COVID-19: Awareness, Response, and Workplace Plans/Policies (Part 1)

Law firms should maintain and monitor the current outbreak of COVID-19, a viral respiratory illness that has been spreading throughout the globe. Many law firms may have a disaster recovery or a business continuity plan, which should be reviewed and updated to reflect a pandemic response. Procedures necessitated by efforts to practice social isolation or possible quarantine include how all or several members of the firm will work remotely and maintain business continuity. The situation with this virus is fluid and should be closely monitored so that law firms can take care of their teams and continue to serve their clients.

Questions? NCBA Members request a consultation with CPM. Suggestions? Submit them here.

NCBA CPM: Prioritizing in a Pandemic for Law Firms (video) and companion article.

See also Part 2: Law Firm Operations, Part 3: Serving Clients. Part 4: Firm Financial Considerations

Jump to Section: Stay Aware; Global Response; Legal Implications; Business Planning; Law Firm Policies

Stay Aware

Global Response

COVID-19 Legal Implications for the Firm and Clients

As lawyers try to keep up with the legal landscape, including changes to the law and how to best advise and prepare clients, there are several resources available. The NCBA is compiling blog posts from NCBA Section blogs for issue tracking in North Carolina and other jurisdictions. Skopos Labs is maintaining a Policy Analytics site that tracks federal legislation and regulatory changes, with links to bills and the status of forthcoming legislation. Law 360 from LexisNexis has removed the paywall from legal news and analysis on COVID-19 on litigation, policy, and deals. LexBlog is compiling blog posts covering legal issues regarding the coronavirus. Thomson Reuters has lifted the paywall on resources from Practical Law, including a Global Coronavirus Toolkit.

General Business Planning

Law Firm Policies/Plans to Review and Update

Law firms should review the following plans and policies and update them to reflect possible quarantine situations, infected employees, reducing the spread of the virus, and strategies for dealing with a swiftly evolving situation. Flexibility is key as the situation changes. Being prepared is the goal.   

Policies

Firms should review and update the following policies: Sick/Paid Leave; Work Hours; Remote Access/Work from Home; Internet Use Policy and the Security Policy. It is important to stress that sick employees should feel comfortable calling in sick and not coming into work to avoid potentially infecting more people. Let them know how to reduce the spread of the virus through sanitizing, what measures the office is taking to keep staff and clients safe, and what the firm plans to do in the event of community quarantine, containment or socially responsible isolation. If you have employer-issued health care plans let your team know who to contact with questions about coverage.

If you have an existing remote work policy or are quickly writing one, keep in mind that restrictions regarding “distractions” like children or caregiving responsibilities may be appropriate for regular policies, but in the event of a quarantine, containment zone, or shelter in place employees will have little choice. Additional policy rules requiring a specific area to do work from, such as a home office, may also need to be waived if the firm is reacting as part of a business continuity plan that includes pandemic response.

Sample Law Firm Policies

Some policies have legal implications. Contact a Labor and Employment lawyer or Privacy and Data Security lawyer if you need help with compliant policy language. 

Business Plans

Law firms should have a business continuity plan in place. While there are distinctions between a disaster recovery plan and a business continuity plan, the firm’s plan should identify potential business disruptions and how to mitigate them. A good plan will have a workflow and response decision tree (Exhibit 1, page 2) so that the firm can quickly assess when and how to take action. Review your existing plan, update as necessary and test your plan. In the face of a pandemic, firms should also check their succession plans.

Sample Business Continuity and Succession plans:

See also Part 2: Law Firm Operations and Part 3: Serving Clients.