbreak and the economic shutdown. These are specific to practice areas.
“We have townhalls in practice areas. (Estate) attorneys can talk about how to get a will notarized, and bankruptcy attorneys can discuss their practice areas,” Farmer details. “Family law (attorneys) can talk about, ‘How do I deal with custody areas?’”
Of course, COVID-19-related hardships may add to existing problems, which is why the helpline was originally put in place. If a lawyer has a gambling problem or other addiction, help is available from the State Bar.
“One of the things we did is put in a lawyer wellness program for lawyers who may be in trouble,” Farmer explains. “With the Nevada lawyer assistance program, we are trying to help lawyers in need. They call a number –- 1-866-820-0022.”
“We don’t know about it,” Farmer says of the calls for help. “The State Bar does not know about it — the calls for assistance. They are always on the line to help you out and give them more resources.”
The global pandemic – and resulting shutdown – may make existing problems worse for lawyers, just like anyone else.
“Some are struggling with addiction, or just stress,” Famer says.
“We have a link you can go through and join the meeting confidentially,” Famer details. “It’s a Zoom meeting, but you don’t have to enable the video. You can go dark.”
The anonymous meetings don’t result in any reporting to the State Bar, she assures.
With thousands of COVID-19 cases in the Silver State, the organization helps lawyers who fall ill — regardless if it is caused by Coronavirus or another ailment.
“A lot of times, we see that a lawyer has trouble running their practice, and they have a partner take over the practice,” Famer explains. “We can help get (a lawyer to) help, for pro bono hours.”
“There are certainly different needs than were there before (the Coronavirus),” she adds.
“Shortly after the governor’s ‘Stay-at-Home” directive, we started the townhalls, and when issues started to progress, we wanted our members to know about them” Famer says.
The courts still accept filings and pleading, she explains. But the uncertainty of how long the shutdown will last – and how long until Nevada is are back to normal.
“I think we just have to take a wait-and-see approach for the length of the shutdown,” Farmer said, in a mid-April interview. “I think it is a concern of everyone’s.”
The State Bar is hoping to be there to help its members.
“Right now, they are just looking at how to best serve their clients,” she says. “The stress on the firms from the shutdown, that is yet to come.”
“It is just changing daily,” Farmer laments.
The State Bar had resources in place to help lawyers, prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, Famer notes.
“In our trust account handbook, we put a lot of emphasis on helping lawyers,” Farmer explains “We started the helpline in 2019. It has generated a lot of interest since late 2019.”
The National Taskforce on Lawyer Wellbeing, through the American Bar Association, “has put an emphasis on lawyers’ wellbeing,” she says.
“Judges and lawyers, in all practices, are looking at ways to promote wellbeing, and ways that they can support the clients,” Farmer says. “The (COVID-19) adds another level of stress.”
State Bar Elections to be Held
In the middle of Nevada’s Coronavirus shutdown, the State Bar is holding its elections for its Board of Governors. The election is open for voting until May, according to Farmer. But as the election is all online, there is no health risk to holding it.
Active Nevada lawyers can vote for a candidate for Board of Governors in their district.
The State Bar of Nevada Board of Governors includes the president of the State Bar. The Board of Governors are elected. The president and vice president of the Bar are nominated by the Board of Governors.
“We run online elections,” Farmer explains. “If you want to run for the Board of Governors, you need to submit a petition and it must be signed by five members of the State Bar in (the candidate’s) district” Farmer explains. “People put their name on the petition to support you. That’s the first step. That gets you on the ballot to be elected.”
“Once we have the petition signed by five members (of the Bar) in the district, then you are a candidate for the State Bar Board of Governors in that district,” Farmer adds.
How the Board of Governor’s Elections Work
Farmer says in a competitive election – one in which there are more Board of Governors’ candidates than open seats – the top vote-getting candidates will fill the slots on the Board.
The Board of Governors consists of 15 members,” Farmer explains.
Overall, the members of the Board of Governors are divided from the following districts: Nine from District One (Clark County); and one from District Two (which includes White Pine, Elko, Eureka, Churchill, Lander, Humboldt, Lyon, Lincoln, Douglas, Mineral, Nye, Esmeralda, Pershing and Storey counties). One member represents District Three (Carson City), while four from District Four (Washoe County).
“Board terms are staggered terms. Right now, we are starting our election,” Farmer says. “There are four open seats in Clark County, and two open in Washoe County. We started the voting petition this week of April 24h and it goes until May 25th,” Famer explained.
“The president and vice president are nominated by the Board (of Governors),” she said. “The president only serves a one-year term,” Farmer noted.
