- Companies balance conflicting interests as caseloads decline
- “There are risks in all directions,” says former chief operating officer of law firm
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(Reuters) – Instead of coming to the office, many lawyers from Debevoise & Plimpton will reconnect at home on Monday after the firm delayed a mass comeback scheduled for October 11. Meanwhile, Ropes & Gray, which last month scrapped plans for an October return, is now stepping up for a gradual reopening early next month.
The seven-day average of daily coronavirus cases in the United States fell below 100,000 Friday, the last milestone as the Delta wave continues to retreat. For the country, this is a reason to rejoice. For law firm executives, this is the latest twist in the management roller coaster, as they balance the desire to reopen offices with health considerations, client preferences and lawyer expectations.
“There are risks in all directions,” said Robert Kamins, founder of Vertex Advisors Group, former chief operating officer at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, which advises law firms on management matters.
“There is a risk for the firm that if you push too hard you risk losing good people … There is a risk for the candidates or for the lawyers of the firms. [that] if you don’t enter, your career will suffer. So there are forces on all sides pushing on this, which is quite difficult, âKamins said.
A spokesperson for Debevoise confirmed he postponed its reopening on Monday but declined to say if he had a new goal. Ropes & Gray, which previously scheduled an October 18 return, will now begin its next phase of reopening on November 8, according to an internal October 4 email.
Citing a “constant improvement” in case processing rates, Ropes president Julie Jones said lawyers would start working in person at least once or twice a week until the end of the year. She wrote that 70 percent of partners were already back in the office by the end of September.
Weil Gotshal & Manges are also planning a “partial return” to US offices next month. The firm’s general counsel, Mindy Spector, told employees earlier this month that starting November 1, she expects lawyers and others to be in attendance at least two days a week until a return. wider scheduled for January 10.
Even then, Spector said in an internal email, employees can work remotely on Fridays and can take on an additional remote day each week.
Firms are walking a narrow line, said consultant to law firm Kent Zimmermann of the Zeughauser Group. âThe challenge is to balance the benefits of being in person with the imperative of attracting and retaining the best people, knowing that some of them are not ready to be expected in the office full time,â a- he declared.
Then there is the biggest concern of all: the customers. While many companies have embraced remote working, some in key industries like investment banking and finance have been less enthusiastic, Kamins said. In July Morgan Stanley chief legal officer Eric Grossman berated law firms for “the lack of urgency to send lawyers back to the office,” suggesting they risked losing the bank’s business.
Grossman’s warning came as the Delta wave began to gain strength. At the end of the summer, concerns about the virus seemed to overwhelm the message at many companies, leading to a wave of delayed reopenings. Looking back on the wave, industry watchers say businesses will need to continue to adapt until they see what winter brings.
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