Back to work. Photo credit: Boguslaw Mazur / Shutterstock.com
As the state and country formulate plans to reopen companies, California-based law firms take the time to decide when and how they could return to the office.
Jurisdictions are in different ways based on coronavirus infection rates in their communities as Governor Gavin Newsom has started a discussion about how certain companies will enter the "second phase" of reopening. In the meantime, strict instructions remain in place in some places – Barbara Ferrer, director of public health in Los Angeles County, said Tuesday that the county’s order to stay at home will be in force by July.
While many California companies that have spoken to The Recorder say they have no intention of returning to the office, some serious discussion has begun on how to do this safely, even if it is preliminary.
Steve Feldman, partner at Hueston Hennigan, is a member of a small steering committee that has been charged with managing the eventual reopening of the company. The company has been completely remote since the beginning of March and was thus able to meet all of its customers' needs.
"We will be guided by science and the guidelines that are issued by public health officials," said Feldman. "Although we'd like to bring everyone back together and see each other soon in one place, we know we have to be guided by science here."
He said the firm acknowledges that most lawyers will be working remotely for a while and that the lawyers are "blessed" that so much of their work can be done remotely compared to industries like retail and restaurants. The company is committed to avoiding layoffs in the current situation and has even given employees a $ 1,000 bonus to help with financial pressure.
Still, he added, every company is likely to have at least a few employees who feel isolated and want to go back to their normal environment. But even if this happens, it won't go on as usual.
"Obviously there are countless questions about reopening the office. The question is not just when, but how," said Feldman.
These considerations include how to get tests for returning people, whether to check the temperature at the door, whether to install sneeze guards, how to get masks for workers, and to prevent people from gathering in small areas such as the kitchen.
Another important consideration is the size of a law firm's office building and the way people commute to their jobs, said Bob Baradaran, managing partner of Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger.
"Honestly, I think that anyone who has" offices "in an office building of any size cannot count on eliminating the risk of zero exposure. You have to walk through the parking lots, corridors, and lobby areas," he said. The majority the company's employee travels to and from work, but for those using public transportation, this is another way to be exposed to the virus.
Greenberg Glusker was also away from the office in early March before government and local mandates required closure. Baradaran said the company is actively engaged in internal discussions about the timing and form of a return, led by public health officials. Any change will be gradual, he said.
"The only thing I know now is that there will be a new normal. It will not be exactly the same as before. But what it will look like and when we will do it is uncertain," said Baradaran not hurry to go back to the office until we have more information. "
He said Greenberg Glusker probably won't let everyone come back at once, and management will encourage those who can work from home to continue as far as possible. Especially for functions in certain areas of the office, this is necessary to maintain the appropriate distance between people, he said.
Richard Dickson, chairman of Fenwick & West, said in a statement that his company too had experienced "minimal disruption" from working from home.
"While officials are picking up orders to stay at home, Fenwick will be conservative about how and when we get back to our offices," said Dickson. "If we step down, we will do so in a way that protects our community and protects public health."
No company that spoke to The Recorder said they already have a concrete plan to reopen offices in California. Most said they are still watching the situation develop.
At Rutan & Tucker, management has taken up discussions about returning to the office and formed a committee to drive this strategy forward, Managing Director Tony Malkani said in an email.
"The mainstay of the plan will be to comply with the mandates given by the California Governor's Office and to implement appropriate policies that will allow us to focus on the health and safety of our personnel, with the practicality of returning to operations in." Harmonizing in the office as part of the new normal. It is likely that the plan will take shape in the next few weeks and that we are ready to return to the office if it is permitted, ”said Malkani.
A spokesman for the San Francisco boutique Shartsis Friese said the company was planning to wait for further developments and would consider its options during that time.
Baradaran hopes that when companies reopen, they will treat everyone fairly in terms of flexibility in remote work, as different people may have different exposure concerns.
Baradaran said he thinks it was easier for transaction lawyers than process lawyers to deviate from their usual routine at work.
However, Hueston Hennigan's Feldman, who focuses on high-end litigation, said that things had gone smoothly from a distance and that the firm's litigation focus positioned it well for the near future.
"This is a good time to see how this experiment works from home," said Feldman. "It was wonderful to see how resourceful and productive people have stayed."