New CDC Guidelines May Change Return-to-Office Policies at Phila. Law Firms

Law firms are revising their office health requirements after a guideline update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week found that fully vaccinated individuals can safely inhabit most indoor and outdoor spaces, with no masks and social distancing to wear.

Philadelphia Department of Public Health officials say the city is reviewing updated guidelines from the CDC and the state and plans to make a decision “within days” about using masks for those who have had COVID since their last dose 19 vaccine two weeks have passed. Recently, contrary to the CDC’s recent change, the city is demanding masks for working in an office, but the city also lifted indoor occupancy restrictions earlier this month.

“Philadelphia has often been stricter than the rest of the state,” the city’s health department said in a statement through a spokesman. “Masks are one of the most effective tools we have to stop the spread of COVID-19. The health department wants to make sure that all implications are understood when people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID are unmasked.

In the meantime, leadership teams at local law firms are striving to develop specific guidelines for their teams to return to the office as policy updates change at the local, state, and federal levels.

Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller board members will continue to meet over the next few weeks to set a reopening date and guidelines and plans for the reopening, said CEO David Pudlin.

Pudlin said the Hangley Aronchick Philadelphia office will remain closed and there is no office activity for the company’s staff, although he added that anyone who needs to go to the office can do so as long as they follow necessary health guidelines. He said the company is not yet admitting visitors to the office.

“We are aware of the CDC announcement and my company’s board of directors is in session … and I’m sure we will discuss it, but I can’t comment yet,” Pudlin said in an email.

Conrad O’Brien’s leadership told employees on Tuesday that the internal occupancy limits of their building would be closed on Nov.

The midsize law firm internally announced plans to bring its staff back into the office, said Robyn Henry, the firm’s administrative director. Those plans include a formal reopening on September 7th, which Henry said employees and attorneys must come to the office at least two days a week through the end of September.

In October, Henry said the company would implement a work from home policy based on the state of affairs in September.

Henry said that when devising a reopening process, making sure individuals are comfortable returning to work and taking into account the schedules of working parents is a top priority.

“We want to teach people something,” said Henry. “It worked really well for us at home. We don’t feel this rush to bring people back overnight even though things are open because our people are generally happy to work from home. “

Speaking at the Big Law arena, Grant Palmer, CEO of Blank Rome said the company is “analyzing how the new CDC guidelines will affect” the company’s existing guidelines on the wearing of masks in offices as they currently exist of the Philadelphia-based company.

“We are in the process of reviewing company-wide survey results and several other factors to develop our flexible and gradual return to the office, the details of which we will be sharing with colleagues shortly,” said Palmer.

Some law firms have found that flexible working hours, which allow lawyers to split their time between the office and home, are a significant hiring incentive. Henry said they plan to be flexible enough not only to keep the existing talent in the 40-year-old law firm, but also to attract new talent.

“Hopefully, if we’re one of the more flexible companies we can hire new talent who want a more flexible work-life balance,” said Henry. “We think this could be a good recruiting tool.”

Additionally, recruiters said dissatisfaction with their company’s response to the pandemic and a desire to record more hours from home are causing sideways shifts in the Philadelphia legal market.

“I think it’s too early to say if this will become a dominant trend, but attorneys’ preference seems to be for a law firm to provide some type of home-based work,” said Jason Mandel, Partner and Director of Legal Recruitment at Alevistar Legal Search said in an email. “Pushing people back into the office full-time is definitely worrying for some potential candidates.”

Lizzy McLellan contributed to this article.

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