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Delta spike revives office return worries for lawyers with young kids

5 minute read

REUTERS/Mike Segar

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  • With vaccines still unavailable for Americans under 12, rising COVID-19 cases could reignite concerns over bringing the virus home
  • "It feels like everything came crashing down last week again," one partner said

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(Reuters) - Christopher Heredia, a father of three children under four years old, said he saw the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel approaching when he and his wife were vaccinated.

"It looked like things were getting better," said Heredia, a Holland & Knight litigator in Chicago. "Vaccination rates were high. Things were getting steady."

Getting vaccinated was also a major relief for Toni Ann Kruse, an estates and wealth transfer partner at McDermott Will & Emery in New York. A mother of two children, ages 6 and 2, Kruse said she had recently returned to the office and in-person yoga.

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But both Heredia and Kruse said their optimism has waned with the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, which has caused U.S. coronavirus cases to spike, leading the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue new masking guidelines last week.

"It feels like everything came crashing down last week again," Kruse said.

While children are far less likely than adults to become seriously ill from the virus, fear of bringing it home from the office is adding an extra complication for lawyers with kids under 12, who are still not authorized to receive any of the highly effective COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States.

Heredia and Kruse both said they're not comfortable with the prospect of returning to the office full-time before their children are vaccinated. That's a common sentiment in the U.S. legal industry, especially for attorneys who are caring for children or adults with compromised immune systems, said Zeughauser Group consultant Kent Zimmermann.

"Many of those associates and partners do not want to be told they need to be back in the office full-time," Zimmermann said.

The Delta variant is already upending return-to-office plans for a growing number of law firms. This week alone, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, McDermott and Schiff Hardin announced they were delaying return plans.

Law firms that aren't flexible could drive attorneys away, said Dion Cominos, the managing partner of Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani, which has offices in all 50 U.S. states.

"We put that relationship at risk, and unnecessarily so, perhaps," Cominos said.

Meanwhile, industry consultants have noted that there is high demand among law firms to hire and retain talent, especially associates, who are more likely to be younger and have young kids.

"Firms are not going to ask associates to risk the health of their young children unnecessarily. They’ll make accommodations and try to be flexible," Zimmermann said. "Most firms are going to be smart about it."

For Kruse, the risk of contracting the virus is more likely to come from her husband, an emergency room nurse. No one in the family has contracted the disease, which Kruse said is a testament to her husband's careful approach.

But for Heredia, the worry about contracting COVID is particularly acute. His son has Gaucher disease, a genetic disorder caused by a deficiency of an enzyme required to break down certain fats, leading to enlarged liver and spleen.

Heredia's son has a nurse who visits the house for weekly infusions, and the family travels out-of-state to see a specialist.

"If any one of us gets sick with COVID, how is that going to affect his care?" Heredia said.

Both Heredia and Kruse acknowledged that they've been lucky to have help as working parents. Heredia has a nanny; Kruse has a cousin who can watch her children while both she and her husband work.

Both attorneys expressed hope that their oldest children can attend school in-person in the fall. As a parent, Kruse said she can only mitigate risks and weigh them against benefits, like the advantages of in-person learning.

"I don’t think not putting her in school is a good option again, for her development," Kruse said.

Read more:

See you in November? Delta surge prompts law firms to rehash return plans

U.S. urges vaccinated Americans to wear masks indoors in many places

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David Thomas reports on the business of law, including law firm strategy, hiring, mergers and litigation. He is based out of Chicago. He can be reached at d.thomas@thomsonreuters.com and on Twitter @DaveThomas5150.

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