On March 20, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order intended to slow the rapid spread of coronavirus in his state, now the U.S. epicenter for the pandemic, with an intensification of social distancing protocols. Known as “New York State on PAUSE,” the order called for all non-essential businesses to cease any in-office functions by the evening of March 22.

Although law firms are not included in the list of essential businesses, the New York State Bar Association, as reported by Law360, announced that it had received guidance that specific types of legal work could be deemed essential:

  • Legal work in support of:

Healthcare providers

Government entities


  • Providing representation in emergency family court hearings
  • Representing those charged with a crime in court proceedings
  • Participating in proceedings regarding the imminent release of individuals from detention
  • Proceedings to address emergency risks to health, safety or welfare 

New York courts will also be processing a reduced number of cases. 

According to New York Chief Judge Janet Marie DiFiore, all non-essential court functions will be postponed. Courts will continue to process criminal arraignments, bail hearings, housing court issues involving challenges to housing code violations or landlord lockouts, as well as matters pertaining to sex offenders and emergency family court. 

New York state courts have requested that individuals showing symptoms of COVID-19 or with known exposure to the disease refrain from entering courthouses. Instead, potentially infected individuals should call the courthouse to inquire about how to proceed. Those missing mandated court appearances due to COVID-19 will not be penalized.

To ease strain on the state’s legal system, Gov. Cuomo has paused the statute of limitations for criminal or civil matters until April 19. 

According to Law360, states differ in terms of whether attorneys and the courts are considered “essential” or “critical” services exempted from coronavirus social distancing orders. Illinois and Indiana, for instance, include legal services in their lists of essential operations, while Michigan, on the other hand, does not.