Posted May 6th, 2021.
By Justin Wise
Law360 (May 6, 2021, 4:37 PM EDT) — Reed Smith LLP said Thursday that it would gradually begin encouraging more of its lawyers to go into the office in the coming months, as it eyes fully reopening all of its 17 U.S. locations by September.
The BigLaw firm is the latest to unveil a plan to return to the office as the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations picks up in many parts of the U.S. The firm said it is encouraging its employees to get a vaccine but not requiring vaccination in order to go into the office at this time.
Once the firm’s locations are fully reopened, lawyers will be allowed to continue to work remotely, according to a firm statement. But they will be expected to maintain a “routine” physical presence in the office, said Casey Ryan, Reed Smith’s global head of legal personnel.
Reed Smith had more than 1,200 attorneys in its U.S. offices at the end of 2019, according to the Law360 400.
Ryan told Law360 Pulse in a phone interview that the new policy “strikes a good and workable balance for people,” mixing the advantages of working from home and in the office. She said the firm’s lawyers remained “very productive” during the pandemic, but that the office environment is important for collaboration and mentorship.
The phased-in return will include a program starting in June encouraging U.S. workers to sign up to work in the office on one Wednesday that month. The firm said it is aiming for a “soft” July 6 opening of all its offices, where employees will be required to reserve a space so the firm can adhere to capacity limits. Ryan said its “reservation system” is already being used in London.
The offices will fully reopen Sept. 7, “subject to local health regulations and capacity limits,” the firm said.
The COVID-19 outbreak last spring prompted Reed Smith and the rest of the legal industry to abruptly transform into a remote workforce. The firm said Thursday that a majority of its employees are still working remotely full-time, but that some lawyers and staff have been going into the office in certain locations in recent months.
In addition to lawyers, all staffers will not be required to work in the office full-time once the office reopens, though some “essential” employees will be office-based, the firm said. It also noted that its summer associate program will begin as a remote program in May, with optional office activities in June and July.
Multiple firms in recent weeks have disclosed their intention to begin gradually returning to the office this summer. DLA Piper said last month that starting in June, the “decision to work remotely or not” would be left up to employees. The firm is also targeting a Sept. 7 reopening of its offices.
“Given the success of remote working, we anticipate continuing to offer flexible work arrangements,” DLA Piper said.
While civil rights firm Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP and Seattle-based BigLaw firm Davis Wright Tremaine have required COVID-19 vaccines for employees to return to the office, most firms appear to be staying away from a strict mandate. Many firm leaders have said they are instead urging their employees to get vaccinated.
–Additional reporting by Aebra Coe. Editing by Marygrace Murphy.