Sanford Heisler Uses Attorney Tenure in Setting Office Return Policy

Posted June 30th, 2021.

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More experienced lawyers can spend two or three days in the office each week, while those with less experience will spend four days in person.

By Andrew Maloney

What You Need to Know

  • Sanford Heisler Sharp is asking staff and less-experienced lawyers to return to the office 4 days a week.
  • The policy calls for more experienced lawyers to spend 2 to 3 days in the office.
  • The firm is also allotting two weeks of discretionary remote work time per year.

A high-profile plaintiffs employment firm is blazing a trail back to in-person work—one that factors in attorney tenure.

Sanford Heisler Sharp, a 50-lawyer firm with six offices, announced this week that more experienced lawyers will be expected to spend two or three days in the office each week while those with less experience will be asked to spend four days in person. The policy goes into effect Sept. 9.

It’s not a full-time, permanent return like the one announced by another employment firm, Wigdor, last month. While it does capture a bit of pandemic-era flexibility, it also reflects a similar preference for face-to-face interaction—especially for younger attorneys and staff.

According to the firm memo this week, the return policy calls for a four-day week that applies to the most junior lawyers—those with less than two years of experience or those who have less than one year of experience with the firm—but also to managing partners, as well as legal secretaries and firm staff. Those groups can take Mondays or Fridays away from the office, but are expected to be in during the middle of the week, firm leaders wrote in a Tuesday memo.

Those with more than two years of experience and who have been with the firm more than a year will be expected to be in-office two to three days a week, with “a strong preference for Tuesdays and/or Thursdays in addition to mandatory Wednesdays,” the missive states.

In an interview, firm chairman David Sanford said he hasn’t gotten any pushback on the policy so far. And while he expects it to work, he also said it’s “definitely an experiment” and is subject to revision down the road.

“The bottom line is that people are going to have to be available—as available as they were before, just as if they were sitting down the hall,” he said.
The Sanford firm previously said that everyone returning to the office beginning June 1 is required to be vaccinated. Sanford said that’s still the case, noting the Delta variant of COVID-19 could still ultimately affect firm policy on things like social distancing and mask-wearing.

“We’re entering a new phase of this virus,” he said. “And like everyone else, we’ll have to consider what we do as we move forward in order to ensure as much as we can everyone’s safety.”

Overall, Sanford said the firm’s aim is to provide enough time in-office to be able to “navigate the firm”—to be trained by senior people and interact with colleagues, among other things. ”We can do all the things we want to do, maintain the kind of culture we want to maintain, while at the same time offering people the flexibility that they clearly desire,” he said.

The firm’s memo this week adds that specific situations may call for additional time and that managing partners will be responsible for making such determinations. Lawyers and staff will also be allocated two weeks of remote time each year, with that time approved in advance by managing partners.

“The above represents baseline requirements; we welcome any and all employees to come to the office on additional days if so desired,” the note states.

The note adds that the firm may rescind remote work for employees who fail to meet expectations while doing so, such as being “available throughout the day and easily reachable by lawyers and staff.”

In an April email, the firm’s leadership previously said all offices would be open beginning in June and, during the summer, firm personnel “could return for as much or as little as you like.” But it said, beginning Sept. 9, “everyone will be expected to work in the office for at least some of the week.”

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