Last week we described advice we would give clients who are concerned about the viral pandemic as it develops. Our core message: one thing you could pay attention to would be making sure your planning documents are in place. That means finding your estate planning documents — and especially your powers of attorney — and putting them where they can be found. You should also make sure you know where to find your mother’s and father’s documents.
But what about the business of a law practice? Will we be closing our offices, or limiting contact? Or does the viral pandemic actually increase the need to maintain a law office at its usual capacity? Maybe the correct answer is somewhere between those extremes.
How Fleming & Curti, PLC, is handling the viral pandemic
We are not closing our offices — at least not yet. We have no instances of viral infection (at least that we know about) among our staff, clients or visitors. As the viral pandemic grows, that will very likely change, of course.
There are some steps we can take to reduce risks, and we’re employing several. Those steps include cleaning, hand-washing and scheduling efforts. We are monitoring clients and staff regularly, and we can imagine having to completely close our office.
Other law firms around the country have closed, and more will close over the coming weeks and, perhaps, months. Others have closed multiple offices, and then reopened most of their branches. If we have any actual instances of infection among our staff or office visitors, we will immediately reassess.
One thing we can do — and are doing — is to rigorously clean surfaces. We’ll regularly swab down tabletops and office furniture that clients or visitors might come in contact with. Our plan is to clean with a bleach solution before every visit.
Inside the offices (where only employees spend time) we’ll have a bleach solution at the ready and ask employees to clean their work areas at least once a day.
Our new office space makes it much easier to assure that staff, clients and visitors all have easy access to plenty of soapy water for regular hand-washing. We have asked staff to wash thoroughly and regularly — especially at the beginning of the day and after they return from out-of-office visits.
Because our office acts as fiduciary (guardian, conservator, trustee, and agent) for a large and often at-risk population, we are particularly sensitive to the need to keep hand-washing before we have contact with the folks we work with. Those employees who often go into the field have been asked to pay particular attention to the need for regular and thorough hand-washing.
Although supplies of hand sanitizing solutions are low everywhere, we have made up our own. We use 95% alcohol and a commercial aloe vera gel, so we can be sure that the resulting solution is well over the 60% alcohol threshold suggested by the Centers for Disease Control. Because some of us were already into making custom bitters, it happens that we have a good selection of aromatic infusions available. We’ll experiment to find a pleasant one — our first batch will probably be citrus-based. Our homemade high-alcohol sanitizer will be in the front office and also in our staff spaces, and we’ll use it often.
One piece of good news related to our new office space: there’s plenty of room, and there won’t be much close contact among visitors or between visitors and staff — other than the staff members a given visitor is here to see. But we’d like to reduce even those contacts as much as possible.
We will be in contact with everyone scheduled to come into our office. We’ll offer to reschedule, to change appointments to telephone (or conference) calls, and to use video technology as may be appropriate. Some kinds of visits just aren’t amenable to telephone or computer (think about signing your will, trust and powers of attorney). Many others can be adjusted.
If any client is uncomfortable with coming into our office space, we will accommodate their concern. In some cases that might mean home visits (though those generate their own concerns — for clients, for staff and for other residents in communal living arrangements). It might mean delaying some visits, or modifying the arrangements for others. We’ll figure out how to minimize risk and still get things accomplished.
Why not just close until the viral pandemic is over?
We have given a lot of thought to the idea of just closing our office. Presumably such a closure would be temporary, and maybe only for a short term. But we don’t think that makes sense — at least not yet.
We have a lot of people who depend on our assistance to get regular bills paid. Others rely on our active management of their cases and circumstances. We can’t easily disrupt their lives — and they usually don’t come in to our office. Those who do come to pick up checks or other items we will try to redirect. We can use the mails or delivery options to get things out to people in the community. We’ll use those options to reduce the number of visitors who come into our front office.
We are considering — and periodically re-assessing — whether some staff members could work from home, at least part time. We’ll continue to develop those choices as much as we can. Our new open-space office arrangement already has people sitting, on average, about ten feet from their nearest office neighbor; we won’t be increasing our staff size during this period, so there won’t be pressure to seat staff members closer together.
We hope this helps our clients and other visitors feel more comfortable about coming into our office. We’ll monitor closely, and increase our response level as need be. If you work with us, or visit our offices, we’d be interested to hear from you about how well we are addressing your concerns.