Reopening Your Law Firm Part 2: The Office

Now that some states are flattening the curve, guidelines are being established to allow the phased reopenings of businesses, including law firms. Since no one’s ever attempted to re-open businesses after a worldwide pandemic, we’re in uncharted territory. As a result, you’re undoubtedly wondering how to go about the reopening process in an efficient and safe manner.

Fortunately, there’s some guidance out there to help you do just that. In last week’s post we discussed how it’s important to establish a reopening committee whose job will be to plan for the return to work by putting in place processes that will ensure the safety of your employees and legal clients.

One part of that plan necessarily covers the workplace. This means that the committee will need create a plan for your law office that establishes safety precautions that take into account sanitation considerations, social distancing recommendations, employee movement, and client interaction.

Create written protocols

For starters, the committee should consider creating written protocols that are posted around the office and shared with and explained to employees. These written protocols should include:

  • Recommendations or requirements for face masks for employees and clients
  • Procedures regarding any daily health assessments for employees. These can include self-evaluation conducted by each employee, and if you deem it to be necessary, an evaluation conducted by someone in your office, to determine if it’s safe for an employees to return to work each day. To that end, here’s a sample of self-monitoring chart to provide to your employees.
  • Processes that have been put in place that are designed to ensure that employees are maintaining good hygiene at all times, are regularly washing their hands, and are prioritizing physical distancing
  • Plans that provide for the cleaning and sanitizing of the office throughout the workday and at the end of the day
  • Rules that limit the maximum capacity of various rooms in the office in order to comply physical distancing guidelines.
Health and safety considerations

When creating the protocols, there are a number of different health and safety issues the committee should consider. This safety plan template prepared by the New York State Department of Health covers a number of important topics to think about that relate to preparing your law office for re-opening. These questions are a great place to start when thinking about how to safely re-open your law firm:

  • What quantity of face coverings – and any other PPE – will you need to procure to ensure that you always have a sufficient supply on hand for employees and visitors? How will you procure these supplies
  • What policy will you implement to ensure that PPE is appropriately cleaned, stored, and/or discarded?
  • List common objects that are likely to be shared between employees. What measures will you implement to ensure the safety of your employees when using these objects?
  • Who will be responsible for maintaining a cleaning log? Where will the log be kept?
  • Where on the work location will you provide employees with access to the appropriate hand hygiene and/or sanitizing products and how will you promote good hand hygiene?
  • What policies will you implement to ensure regular cleaning and disinfection of your worksite and any shared objects or materials, using products identified as effective against COVID-19
  • Which employee(s) will be in charge of maintaining a log of each person that enters the site (excluding customers and deliveries that are performed with appropriate PPE or through contactless means), and where will the log be kept?

Finally, one last important consideration is to re-think your law office’s layout and flow to ensure the safety of both employees and clients. You may need to control access points by erecting barriers to enforce social distancing and posting signs around the office that clearly set forth expectations for everyone who enters it. This pamphlet from the Indiana State Bar Association offers some guidance in that regard:

  • DEVELOP GUEST AND VISITOR POLICIES: Consider limiting access to certain types of visitors such as clients, vendors or contractors. Limit visitors to one office area, restricting their access to the larger workplace. Ideally, visitors should be attending preplanned meetings. When scheduling a meeting, provide attendees with an advance list of office protocols they will be expected to follow.
  • MANAGE PUBLIC ACCESS TO THE WORKPLACE: Consider limiting the number of entrances and exits, or have separate entrances and exits for employees and the public. Consider keeping doors closed to eliminate walk-in traffic. When possible, designate an entrance and exit to create one-way traffic flow.
  • INSTALL/UTILIZE PROTECTIVE SHIELDS AND BARRIERS: Install protective barriers in reception areas, if possible, to protect employees from visitors/clients. Consider clear acrylic, plexiglass or plastic sheeting as options.
  • IMPLEMENT VISITOR HEALTH PROCEDURES: Consider temperature checks at the door. Ask if visitors are showing any symptoms of being ill before allowing them into the building. Have hand sanitizer stations inside the entrance and near the exit, and encourage
    visitors to use them.
  • SIGNAGE: Install signage at multiple, relevant locations in the entry sequence, explaining building access rules and other protocols that impact how occupants use and move throughout the building. Suggested language to visitors: “You must wear a mask or face covering while inside this office. Persons without such a mask or face covering will not be permitted to
    enter. Additionally, visitors are required to use provided hand sanitizer.”

Those are just a few tips to help you get your law office ready for the return to work. Of course, there’s more to you re-opening that the office alone. There are a host of issues to  consider that relate to your employees’ well being as well. We’ll cover those in next week’s blog post so be sure to check back.

In the meantime, for even more great advice on weathering the pandemic, check out this recording of a recent webinar: “Webinar Recap: How 3 Established Firms Are Handling COVID-19.”

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