In a Special Edition of our Practice Innovations newsletter, we will be looking at the immediate challenges facing the legal industry and the solutions and opportunities that are available.
As law firms look to reopen their physical offices as the COVID-19 pandemic eases, at least in some parts of the U.S. and the world, law firm administrators are balancing critical health and safety considerations for attorneys and staff with ongoing business needs.
That balance is one that countries around the world as well as states and cities in the U.S. are attempting to strike as well. Any planning that law firms are doing is being complicated by the ever-changing legal requirements and guidance coming from the national, state, and municipal levels of government.
I nevertheless thought that other law firms might benefit from the current thinking and developing plans at my firm — Varnum LLP, a 180-lawyer, Michigan-based law firm. Of course, these parameters are subject to change as conditions and guidance themselves change.
- Details of reopening will follow evolving OSHA and State of Michigan requirements and guidelines.
- Attorneys and staff who are able to work from home effectively may continue to do so, only coming into the office as needed. This should be coordinated with supervising attorneys or managers, but will enable greater social distancing in the office.
- Staff working in adjacent cubicles or workstations less than six feet apart will work out a schedule between themselves and their supervisors to alternate periods of time working from home and in the office.
- Staff with desktop computers will bring their equipment back to the office during the weeks in which they work in the office and take it back home if they work remotely again.
- Attorneys and staff coming into the office must not be sick, have a fever, or any other COVID-19 symptoms (g., cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, body aches). When in question, stay home and work from home if feeling well enough.
- Attorneys and staff coming into the office should check their own temperature each morning before leaving home.
- Social distancing, including remaining six feet apart from others in the office, will continue.
- Non-medical (including cloth) face masks will be required in common areas of firm office buildings (g., garage, building lobby).
- Masks will be provided for work use and made available in each office gathering space.
- Traffic flow within firm office space will be “one way” where possible, with signs posted to help keep people at least six feet apart.
- Hygiene practices, such as frequent hand washing and use of Clorox wipes, will continue.
- Attorneys and staff should get into the habit of wiping down frequently touched surfaces in their immediate work spaces each day, such as door handles, desk surfaces, chair arms, keyboard, mouse, phone, and frequently used drawer handles. (The virus can survive up to 72 hours on hard surfaces.)
- Use of Skype for most meetings will continue, even for those in the office.
- Outside visitors, including clients, should be limited to those absolutely necessary for client service (g., in-person document signing).
- In-person meetings are discouraged.
- Necessary in-person meetings should take place in the largest conference rooms available, and participants should seat themselves at least six feet apart from one another.
- Do not shake hands or hug guests.
- Office meeting lunches should be minimized and individually packaged when necessary.
- Be mindful of social distancing and hygiene requirements when using gathering spaces.
- Be mindful of social distancing in restrooms.
- Be mindful of social distancing in firm elevator lobbies. Building landlords will be implementing their own elevator protocols at building lobby level during this crisis.
- Non-essential interoffice travel will not be permitted.
- Air travel for firm reasons must be pre-approved by the Executive Partner or Executive Director.
- International air travel for firm or personal reasons will not be permitted without 14-day self-quarantine upon return.
I hope these plans and tips are helpful to other firms as we all manage through the COVID-19 crisis together.