19 May 2021

Goodwin Procter and White & Case latest firms to set US office return dates

Both firms intend US staff to start spending a few days per week in the office in September

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Goodwin Procter and White & Case have become the latest US law firms to set office return dates for their workforces, as the legal industry adjusts to the gradual return to business-as-usual in the US.  

In a memo sent to all US lawyers and staff, White & Case said it expects people to spend “two or three days per week” in the office starting in September as part of its flexible return-to-work policy. 

The memo said the firm will support remote working until Labour Day, meaning that those capable of carrying out their job functions remotely won’t be asked to return to the office until 7 September. 

Meanwhile, Goodwin said it plans to bring people back into the office in September, encouraging lawyers and staff to spend at least three days per week in person while continuing to offer flexible options for remote work, according to an email sent to US attorneys on Tuesday by managing partner Mark Bettencourt.

Goodwin lawyers will not be mandated to spend a certain number of days in the office, with the firm expecting to remain “particularly flexible” about its policy at least until the end of 2021 when the strategy will be reevaluated. 

Under the new flexible working plan, counsel, associates and track attorneys opting to work in the office less than three days per week should not expect a dedicated office and may have to use shared spaces as part of the firm’s “hotel model”.

The firm also said that while it doesn’t plan to require Covid-19 vaccinations for those returning to the office, it “strongly encourages” people who are able to get vaccinated to do so.

White & Case and Goodwin’s announcements follow that of several other US firms eyeing office returns in the coming months as the country begins to reopen for business. 

Last week, Reed Smith announced its plans for a phased return to work and flexible work arrangements, with the firm similarly targeting a September 7 reopening date with the intention to phase its lawyers and staff back into its 17 US offices one day per week starting in June. 

Across the pond, Clifford Chance became the latest UK firm to finalise its long-term agile working policy, with lawyers and staff expected to evenly split their hours between the firm’s offices and working remotely, providing the role allows for it.  

Magic circle rival Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer also opted to phase in a 50% work-from-home policy in March, while Allen & Overy said it would require its lawyers and staff to spend 60% of their time in the firm’s UK offices once restrictions are lifted. 

A recent poll by The Global Legal Post found that more than three quarters of business lawyers are anticipating a permanent shift to home working once lockdown restrictions end, with the majority believing the shift will improve work life balance and productivity. There was less consensus on the impact of home working on diversity and mental health, with more than a third of respondents agreeing that the change may cause mental health to deteriorate. 

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