Over the past month I’ve written a series of blog posts on safely reopening your law firm. These posts cover all of the issues that you’ll need to be address before reopening your office for business.
In Part 1 I discussed the importance of creating a reopening committee, in Part 2 I focused on how to prepare your workplace, and in Part 3 I discussed how to prepare your workforce. In last week’s post I covered the employment law issues you’ll need to familiarize yourself with so that your firm will be fully prepared should an employee become ill or need time off to care for a loved one who is unwell.
This week I’ll be focusing on another important topic: ensuring that your newly reopened law office is safe for your firm’s clients. As I discuss below, a key part of reopening your law firm with your clients in mind is to clearly communicate the steps your firm has taken to prepare your firm, which should include sanitization procedures and social distancing efforts. All of the recommendations below have been obtained from law firm reopening guides provided by the New York, New Jersey, and Indiana state bar associations.
First and foremost, it’s important to provide your clients with clear information regarding the steps you’ve taken to ensure that your law office is as safe as possible. As explained below, communication in this regard should occur prior to clients arriving at your firm, whether by letter, email, or phone call. Also important is to posts signs around your firm that provide guidance and information regarding social distancing and hygiene protocols.
Here are some steps to take to ensure clear communication with your firm’s clients both before and during their visit to your office:
- When scheduling a meeting, provide attendees with an advance list of office
protocols they will be expected to follow, and the steps you’ve taken to make the office a safe environment.
- 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.
- Prepare the signs in all languages that are likely to be used in the building.
- Post a sign with this suggested language at the entryway for visitors: “For your safety and ours, 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. You must keep your mask on as directed during your visit, and are also required to use the provided hand sanitizer immediately upon entering and as directed throughout the building”
- Provide visual indicators of appropriate spacing outside the building in case
- Post signs about the importance of personal hygiene.
- Provide “No handshake” signs in the entry and reception areas.
- Consider having your clients sign a waiver prior to entering the building.
During the entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic, regularly sanitizing your law office will be of the utmost importance. Doing so will protect both employees and clients. Make sure to establish protocols focused on health and sanitization procedures and educate employees and clients on the procedures that will be in place. To that end, the following are a list of procedures that your firm should mandate to ensure safety for all visitors:
- Implement visitor health procedures.
- Consider requiring 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, near the exit, near restrooms, etc., and encourage visitors to use them.
- Provide wall-mounted disinfectant dispensers throughout the firm as much as possible.
- Develop specific cleaning protocols – including frequency – and ensure that they are regularly implemented.
Minimize physical interaction
Finally, you’ll need to take steps to minimize physical interaction between law firm employees and your clients as much as possible. These steps will include physical barriers, reducing the number of people in the office at one time, reducing the number of in-person meetings to the extent possible, and installing building upgrades designed to reduce physical contact.
Here are a number of actions to consider implementing in your firm that will minimize physical contact:
- Limit the number of people coming in the office at the same time.
- Implement procedures by which employees/partners may elect to work from home without having to disclose any personal health information or health information of close relatives/household members.
- Discourage meetings in the office, whenever possible.
- Establish policies for when there must be a meeting in the office.
- Continue to conduct all meetings and interviews telephonically or by video whenever practicable, including mediation and depositions.
- Ideally, visitors should attend only preplanned meetings.
- Develop procedures for whether the office will allow walk-ins.
- Consider limiting access to certain types of visitors such as clients, vendors or
- Limit visitors to one office area, and restrict access to the larger workplace.
- Install barriers at reception areas and remove seating from those areas;
- Create plans for common areas, including lobbies, elevators, break rooms, cafeterias, etc.
- If possible, eliminate “face-to-face” seating where exposure could occur.
- Remove or block seating in common areas and conference rooms to enforce social distancing of six feet.
- If possible, eliminate cloth fabric seating and use easily cleaned vinyl or leather hard surfaces.
- Consider building upgrades, including voice-activated controls (to control lights, for example),
touchless fixtures (such as faucets, paper towel and soap dispensers),
- Leave lights on if possible.
- Install motion-activated doors, lights and fixtures if feasible, and remove non-essential doors or door handles if possible.
- Rethink your layout – repurpose large spaces (such as conference rooms) to eliminate shared
workspaces and create distance between tight workspaces.
- When possible, designate an entrance and exit to create one-way traffic flow.
Follow these steps and the advice discussed in my earlier blog posts, and your firm will be ready to open its doors to clients safely, with their best interests in mind.
We’re in the midst of unprecedented times, but rest assured, if you take the necessary steps, your firm will survive and thrive despite the uncertainty wrought by COVID-19. For even more information to help your firm through this pandemic, make sure to check out our COVID-19 Resource Center for lots of informative guides, ebooks, free webinars, and more.