As New York begins to put forward plans for reopening parts of the state, the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) offered guidance on how law firms can safely go "back to work" during the ongoing pandemic. The guidance was developed by the NYSBA’s recently-convened working group on restarting the economy and provides an array of tips for law firms seeking to reopen their doors. Among other things, the guidance advises law firms to:
- Create an office reopening transition team. The NYSBA recommends that law firms create and use an office reopening transition team to: monitor oversight of the reopening plan and implementation; develop and update internal policies for transitioning from remote to in-office work; field questions or concerns from employees; become familiar with applicable laws and regulations governing safety and human resources issues; develop a COVID-19 screening plan for employees; and create client and visitor policies.
- Prepare the workplace. The NYSBA advises that law firms take a number of actions to physically prepare the workplace as well, such as assessing workplace entry and HVAC systems, coordinating with landlords on safety procedures in building common areas, installing social distancing signage, developing and implementing cleaning and sanitization plans, and rearranging workstations.
- Prepare employees. The NYSBA counsels law firms to continue encouraging remote work and avoidance of public transportation, and to stagger work hours in an effort to minimize social contact.
Finally, the NYSBA guidance recommends that law firms continue relying on technology to conduct mediations, depositions, hearings and arguments, and that they prohibit in-person meetings and restrict the number of people that come into the office at the same time. Even the use of photocopiers is addressed, as the NYSBA encourages firms to restrict their use as a means of reducing personal contact.
The NYSBA’s new guidance does not purport to provide comprehensive instruction for how law firms should reopen but instead is intended to encourage law firms to carefully consider and plan all aspects of reopening as the state continues to implement new measures.
The NYSBA’s new guidance does not purport to provide comprehensive instruction for how law firms should reopen. But to the extent it inspires firms to carefully consider and plan all aspects of reopening before Phase Two ultimately arrives, it is certainly a good start.