More law firms are dropping October comeback plans, choosing to watch and wait
- Ropes & Gray and Holland & Knight had planned to welcome most lawyers and staff again next month
- Consultants say businesses face a changing future
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(Reuters) – Law firms are returning to the drawing board on office reopening – and others are content with a big question mark, at least for now.
As September is almost over and the current wave of coronavirus cases in the United States is just starting to recede, some law firms that previously targeted October for mandatory office returns are canceling those plans without setting a new date. Ropes & Gray and Holland & Knight are among the latest scrappings that were slated for October 18 and 12, respectively.
A representative for Ropes & Gray confirmed on Friday that the company did not have a new date set for its next phase of reopening, which was to include “more regular use” of its offices. The Boston-based company continues to encourage in-person volunteer work with “free breakfast and lunch for those who enter,” the rep said.
In an internal memo, Holland & Knight said a full reopening at any time in 2021 is “unlikely.” The September 15 memo, published Monday by the legal blog Above the Law, promised workers at least 30 days’ notice before a mandatory return. Representatives for the Miami-based company did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.
Last week, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld chairman Kim Koopersmith sent a similar message to lawyers and staff who had been prepared to return in October, saying vaccinated workers were still welcome but that a mandatory return to the office must wait an indefinite date.
It was the second delay for Akin Gump, who, like other companies, had already pushed back plans to reopen from September to October or November. A handful of others, including Cahill Gordon & Reindel, Willkie Farr & Gallagher and Sanford Heisler Sharp, have postponed their targeted reopening until 2022.
Cooley and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati were among the first law firms to announce earlier in the summer that U.S. lawyers and staff would not be required to return to the office for the remainder of the year.
These measures reflect the extremely fluid situation law firms face, industry consultants have said. Firm leaders juggle the interests and preferences of lawyers and clients while keeping track of rapidly changing events and rapidly changing data, they said.
“It’s very evolving,” said Kristin Stark, director of the law firm Fairfax Associates.
Most law firms don’t have precise metrics or benchmarks for determining when people should return to the office, said Kent Zimmermann, a consultant to the Stark and Zeughauser Group. Firms try to balance competing interests, which includes lawyers who don’t want to return to the office full time.
Meanwhile, they are resigned to monitoring the actions of their customers and counterparts and looking for promising signs – like Monday’s announcement by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE that their COVID-19 vaccine has elicited a robust immune response in all 5. at the age of 11.
The prospect of more school-aged children being immunized is good news, but “the quality of the news remains to be seen,” Stark said.
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Report by Xiumei Dong