(Reuters) - Some law firms in states that are reopening their economies after coronavirus pandemic-induced shutdowns are letting attorneys return to the office, but slowly, voluntarily and with heightened precautions.
Florida-based Greenspoon Marder, Baker Donelson, which is based in Tennessee and has offices in many Southeastern states that have reopened, and Butler Snow, a Mississippi-based firm with offices across the South, are allowing attorneys to work from the office, but only if they’re comfortable doing so, representatives from those firms recently told Reuters.
Firm leaders told Reuters that the near term future of reopened law offices will likely look like this: closed common areas, staggered in-office work schedules, few if any guests, sanitation stations, sneeze guards and employees wearing masks.
But most firms aren’t in a rush to get there.
”I don’t know when we will get to the point where this is going to be anything other than voluntary, at least for the foreseeable future,” said Michael Marder, the co-managing director of Greenspoon Marder, in a recent interview with Reuters. The firm won’t make working from the office mandatory until there’s a vaccine, or no risk of infection, and childcare for those who need it, Marder said.
He said that before the coronavirus pandemic lawyers may have felt pressure to work from the office to impress bosses and colleagues but that now “we’ve got to put that aside and really look at the practical impact of these very unique, unprecedented times” to accept that people can work effectively from home.
States have taken a patchwork approach to reopening their economies following shutdowns that aimed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Many states, mostly in the South, the Midwest and mountain West, have moved to relax restrictions.
Baker Donelson is also not issuing a mandatory work from office policy until childcare is more available, said Chief Operating Officer and President Jennifer Keller in an interview with Reuters. Schools across the country have closed and many summer programs have been canceled.
So far, those three firms have not seen employees come back to the office en masse, despite their reopening, representatives said. Baker Donelson is letting 50% of attorneys work from the office on any given day, but it usually doesn’t hit that number, Keller said.
Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath, which has one of its largest offices in Minneapolis, is keeping all attorneys on a remote work basis until at least July, its chief operating officer Jane Koehl said in a recent interview with Reuters. The firm plans to survey employees on when and how they’d feel comfortable returning, Koehl said.
To reopen, the buildings where Faegre Drinker’s offices are would have to be able to be open consistently, and to offer temperature checks, among other things, Koehl said. The firm would also need to figure out how to keep employees who rely on public transit safe. Its offices in different states could reopen at different times depending on local guidance, she said.
Even once states and firms are open nationwide, the impacts of the pandemic’s work-from-home period could linger, she and Marder said. Remote work has cut back on commute time, Marder said, and firm leaders said attorneys have transitioned well to working from home.
”The new normal may be really much different than what we had before [the pandemic] … I think that you’re going to see maybe more flexible hours down the road,” Marder said.