Deciding When to Reopen Your Law Office

reopening your law practice60 years ago, Pete Seeger created a folk-rock classic by adapting verses from Ecclesiastes into the song Turn, Turn, Turn.  The song holds a message of change, hope, and acceptance. It reminds listeners that there are a time and purpose for everything. The evolving Coronavirus situation evokes the song’s theme because there was a time to close offices and now a time for reopening them.

Several large firms recently announced plans to reopen their offices due to increasing vaccinations and decreasing infection rates. A widespread return to offices probably will not occur until September 2021 when enough people have been vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. Meantime, the following are things to consider when selecting a date for reopening your office.

Checklist – Assess your firm’s readiness for reopening by reviewing CDC guidelines for employers. Create a checklist for cleaning methods, hazard assessment, symptom screening, sick employees, social distancing, travel restrictions, and workplace policy,

Codes – Check local codes, state laws, and federal regulations on reopening. Stay informed and be flexible.

Communications – Keep clients, lawyers, and staff involved in planning and implementation with a constant flow of emails and memos. 

Collaboration – Returning to the workplace improves collaboration, supports the development of new employees, and nurtures firm culture. Until the return is completed, continue virtual team-building with online staff meetings, e-alerts, and e-newsletters.

Compassion – Be compassionate when deciding and when and how to reopen your office. There are a variety of factors that affect staff, including childcare, health conditions, and personal situations. Provide reasonable accommodation to those who need to continue working remotely or have limitations on their work schedules. 

Procedures – Adopt procedures for an organized and safe return to the office. Include controls on the way people work, monitoring their health, and notifying others of illness. Also cover phases of reopening, reservation of workspace, sign-ins, temperature checks, and vaccination requirements. Offer house calls and virtual counseling to clients that are unable to visit your office. 

Precautions – Contact building managers and landlords to assess readiness for reopening, including administrative controls, cleaning protocols, and ventilation systems. Undertake office re-arrangements to reduce risks by increasing distance between workstations and reducing seating in reception areas and conference rooms. Install lockers for personal belongings to promote hoteling and day-use of works space. 

Supplies – Purchase supplies to keep your office safe, including disinfectant sprays, face masks, hand sanitizers, safety posters, surface cleaners, and waste management materials.

Timing – Balance the needs of the clients, employees, and the firm. Start by adopting plans for reducing density, limiting attendance, and establishing safety precautions. Also, plan for long-term changes like the continuation of remote working and reduction of leased space. 

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Conclusion. Shifts in the Coronavirus situation have caused firms to consider the timing for reopening. Selecting a reopening date requires advance planning to accommodate the needs of clients, lawyers, and staff.  For a successful reopening, adopt a plan that promotes a spirit of cooperation, collaboration, and flexibility. Review the resources mentioned in this article to thrive in this challenging environment and optimize well-being.

Resources. For inspiration, read chapter three of Ecclesiastes, study its meaning, learn the history of Turn, Turn, Turn, and listen to renditions sung by the Byrds, Joan Collins, the Limelighters and Pete Seeger. Get up to speed on office reopening by reading the CDC Guidelines and Information. Also see articles about considerations, decisions, procedures, requirements, and trends. See state-by-state restrictions listed on news and travel websites. Download sample signs, memos, and policy statements on returning to work, telecommuting, and workplace safety. Visit Covid-19 websites maintained by the ABA, state bar associations, and organizations like Cushman & Wakefield, McKinsey and Company, the Society for Human Resource Management and the US Chamber of Commerce.

Michael Goldblatt

Mr. Goldblatt has authored numerous books and articles about marketing for lawyers. He wrote Blumberg’s client marketing pamphlets and designed Blumberg’s Summa Document Organizer and Semi-Customized Law Firm Brochures.