To help give some clarity to the matter, the American Bar Association (ABA) sponsored a panel called “Returning to the Office … Or Not” moderated by lawyer and legal analyst Joey Jackson. Among the topics discussed included protecting employee health, remote work and how to best grapple with the fallout from the pandemic.
Experts David Lat, Patricia Brown Holmes and J.Y. Miller each offered their take on what they expect, and what might be advisable for law offices around the country. Miller, who oversees a team of 76 lawyers in addition to 32 support staff at Husch Blackwell, said he believes working from home is not going anywhere in the near future. “I think, without a doubt, remote work is here to stay,” Miller said. “When you look at our future and you look at the lessons learned from the past 15 months, I don’t see how you come to any conclusion other than remote work needs to be part of that solution.”
Brown, a managing partner at Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila concurs with that assessment, and added, though, she is personally reluctant to require staffers to get vaccinated like the federal government. “If the federal government is going to mandate vaccines, I’m fine with that,” Holmes said. “I won’t mandate vaccines for my people. I will mandate that they take care of themselves and keep themselves healthy as they try to do their jobs.”
Recently, President Joe Biden announced federal government employees—and federal contractors are likely to be lumped in with them soon—will be required to attest that they have been vaccinated. Those who do not make that attestation will be required to wear a mask while at work and submit to weekly testing.
“Look at the Chamber of Commerce representing tens of thousands of American businesses. The National Association of Manufacturers. The Business Roundtable, which is comprised of the largest and biggest corporations in America. They’re all applauding the actions the federal government is taking, and I urge them to follow suit,” Biden said.
"Most of the more than 618,000 who have already died from covid in America succumbed to variants of the coronavirus that preceded the more contagious and more deadly #DeltaVariant that's now the most common in our country. The stakes have never been higher. Please #GetVaccinated."
Lat, who founded the Above the Law legal website, said as someone who contracted a severe case of COVID-19, he will take “more rather than fewer measures to combat the spread of the virus” should employees return to the office. Many larger firms, he said, have already taken the step of requiring vaccinations or requiring testing.
“That strikes me as a very reasonable middle ground,” Lat said during the panel discussion. “They’re not necessarily forcing it or requiring it per se, but it certainly makes your life easier if you just get vaccinated as opposed to having to submit to the swab up your nose every time you want to go to the office.”
As for those employees who do continue to work from home for the foreseeable future, Holmes added it will be critical that personal boundaries are set up to ensure a proper work-life balance. Too often, she said, employers took advantage of employees during quarantine. “Folks have come to expect us to be available 24-7, almost, because they can reach you whenever they want to,” Holmes said. “I think, as a society, if we are going to embrace remote work, we need to embrace some hours around that.”