A Law Firm Guide to Navigating COVID-19 Part 1: Awareness, Response, and Workplace Plans/Policies
Compiled with the assistance of North Carolina Bar Association Center for Practice Management
Law firms should maintain and monitor the current outbreak of COVID-19, a viral respiratory illness that has been spreading throughout the globe. Many law firms may have a disaster recovery or a business continuity plan, which should be reviewed and updated to reflect pandemic response. Procedures necessitated by efforts to practice social isolation or possible quarantine include how all or several members of the firm will work remotely and maintain business continuity. The situation with this virus is fluid and should be closely monitored so that law firms can take care of their teams and continue to serve their clients.
- COVID-19 Surveillance Dashboard (global tracking from University of Virginia)
- COVID-19 Global Case Database (global tracking from Johns Hopkins)
- COVID-19/Coronavirus Real Time Updates With Credible Sources in US and Canada | 1Point3Acres (Live Virus Tracking in the US and Canada)
- New York Times Coronavirus Outbreak
Covid-19 Legal Implications for the Firm and Clients
- On the Various Ways the Coronavirus May Impact Operations and Employees (Skadden)
- Cybersecurity, Common Sense, and COVID-19 (Holland and Knight)
- Coronavirus Risks – U.S. and European Employment and Privacy Law Issues (Sidley)
- COVID-19 Client Alert Series: Data Protection Issues (Paul Hastings)
General Business Planning
- Employer Coronavirus Crisis Management Planning (National Law Review)
- Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), February 2020 (CDC)
- As Coronavirus Spreads, Legal Industry Shifts into Crisis Management Mode (Law.com)
- Coronavirus’ business impact: Evolving perspective (McKinsey)
- COVID-19 FAQs (Ropes & Gray)
Law Firm Policies/Plans to Review and Update
Law firms should review and update plans and policies to reflect possible quarantine situations, infected employees, reducing the spread of the virus, and strategies for dealing with a swiftly evolving situation. Flexibility is key as the situation changes. Being prepared is the goal.
Firms should review and update the following policies: Sick/Paid Leave; Work Hours; Remote Access/Work from Home; Internet Use Policy and the Security Policy.
It is important to stress that sick employees should feel comfortable calling in sick and not coming in to work, to avoid potentially infecting more people. Let them know how to reduce the spread of the virus through sanitizing, what measures the office is taking to keep staff and clients safe, and what the firm plans to do in the event of community quarantine, containment or socially responsible isolation. If you have employer issued health care plans let your team know who to contact with questions about coverage.
If you have an existing remote work policy or are quickly writing one, keep in mind that restrictions regarding “distractions” like children or caregiving responsibilities may be appropriate for regular policies, but in the event of a quarantine, containment zone, or shelter in place employees will have little choice. Additional policy rules requiring a specific area to do work from, such as a home office, may also need to be waived if the firm is reacting as part of a business continuity plan that includes pandemic response.
Sample Law Firm Policies
- OFFICE PROCEDURES MANUAL (North Carolina Lawyers Mutual)
- Information Security Policy Templates (SANS)
- Remote Access Policy Template (Focal Point)
- Cyber Security Policy template for Law Firms and Legal Professionals (Legal Computer Consultants)
- Growing a Law Firm: Creating an Employee Handbook (Findlaw)
- Law Office Policy & Procedures Manual (American Bar Association)
- What You Should Know About the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act and the Coronavirus (EEOC)
- US Department of Labor Coronavirus Resources
NOTE: Some policies have legal implications. Contact a Labor and Employment lawyer or Privacy and Data Security lawyer if you need help with compliant policy language.
Law firms should have a business continuity plan in place. While there are distinctions between a disaster recovery plan and a business continuity plan, the firm’s plan should identify potential business disruptions and how to mitigate them. A good plan will have a workflow and response decision tree so that the firm can quickly assess when and how to take action. Review your existing plan, update as necessary and test your plan. In the face of a pandemic, firms should also check their succession plans.
Sample Business Continuity and Succession plans:
- Planning Ahead: Protecting Your Clients’ Interests in the Event of Your Disability or Death (Michigan Bar)
- Succession Planning (Arizona Bar)
- Contingency Planning for Lawyers (Practice Pro)
- Managing Practice Interruptions (Includes a Business Continuity worksheet in Excel Format) (Practice Pro)
- Business Continuity Worksheet.docx (NCBA ST&MP conference 2019)
- DISASTER PLANNING AND RECOVERY (NC Lawyers Mutual)
- Does Your Law Firm Disaster Plan Include a Pandemic? (NCBA Small Firm Technology Section)