How COVID-19 Will Change Solo and Mid-Size Law Firms

Quote

A recent report by Clio assessing the impacts of the coronavirus on the legal industry and consumers found that the virus has created a 40 percent drop in the number of new legal matters opened per week. Almost half of the polled consumers said that if they had a legal issue, they would delay seeking legal help until after the virus subsided. Further, 22 percent of consumers indicated they were under the impression that attorneys stopped working altogether because of COVID-19.

From our friends at NW Sidebar.

This post focuses on how COVID-19 is likely to affect small to mid-size law firms. I encourage you to read the full post. Here are some key points of interest:

Life is different and also the same. Clients expect you to cater to their needs. Put yourself in their shoes and you will do well.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

 

What We Know Now About COVID-19

The science around COVID-19 is changing so fast that even the valid-but-evolving research findings seem to blend in with the misinformation coming in from all sides.

Learn what scientists are saying now about how the coronavirus is spread, whether to wear a mask, who is at risk, and social distancing – all courtesy of Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Curious about how a vaccine would work? Check out this video

OSB COVID-19 Response

For the latest information from the Oregon State Bar, visit the COVID-19 Response page.

On that note, the OSB needs bar exam proctors to staff four separate exam sites in Portland, Salem, and Eugene. Applicants will be separated into multiple rooms at each location.

If you are available July 28 and/or July 29 and would like to serve as a proctor, complete the OSB Bar Exam Proctor application form, which includes descriptions of proctor responsibilities and requirements.

Apps to Help Law Firms Reopen

In our discussion about COVID-19, we’ve reviewed phase one guidelines and specific steps to take in reopening your firm. One of these is whether to screen employees before returning to work. Sounds reasonable, but how exactly should you go about it? Today we take a look.

Thermal Imaging Cameras, Digital Thermometers, and Self Evaluations

Feever

Feever is an artificial intelligence (AI) based, non-contact thermal imaging technology that detects individuals in a crowd with an elevated temperature. Utilizing a thermal imaging camera and the AI based mobile app, Feevr automatically alerts users when a scanned person’s temperature exceeds a predetermined threshold, allowing for immediate intervention. At a price point of $3250 it isn’t cheap and probably better suited to venues that need to easily screen large groups of patrons. Nevertheless, if this solution sounds appealing, do your research. At least one group has severely criticized Feev’rs accuracy.

Feevr PreCheck

Feevr PreCheck is a more economical “sister” product of Feevr, priced at $299.99. The app lets employees take a temperature reading at home – a far more appealing approach for everyone.

With PreCheck employers would give each worker a digital thermometer connected to a smartphone. Readings would be relayed automatically to the firm through the app. Anyone with an elevated temperature would be instructed to stay home.

Everbridge

Everbridge uses a different approach, based in crisis management communication. Their app allows employers to blast messages out to all employees, one of which includes a COVID-19 self-evaluation. Workers are asked if they have symptoms or if they’ve already had the disease and recovered. They can tap the answers into a smartphone, and the employer can use the results to decide who comes into work and who stays at home. Everbridge calls this “IT alerting,” with licenses costing between $32 and $50 per month.

ProtectWell

ProtectWell is a free app developed by Microsoft and UnitedHealth. Like Everbridge, it uses a COVID-19 self evaluation. Here’s how it works:

Employees are invited to download the ProtectWell app.

Before starting work, employees use the symptom screener to answer a few quick questions.

Employees are instantly notified if they are ready to work, need to stay home and manage symptoms or get tested (where available).

To learn more, consider watching the ProtectWell demo (two minutes you won’t regret). Have questions? ProtectWell promises a next business day turnaround on their contact submission page. They also offer free return to work guidelines that are worth checking out. On the contact page, under “How can we help?” select “I would like a free copy of Return to Work Guidelines.”

Six More Apps to Screen Employee Health

Visit the Human Resource Director blog to read about six more apps to screen employee health.

Legalities

You’re the lawyers. If you’re not sure what you can or cannot do, get advice. Oregon’s employment law bloggers have been busy, as a Google search reveals. You can also chat directly with a colleague. (Ask friends for referrals if you don’t already know someone with the right expertise.)  Government websites are also your friend:

What Should I Do Next?

Using a symptom-checker or self evaluation app is a no-brainer. I can’t imagine why firms wouldn’t use ProtectWell at a minimum. Asking employees to self evaluate for a series of symptoms is more accurate than relying exclusively on the presence of fever.

Whatever you do, stay safe.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2020

 

Phase One Guidelines for Reopening Your Law Firm

Last week we talked about considerations for reopening your law firm.

While some of Oregon’s most populous counties remain closed, most were cleared for a phase one reopening three days ago. As a result, we now have new resources for all businesses, including your firm.

The guidelines come from state and county health departments and include 15 documents you should download, read, physically post, and deploy in your office:

Your firm should develop written protocols regarding:

  • Recommendations or requirements for face masks for employees and clients/consumers 
  • Conducting daily health assessments for employees (self-evaluation) to determine if “fit for duty”
  • Maintaining good hygiene at all times, hand washing and physical distancing
  • Cleaning and sanitizing workplaces throughout the workday and at the close of business or between shifts
  • Limiting maximum capacity to meet physical distancing guidelines.

Client businesses can check for sector-specific guidance on the state webpage here.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to Deschutes County for publishing this helpful information.

Questions? Call your county health department.

For those of you continuing to work from home, watch for a post about tech and security next week.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

Preparing to Reopen Your Law Firm

On May 7, 2020, Governor Brown announced new details on the phased reopening of businesses in Oregon. Decisions will be made on a county-by-county basis. Counties must apply to reopen and:

  • Show a decline in COVID-19 or have fewer than 5 hospitalizations
  • Have sufficient COVID-19 testing and contact tracing capability
  • Establish plans for the isolation and quarantine of new cases
  • Have the hospital capacity to handle any surge in COVID-19 cases
  • Have enough personal protective equipment for health care workers

What Should Law Firms Do?

Now is an excellent time to put your plan together for phased reopening.

Start with this very thoughtful post from Vinson & Elkins. Directed at clients, it also applies to law firms, who are – after all – businesses too.

It begins with identifying a return-to-work coordination team with the right members – HR, IT, finance, admin, and for law firms – lawyers and legal staff. As a group, the team addresses these issues:

  1. When will the office reopen?
  2. Who should work from the office?
  3. Should we screen employees for COVID-19 before they return?
  4. What new practices will be required to maintain social distancing and ensure a sanitary workplace?
  5. How will we handle individual employee requests?

The post suggests delegating responsibilities by department or floor. This could also be done based on the issue. Whatever makes sense for your firm. Most importantly, the team needs to communicate what will happen and when.

Remember the Clients

While social distancing and sanitizing will benefit clients, your return-to-work team should also consider:

  1. When will we resume in-person client meetings?
  2. What new practices will be required for in-person meetings?
  3. How should we communicate about COVID-related client procedures?

Permitting in-person meetings may mean:

  • Redesigning your reception area
  • Staggering client meeting times
  • Limiting non-client visitors
  • Requiring face coverings
  • Sanitizing client property delivered to the firm

More Resources

A Google search reveals a plethora of return-to-work resources from law firms directed at clients, such as the return-to-work coordination team described above. Three particularly useful reads are the Reopening Issues Checklist, the Checklist for Health and Safety Planning, and 10 issues to consider offered by the Society for Human Resource Management.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis