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18 June 2020

Linklaters and Allen & Overy reopen London offices as New York gears up for easing of lockdown

Magic circle duo join Dentons in partial reopenings while New York mayor confirms Phase 2 date

3D generator;Shutterstock

UK magic circle firms Linklaters and Allen & Overy (A&O) have joined Dentons in implementing a partial reopening of their London offices — with Linklaters confirming today that all of its other European offices are now open. 

The phased, and cautious re-openings by law firms in London look set to become the norm as the lockdown eases — in a detailed update on its plans CMS said they were still ‘very much a work in progress with no specific dates set at this stage’.

Meanwhile, law firms in New York City are gearing up to begin implementing their own return to work plans after Mayor Bill de Blasio said today that the city would move to Phase 2 of the lockdown easing measures on Monday 22 June, with as many as 300,000 workers expected to return to work.

In London, Dentons fired the starting gun on legal London’s gradual return to office-based work on Monday (15 June), when it cited staff wellbeing as a reason for allowing office occupancy of up to 25% allied to an array of measures to protect staff, including an office ‘track and trace’ system.

Linklaters said it had reopened its Silk Street headquarters — after a staff survey last week — ‘to anyone who has said they are finding it difficult (including from a health and wellbeing perspective) to continue to work remotely’ although it added that the majority of staff would continue to work from home.

In a client update, the firm said firm-wide remote working, which was imposed in March, was gradually being lifted although its US offices in New York and Washington remained closed.

‘Our teams have now begun to return to the office in countries where government advice and regulations allow them to do so,' it said. ‘Over half of our Asia locations and all of our European offices have now reopened.’ 

A&O said the first stage of the phased opening of its London headquarters began on 15 June  ‘with a very limited number of people able to go into the office to work’ on a permission-only basis with numbers strictly limited and appropriate social distancing measures in force.

CMS, however, would not commit to an opening date, although it said it was in the process of project planning which included the establishment of a Future Working Group, comprised of members from management, facilities, business continuity, HR and IT. 

‘This group are looking into what parts of working from home and complete agility we might take forward as new ways of working,’ it said.

The firms said a return to office work would ‘involve social distancing, frequent cleaning and creativity for meetings and working together.’ 

It added: ‘There are no plans to undertake temperature checks at our premises currently, but we are in discussion with landlords.’

Meanwhile, across the US, the gradual reopening of offices is well underway in many states, including in California, where measures recommended by the California Lawyers Association include ‘a process to investigate Covid-cases, alert the local health department, and identify and isolate close workplace contacts of infected employees until they are tested’.

And although New York-based offices will be permitted to allow workers to return from Monday, guidance issued by the New York State Bar Association suggests a similar pattern to the one in London.

‘Encourage those who can continue to work effectively remotely to do so until further notice,’ it says.

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