Wilson Sonsini’s legal technology arm, SixFifty, is betting it can tap into a market for tech-based employment law assistance during the Covid-19 pandemic with a new legal “toolset” designed to help companies bring their employees back into the workplace amid the Covid-19 threat.
The toolset includes a questionnaire that generates a return-to-work policy and a portal for employees to self-report any health symptoms and be alerted whether or not they should come to work that day.
SixFifty has previously released free Covid-19 related legal tools but this is the first time it’s added a price tag to pandemic-related offerings. The system will start at $9,500, and the cost will depend on company size.
The automated policy set comes as U.S. states decide which businesses can open and when, after closing for a number of weeks. Reopening the economy, which has started in some places this month, has set off a heated political debate.
Businesses face dozens of logistical and legal issues around worker health and safety. Walmart, Celebrity Cruises, and other companies already have been sued for coronavirus-related deaths or illnesses of employees, even if some experts expect those cases will be difficult for plaintiffs to win.
The SixFifty tool is based on regulations in New York and California, but Kimball Parker, president of SixFifty, said in an interview companies across the U.S. could use the tool to adopt best practices for employee safety.
“This is a dangerous and unprecedented situation for human resources departments,” Parker said. “It’s the most dangerous situation from a medical and legal point of view that any of us have seen in our lifetime.”
The automated questionnaire asks up to 40 questions. Does the company plan to test employees for the virus? Will it provide personal protective equipment like masks and gloves? Has the company made adjustments to its ventilation system to limit the spread of the virus?
Answering those questions generates a policy that companies can ask employees to sign. The tool also provides feedback and guidance on how to best respond to each question. The system was designed with Wilson Sonsini employment lawyers to protect companies from negligence suits if employees get sick after returning to work.
“We built this so somebody who knows nothing could run through it, answer the questions as best they can, and regardless of how they answer we will give them considerations,” Parker said.
Virtually no other Big Law firm has a business competing with SixFifty’s model to automate legal advice. Part of SixFifty’s approach is to lower the cost of Big Law’s service delivery so smaller companies can afford it.
Parker said the $9,500 starting price for the new toolset could amount to as little as one-fifth the cost of hiring a traditional lawyer.
Parker’s legal automation team in 2019 joined Wilson Sonsini, a Silicon Valley law firm that has represented the likes of Apple, Google, and Lyft. The SixFifty team’s first product was a tool to help companies respond to a new California data privacy law, which brought in about $4 million in revenue since launching in mid-2019.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the SixFifty has released three pro bono legal tools. One set helped homeowners and renters obtain stimulus relief to delay housing payments, which Parker said had been used 3,000 times in their first three weeks. SixFifty also launched a tool that helped transition employees to work remotely, which about 500 companies have used, Parker said.
SixFifty has said its mission is to launch at least one pro bono tool for every for-profit service it sells.
Parker said the amount of work required to build the return-to-work product meant the firm had to charge for it, as the novelty of the coronavirus crisis means useful policy templates aren’t already available.
“There has never been anything like this. There is no return-to-work policy that ever existed before,” he said. “So these companies will have to pay an attorney to create one from scratch. And that will cost tens of thousands and often more.”