Reed Smith, one of the largest U.S. law firms, is planning a full reopening of its 17 domestic offices for early September while also announcing a more flexible work policy for lawyers and staff.
The firm’s return to the office for lawyers will go in phases that include working in the office once a week in June with a “soft opening” scheduled for July 6. The firm’s staff will be categorized as office-based, fully remote, or a hybrid.
While Reed Smith’s lawyers will not be required to work a certain number of days in the office, the firm said they will be expected to maintain a “regular presence” in offices. They will be expected to attend client meetings, office events, training sessions, and practice group meetings, the firm said in a statement.
Large law firms are transitioning back to office life after they worked more than a year almost entirely from home, though few have formally announced definitive return to work dates.
While many Big Law firms were financially successful with remote work, firms are keen to get their people back in the high-class office space that has defined law firm culture for decades. Still, changes are expected, and some firms are taking advantage of their success while fully remote by hiring lawyers in far-flung cities.
A handful of firms have targeted Sept. 7, the day after Labor Day, for tentative returns to more normal office life. Those firms include: Cooley, DLA Piper, Faegre Baker Daniels, and Fish & Richardson, according to Bloomberg Law reporting. Nixon Peabody has targeted July 6 as a firmwide return-to-office date.
Most firms that have provided information to Bloomberg Law on their return-to-office plans have stressed the moves will be gradual and are likely to include some amount of flexibility.
Reed Smith’s statement stressed the flexible work policy as a significant change to pre-pandemic office life.
“The move to flexible work represents a step forward in transforming our business based on the new understanding we have gained from our remote work experience during the pandemic,” Sandy Thomas, Reed Smith’s global managing partner, said in a statement. “We have learned that we can serve our clients at the highest level in a work environment that includes flexibility, and that this arrangement offers significant benefits to our people as well.”
Reed Smith said it will not require employees to be vaccinated, but noted they are “strongly encouraged,” language similar to firms including DLA Piper, Faegre Baker Daniels, Fox Rothschild, Goodwin Procter, and Mayer Brown. Many firms have stopped short of requiring Covid-19 vaccines, though Davis Wright Tremaine and Sanford Heisler are among those that have made them mandatory.
For its office return, Reed Smith will employ safety measures including staggered schedules, revised floor plans, social distancing, mask-wearing in communal spaces, and a reservation system to control capacity levels.
The firm also said its summer associate program would begin virtually in May with in-person activities set for June and July.