Essential considerations for keeping your law practice safe as Massachusetts moves through phases of reopening.
As Covid-19 rates spike in unpredictable patterns following reopening efforts and protests against police brutality have just begun, Massachusetts entered Phase 2 of reopening on June 8th. While some legal work has been essential, office space opened on May 25 across the commonwealth and on June 1 in Boston.
Reopening involves risk, which is hard to quantify. Atul Gawande points out in the New Yorker that there are places that have “figured out a way to open and have employees work safely, with one another and with their customers.” American hospitals have managed to avoid becoming sites of spread. Still, they have had workplace transmissions — only “a few” at Mass General Brigham — and hospitals are the best prepared environments.
Each of five elements must be taken seriously to stop the virus, according to Gawande: (1) Hygiene, (2) Distancing, (3) Screening, (4) Masks, and (5) Culture Changes. As the guidelines for reopening Massachusetts attempt to balance the competing interests of public health and economic concerns, a recent program on Law Firm Reopening: Keeping Your Practice Safe in Unprecedented Times from the Massachusetts Bar Association discussed ongoing risks and other considerations for implementing Massachusetts safety standards.
In reality, changing culture precedes all other efforts to avoid spread. Some environments like hospitals are better suited to implement the relevant protocols. As the leader of your firm, you’re responsible for managing big change as you implement strategies for reopening, as pointed out by program chair and Mass LOMAP Senior Practice Advisor Susan White. Mass LOMAP advisors can help lawyers in Massachusetts with leadership and planning — Find more on scheduling a Free & Confidential consultation here.
It’s normal — even healthy — to feel uncomfortable as a leader right now, as explained in this Harvard Business Review article. Recognizing that lawyers like to look for certainty and that Covid-19 is unpredictable by nature, Susan highlighted key principles for your approach to reopening in the MBA program:
- Plan for review and adjustment.
- Invite anonymous input from employees on substantive work and emotions.
- Address concerns with flexibility and creativity.
- Use mistakes as information; receive and process it. (Here’s more on how lawyers can overcome perfectionism.) Panelist Bruce Edmands, Vice Chair MBA Solo/Small Firm LPM Section Council suggested using the simple approach of military “after action reports” following adverse incidents: (1) gather and compile relevant information and (2) determine recommendations to improve.
Maintaining remote work arrangements whenever possible is the rule as broader economic activity resumes. With clear exceptions, technology has enabled individuals to be equally and often more effective with remote work. Again, Mass LOMAP advisors can help lawyers in Massachusetts with tech and planning — Find more on scheduling a Free & Confidential consultation here.
Law Firm Reopening Policies & Massachusetts Safety Standards
Massachusetts Office Spaces Mandatory Safety Standards
Checklist: Massachusetts Office Spaces Mandatory Safety Standards
Massachusetts COVID-19 Control Plan Template
Reopening will require you to implement and communicate policies necessary to follow the state-issued standards above, which divides protocols into the following areas: (1) distancing, (2) hygiene, (3) staffing & operations, and (4) cleaning & disinfecting. Decisions about how to implement the safety standards in your firm will require you to communicate and work with your landlord and building maintenance on common areas — as well as HVAC systems, which pose a particular (unquantified) risk. Other considerations follow:
- Distancing Protocols: Rearranging spaces; Installing partitions; Distance markers; Traffic patterns & markers; Staggering hours; Small space closures
- Hygiene Protocols: Identify products to use; Locations of hand sanitizing stations
- Staffing & Operations Protocols: Identify which employees need to return, whether to stagger hours, and what operations to resume; Address HVAC/air filtration system risks (i.e. require face masks at all times if you don’t have access to regularly circulated fresh air; WGBH article here); Select face masks to provide employees (Healthline summary on face masks; Ministry of Supply/MIT collaboration heralded as “best brand”); Select screening tools to use (a listing of apps from Oregon Law Practice Management); Create protocols for employees who get sick at work and for return-to-work
- Cleaning & Disinfecting Protocols: Identify cleaning service and terms; Enable frequent intermittent cleaning of communal surfaces (before & after use)
Keys to communicating your policies are (1) provide copies, (2) post signage, and (3) train staff. The following resources can help with signage:
- Massachusetts Compliance Attestation & Visitor Notice Sign
- Workplace Reminders Sample Sign
- Elevator (One Passenger at a Time) Sample Sign
- Restroom (One Employee at a Time) Sample Sign
- Kitchen Closed Sample Sign
CDC Reopening Business Decision Tool (Flowchart)
Reopening Massachusetts Report (Full, May 18, 2020)
Massachusetts Mandatory Safety Standards Employer Guide Infographic
Massachusetts updates to sector-specific protocols for office spaces
OHSA Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for Covid-19
McLane Webinar on Preparing Your Workforce for Re-Opening — includes discussion on psychological considerations, both emotional and societal.
New York State Bar Association Guidance on Reopening Law Firms
Sample Reopening Protocols: Louisiana State Bar Association
Free & Confidential Consultations:
Lawyers, law students, and judges in Massachusetts can discuss concerns with a law practice advisor, licensed therapist, or both. Find more on scheduling here.