Many states, including here in Illinois, are reopening to varying degrees. While many people are excited and ready to get back to the office, some are taking things a bit more slowly. And others have never closed their offices completely. No matter which approach you took during shelter-in-place orders, these 5 tips to safely reopen your law office protect you and your law firm.

Office Access

Safely returning to the office takes a bit of forethought and planning. If only it was like turning a light back on - a flip of the switch and we all go back to 'normal'. But it's not.  

  • Check with office building management on their requirements as to coming back to the building.
  • Determine office opening and closing hours. 
  • Decide how many people can be in the office at one time. This helps limit exposure to the whole firm.
  • Specify returning requirements:
    • People who return should be feeling well and have no symptoms of illness, like a fever, body aches, etc. If you want to be extra sure, taking temps prior to coming in to the office is an option.
    • Prioritize roles and individuals to return to the office. It would be great to have everyone back in as quickly as possible, but it's likely safer to bring people back slowly. Whoever has the greatest need to access the office - whether it's for documents or other resources - should have priority. Those that can easily continue to work remotely without any negative impact to the firm can wait a bit longer.

The CDC has several guidelines you can refer to as well. 

Staying Healthy

We have all heard about the second wave of COVID-19. Some say we are still in the first wave, others believe some geographic areas are in the second. Either way, it's critical to stay healthy while returning to the office.

  • Check with building management on their disinfecting practices. Most likely, the building is handling all common spaces, requiring a maximum number of people in an elevator (if there is one), and more. Check to see if they have additional requirements for tenants.
  • Masks are beneficial for all, required by some states/cities, and optional for others. Check your local requirements and go from there.
  • Specify good hand washing practices. Always a good idea to clean up after getting in to the building/office space, after handling incoming mail/packages, etc.
  • Clean and disinfect door knobs, work surfaces, computers, and surfaces that are frequently touched. 
  • If firm members use public transportation to get to/from the office, you may want to delay their return to the office a bit longer. Or not. But think about it.

Keep an Eye on It

SO very critical to monitor the health of everyone who has returned. If someone reports feeling ill, it's definitely safer to shut it back down until the infected person determines the cause of the illness.

  • Identify a monitoring leader. Let the firm know if they are not feeling well they must contact the monitoring leader. That person can then let whoever is making these decisions update and then communicate to the rest of the firm. Now, we aren't suggesting the office shut back down if anyone has a hangnail or anything but headaches, body aches, fevers, etc. should be taken seriously. The best outcome is the firm over protects its members and keeps others from getting sick, too. 
  • That same leader monitors the latest from either building management or local authorities. I can tell you here in Chicago, the news comes fast and furious. The best news is that we are proceeding well and infection/death rates continue to drop. But I guarantee if it starts going the other way, going back up, we will shut down again. And fast. It's critical to have a point person on this, too.
  • Consider using a messaging platform for the firm. Slack is always popular. Some case management software platforms, like SimpleLaw, let you message within the law firm through the platform. Whichever tool you use, it's good to have some easy and fast way to connect with everyone.
  • Communicate with building management on any illnesses. 

Information is key always and in all ways. That's true for your clients, cases, law firm, and of course, your team. Monitoring is critical.

A Good Defense is the Best Offense

Who knows if and when there will be a second wave of COVID-19 (or another crazy issue.. 2020 is out of control, am I right?). While your office is open, take the time to prepare.

  • Can the firm access documents online? Consider moving documents on current active matters to the cloud
  • Consider a case management software platform, like SimpleLaw, to make time tracking, invoicing, and payment faster and easier for the entire firm. 
  • Check that billing/invoicing/payment process. Were hours missed? Review the process used during lockdown and see where the holes are. 
  • Check in with your clients! How are they doing? What worked for them and what didn't? A little attention makes a big difference here.

The best outcome here is taking action. Even if it's baby steps. But I will tell you, change is not easy. Best to jump to the ultimate solution versus taking baby steps - read multiple change processes. 

Get Feedback

The firm went through this... thing... together. What worked? What didn't? How are people feeling? It's important to take the opportunity to learn from the entire experience. And remember, not everyone shares the same outlook. Did anyone in the firm experience a loss? Did anyone get sick themselves? Although moving back to the office is a good thing, overall, it's not necessarily a happy thing for everyone. 

  • Consider a quick -  or maybe not so quick - call to each person in the firm. Check in, in-person. It's just great to connect live and invest the time to see where each person is on the entire process.
  • Ask some specific questions about the bad and the good. I know I value the negative feedback far more than the positive. We only do better when we know what we need to improve. That's the good stuff. Be open to the feedback. No one is perfect.
  • Be patient if some people need a bit more time before heading back in. If they can continue to work remotely, or maybe they need to due to family issues, try to accommodate them. 
  • Mental health is one of the top concerns coming out of shelter-in-place orders. Does the firm insurance cover mental health? It's worth looking in to. Or you can share wellness resources people can use on their own. 

Once you gather that feedback, be sure to set-up ongoing feedback/discussion processes. It's just good business. 

The most important aspect of all of this is staying healthy. Rely on your local authorities who monitor things at a wider level and take their suggestions to heart. I wish I could guarantee this will never happen again, but we all know no one can do that. Be safe. Be careful. Be well.

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Written by SimpleLaw