“The members of the Board of Governors shall be elected for three-year terms. No attorney may serve on the Board of Governors for more than a lifetime total of twelve years, unless elected as vice president, president-elect or president, in which case the lifetime limit would be fifteen years. If elected vice president, president-elect or president, the term of office shall extend, without reelection, through the officer’s presidential year,” according to the State Bar.
Officers are the president, president-elect and vice president. The line of succession is president, president-elect, and vice president.
“The Board of Governors is the governing body,” Farmer says.
The Executive Committees consists of Board of Governor members. If the Executive Committee needs to meet, they come up with the recommendations to bring to the Board of Governors.
The Executive Committee has between five to six members, and right now there are six. The Committee has three officers – the president, vice president and president-elect – and two others appointed by the State Bar president. All are members of the State Bar’s Board of Governors.
How Other State Bar Committees Work
Lawyers, and other members of the public, may get confused about the different committees, which are part of the State Bar.
So, outside of the Executive Committee, how are the other State Bar committees put together?
“Most of what we do is operated by committees,” Farmer explains. “It depends on the committee. The committees consist of volunteer lawyers.”
“When we have a (committee) vacancy, we put it (up for) applicants,” Farmer continued. “All the boards, all committees, are volunteers. For the committees, they put in applications, they do not need petitions.”
Other positions at the State Bar of Nevada are staff. The State Bar has 45 staff positions, which includes the job of State Bar counsel.
When the State Bar Counsel position becomes open, there is an opening posted to the Bar members and the public.
“For Bar counsel, if there is an opening, the Bar recruits to fill the open position via career and job sites, in the state bar publications, website, and social media,” Farmer says.
“It’s a regular staff position,” Farmer notes of the job of State Bar counsel. “It’s a regular position.”
VLM: How is the State Bar of Nevada run?
KM: Our mission is to govern the legal profession, to serve our members and to protect the public interest.
The State Bar of Nevada is a quasi-public corporation, created by statute that operates under the supervision of the Nevada Supreme Court. The state bar regulates attorneys in Nevada, and provides education and development programs for the legal profession. From its admissions, lawyer regulation and client protection divisions to services such as lawyer referral, continuing legal education, law-related education and access to justice, the state bar has a wide variety of programs designed to meet its mission. The state bar has two office locations in Las Vegas and Reno and supports a staff of 45 people, who perform a wide variety of services. In addition to the administrative functions provided by staff, the state bar manages its operations through boards, panels and committees consisting of attorney and non-attorney volunteers.
VLM: What is the chain of command?
KM: The state bar is under the supervision of the Nevada Supreme Court with functions outlined in the Nevada Supreme Court Rules. The Board of Governors is charged with the executive functions of the state bar and the enforcement of the provisions of Supreme Court Rules 49 to 204. To fulfill these functions, the Board creates and appoints committees, sets policies and other matters pertaining to the administration of the state bar. Managerial functions of the state bar are administered by state bar staff who are hired by, and report to, the executive director. The executive director reports to the Board of Governors.
VLM: How are the Board of Governors appointed? (The website states: “The Board of Governors is comprised of 15 members representing the four state districts defined in Supreme Court Rule 81. Elections for the Board are held annually and governors are selected by the members of their districts to serve two-year terms.” Could you please explain this process in a little more detail)?
KM: The Board of Governors is comprised of 15 members elected by the active members of the state bar who are residents of Nevada and have their official address in the respective districts. Nine Board members are from Clark County; one from the rural counties; one from Carson City; and four from Washoe County. Terms of the Board of Governors are staggered 3-year terms. Elections for Board members to fill expired terms are held annually. To run for the Board an individual member must be nominated by petition signed by members entitled to vote. Subsequently members vote electronically from the slate of candidates in their district. Upon election board members are sworn in by the (Nevada) Supreme Court.
VLM: Is the chief bar counsel hired or appointed? How does this process work?
KM: Bar counsel is an employee of the State Bar and is not appointed.
VLM: What does the executive committee consist of? (I understand that there are also a number of committees).
KM: The State Bar operates through the work of committees, boards and panels. One committee, the Executive Committee supports the Board and consists of the officers of the state bar and 2 members of the Board of Governors. The Executive Committee meets between meetings of the Board to manage matters that may occur between the five regular Board meetings. All decisions or recommendations of the Executive Committee, which affect policy, are brought to the Board for review and approval.
Valerie Miller is an award-winning Las Vegas Valley-based journalist. She can be reached at (702) 683-3986 or firstname.lastname@example.org.