Posted June 11th, 2021.
By Marco Poggio
Law360 (June 11, 2021, 4:04 PM EDT) — Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP has joined other firms in offering a flexible work arrangement beginning in the fall, while allowing employees to work remotely full time through the summer, a firm spokesperson said Friday.
Beginning this month, the midsize firm has allowed its employees, about 100 firmwide, to work out of its six offices around the country if they so choose. The plan is to continue the voluntary office policy until Sept. 9, the Thursday after Labor Day, when the firm will begin offering a hybrid work arrangement. Employees will then be expected to work from the office two to three days a week on a staggered schedule, the firm said.
Sanford Heisler’s chairman, David Sanford, told Law360 in an email Friday that only a handful of partners have shown up at the New York office since the current plan kicked in on June 1.
“It’s been quiet,” Sanford said. “On Monday of this week, there were only three of us in the New York office. People may come in on some intermittent basis, and there may be people who won’t come in at all during the summer.”
The summer will give employees time to transition back to a more substantial in-office presence in the fall, Sanford said.
“It is important to give people a transitional period,” Sanford said. “We have been working remotely for 15 months. A gradual return makes sense for us.”
Sanford noted that the firm has engaged its employees constantly throughout the last year to come up with its reopening plan.
“What we are hearing is that many people prefer to work from home at least some of the time,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on employees, he said.
“Individuals are still dealing with it. Some are dealing with the aftereffects of a health crisis. Some are dealing with the sadness associated with losing friends or relatives,” Sanford said. “We are still in the midst of it psychologically, and we thought it was very important to have a transitional period where people may come back if they want.”
But the firm ultimately aims to bring its teams back into its offices, he said.
“Our firm has a very strong and collegial culture. I think it’s very important for people ultimately to come back some time during the week to continue to cultivate relationships and build our culture,” Sanford said. “We expect that people will have a regular, albeit flexible, presence in the office.”
The need to meet face to face for mentorship, legal training and morale are other aspects of the firm’s life that require people to be back in the office, Sanford said.
“You can’t do all of that remotely very well,” he said.
Sanford Heisler is one of numerous firms adopting a hybrid work model, with varying degrees of in-person presence and different starting dates. Some firms expect to return to a mostly in-office workforce at the beginning of next year.
Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft LLP said this past week its employees are encouraged, though not required, to show up at the office between now and Labor Day. The firm is expecting to make the office its “primary workspace” starting on Jan. 1.
But other firms are embracing the possibility of a hybrid work arrangement in a more open-ended fashion. Dechert LLP announced last month that it will allow employees to work from home half the time beginning in September.
At least some firms are aiming at being back to 100% office capacity starting in the fall, but others are considering making remote work a constant feature of their operations for the foreseeable future.
Sanford also said the firm was about to renegotiate some of its leases with the intention of using less space, something happening across the board in the legal industry.
Sanford Heisler entered long-term leases for its offices in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore right before the pandemic. The firm is unlikely to renegotiate those, but it might sublet some of that office space over time. For leases that are up for renewal in the next two years, the firm plans to reduce its working space, Sanford said.
“In some places where we have large offices, space might be reduced somewhat,” Sanford said. “In [New York], for example, we may reduce our footprint by about one-third.”
–Additional reporting by Annie Pancak and Aebra Coe. Editing by Daniel King.