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New York City Law Firms Cleared for Reopening
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New York City kicked off the second phase of its reopening plan Monday, encouraging companies, including law firms, to bring employees back to the office. Some law firms, however, are still reluctant to open in light of ongoing coronavirus concerns.

On Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed that New York City law firms could return to in-office work starting June 22 as COVID-19 business restrictions are loosened for the area.

Cuomo said experts have reviewed coronavirus data and have given the city the ‘go-ahead’ to move into phase two of the state’s reopening scheme June 22. New York City is the last to embark on phase two of the reopening plan. The move, however, is still a dramatic turnaround for the city as it once was the epicenter of the nation’s pandemic crisis.

  
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“We’re in no rush to reopen in New York,” Richard Hans, the head of DLA Piper’s Manhattan office told Law360. Citing a recent spike in coronavirus cases across the country, as well the risks of hopping on a crowded subway, Hans told Law360 that the office is sticking with its mandatory telework policy until at least July 10.

With almost 220 attorneys and 120 staffers, DLA Piper’s Manhattan office is its largest in the country.

While the BigLaw firm has already reopened a handful of offices across the U.S including those in Wilmington, Delaware, Houston, Atlanta, and Raleigh, North Carolina, the Manhattan office will remain closed, Hans told Law360.

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Even though the number of positive COVID-19 tests over a rolling average remains low overall, New York City still tops the charts with 210,000 confirmed cases of the virus since the first case reported in March.

Cuomo has cautioned businesses to follow the guidelines aimed at preventing infections.



“We have done this in every region across the state. It has worked overall,” he said Thursday. “I can tell you from experience, it works better or worse depending on the compliance and the enforcement and how people follow the rules.”

For law firms, that means mandatory guidelines on protective equipment, disinfection, physical distancing, and health screenings. Mandatory guidelines released by the state in May require workers to wear face masks when they come within six feet of another person.

“There are a number of individuals who are uncomfortable taking mass transit,” Hans told Law360. “So even were we to address all of the safety concerns within the office, which we are doing, they are hesitant to commute back into or across the city on trains or buses.”

The head of the NYSBA told Law360 that lawyers are “chomping at the bit” to get back. But, it doesn’t look like it, as several major firms with Manhattan offices said they’re taking slow approaches with their New York City personnel.

The current firmwide virtual work policy at Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, will stay in place “for the foreseeable future,” Chief Operating Officer Jane Koehl said.

“We do not have a date certain at this point when we may open any office for the return of our colleagues,” Koehl said in a statement sent to Law360. Koehl said the firm’s executives “continue to closely monitor COVID-19 safety orders across each of our geographic locations, including in Manhattan and Albany,” and when they decide to get the New York City office back up and running, it will be a soft launch.

Some attorneys are planning to go back to their brick and mortar firms though.

Domenick Napoletano, New York State Bar Association Treasurer told Law360 he and many attorneys are ready to open now that the restrictions have been loosened.

Napoletano is a solo practitioner in Brooklyn with one assistant on the payroll, told Law360 he plans to head to the office next week, and he said attorneys in similar situations are taking similar steps.

Small firms with solo practitioners and a few attorneys are able to reopen more easily because they do not have a lot of employees, while midsize and large firms may need to move a bit more slowly, Napoletano said.

“While a full complement of staff and attorneys are not coming in all at the same time, I think people are taking advantage of the opening,” Napoletano added.

While he and his assistant are heading to the office earlier than others, Napoletano said it will be “a slow opening,” and he emphasized the importance of following safety precautions: wearing a mask, washing hands, and maintaining a safe distance from others.



 

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