More firms pause office return plans, eyeing November or beyond

An empty conference room is seen as the first phase of FMC Corporation employees return to work in the office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., June 14, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah Beier
  • WilmerHale and Crowell are among the latest to drop October reopening dates
  • Fried Frank, Akin Gump, Debevoise now preparing for November returns

As U.S. law firm leaders continue to adjust to the pandemic's uncertain retreat, more of them are pushing back earlier plans to more fully reopen their offices in October.

Among the latest firms to delay their returns, Crowell & Moring and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr have scrapped their plans without announcing new schedules. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson; and Debevoise & Plimpton, meanwhile, have all set new return-to-office dates in November.

Even when they do return, the firms all said lawyers and staff won't be expected in full-time until at least next year.

Crowell has decided it won't broadly mandate how many hours or days attorneys need to be in the office, chair Phil Inglima told Reuters. Attendance will be worked out on "a flexible basis" in coordination with lawyers' practice leaders, office managing partners or department heads, he said.

"Given how stressful, challenging, demanding the pandemic has been on each of us, we're trying to make sure that they feel they can evolve towards the new normal for them individually on a reasonable timeline," Inglima said.

Crowell had initially planned to bring most lawyers back on Oct 11. Inglima said it will give its employees at least 30 days' notice ahead of its new "soft reopening" date, which will likely be after Thanksgiving.

A WilmerHale spokesperson said the firm's leaders have yet to deliver an update on office return plans since deciding in the summer to cancel an Oct. 4 reopening.

Akin Gump and Debevoise are now planning for Nov. 8 returns, while Fried Frank is targeting a partial return on Nov. 1. In internal memos to firm personnel, leaders of all three firms said they expect attorneys to work in the office at least one or two days a week from their reopening dates through the end of the year. At Akin Gump and Fried Frank, some staff professionals may be asked to be in the office for more days.

From Jan. 10 onward, Debevoise will expect its lawyers and staff in the office about two-thirds of each month, with adjustments for certain offices and roles, the firm's presiding partner Michael Blair said in a message to employees. Akin Gump and Fried Frank have yet to announce their plans for next year.

Like most other large firms, leaders from Crowell, Akin Gump, Fried Frank, and Debevoise all said they will continue to restrict office access to vaccinated personnel and require all employees to comply with local COVID-19 policies.

(Note this story has been updated to fix a typo in the headline)

Read more:

Law firm leaders play catch-up as virus outlook shifts

More law firms scrap October return plans, opting to watch and wait

Akin Gump nixes October office return, setting no new target

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Xiumei Dong covers legal industry news, with a focus on law firm strategy and growth, in-house counsel and the Washington, D.C., legal market. Reach her at Xiumei.Dong@thomsonreuters.com.