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Firms Dump October Office Return Plans Over Delta Variant Unease

Sept. 27, 2021, 5:57 PM

Big Law firms are abandoning plans to return lawyers to offices next month and are eyeing dates in early 2022 instead because of worries about the Covid-19 delta variant.

The delay will “allow time for further vaccination and the case volumes to stabilize,” Norton Rose Fulbright said in a statement. Cooley was among the first major firms to say it would not require office returns this year, while Perkins Coie, Proskauer Rose, Wilkie Farr & Gallagher and Wilson Sonsini shifted returns from October to next year, with most citing the variant.

“It’s been too long since we’ve had a chance to gather in person in a meaningful way,” Doug Clark, Wilson Sonsini managing partner, said in an email to the firm last week announcing a new Feb. 1 office return date. “But the best thing we can do is continue to focus on the health of our firm community and support virtual work.”

The delays show firms are willing to risk what BakerHostetler chairman Paul Schmidt this month called possible harm to office culture with remote work. Firms prefer risking culture over the possibility that the Delta variant would spread among employees.

Baker Hostetler, Dechert, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Mintz Levin, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and others have also pushed back return-to-office dates from September to October or beyond, with many citing the Delta variant. Others, like Akin Gump, Debevoise & Plimpton, and Gibson Dunn have pushed back their October returns to an unspecified date.

“Putting safety first, we are going to delay our return to office date which had been set for Oct. 11,” Akin Gump chair Kim Koopersmith said in a memo to U.S. offices in mid-September. “We remain hopeful that things will begin to move in a better direction and we will be able to return in the not-too-distant future.”

Despite the flurry of delayed office returns, most firms are already open on an optional basis and have seen many voluntary in-office workers. “We know that plenty of you have enjoyed coming to the office and we are seeing in-office numbers growing,” Koopersmith said in the memo. “I hope that will continue.”

While BakerHostetler’s official return date is still to-be-determined, Schmidt said about a quarter of the firm’s workforce is working in-person on any given day.

“Our offices,” Norton Fulbright’s statement said, “continue to be open to those who are fully vaccinated and prefer that work environment.”

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

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

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