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Big Law Firms Target February, March for Office Reopenings (1)

Feb. 9, 2022, 4:26 PMUpdated: Feb. 9, 2022, 7:45 PM

Lawyers from at least seven firms are headed back to the office—again—in February and March, months after Covid-19 variants delayed initial reopening plans.

Davis Wright Tremaine, WilmerHale, and Dorsey & Whitney are targeting office return dates in February after cutting back on in-person work expectations as the omicron variant surged in the U.S. Reed Smith, Goodwin Proctor, Morrison & Foerster, and Wilson Sonsini plan to reopen in early to mid-March.

Covid-19 cases have steadily declined in the U.S. since peaking in mid-January, and many are cities and states are beginning to loosen pandemic-related restrictions. New York and Illinois are expected to start phasing out indoor mask mandates as soon as this week.

“The health and safety of our people remains the Firm’s top priority,” a Morrison & Foerster spokesperson said in an email. “We will continue to consider the developing guidance from the CDC, extensive ongoing consultations with our consultant epidemiologist and the broader medical community.”

At least a quarter of the top 100 firms in the U.S. adjusted or delayed their office return policies in light of the omicron variant, according to Bloomberg Law data. Changes range from delaying office return dates indefinitely to temporarily abandoning in-person work requirements.

The largest U.K. firms told lawyers to begin working from home again as early as Dec. 10, and U.S. firms followed weeks later. The delays disrupted the plans of firms like Wilson Sonsini, which had hoped to return to some in-person work by early 2022 after the delta variant bumped back their original October reopening.

Some public health officials are cautioning against returning to in-person work so soon after the omicron variant’s likely peak. Saralyn Mark, a former White House medical advisor who is the Covid-19 lead for the American Medical Women’s Association, said she would wait to reopen offices.

“There is often no right or no wrong answer,” Mark said, “but I do think we’re entering a really tenuous phase in this pandemic. The decisions we make can influence the course of where we will be three months, five months, seven months from now.”

“Most of the accidents that happen with mountain climbing occur on the descent,” she said. “What we need to do is be cautious as we migrate through this next phase,” she said.

Sheppard Mullin previously scheduled a formal office return for Feb. 7, but in January firm leaders pushed the reopening back to an unspecified date.

“We expect to reinstate the RTO Date once the Executive Committee believes that it will be safe for everyone to come back to the office together without fear of risk of infection,” Sheppard Mullin chair Lucantonio Salvi wrote in a memo to the firm on Jan. 14. “In the meantime, offices will remain open for those of you who are vaccinated and prefer to work there.”

VIDEO:Big Law Says Goodbye to Five-Day In-Office Work Weeks

(Updated with comments from Saralyn Mark.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Ruiqi Chen in Washington, D.C. at rchen@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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