Omicron still vexes large law firms as more office returns delayed

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REUTERS/Aly Song

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  • Paul Weiss, Morrison & Foerster shifting back plans by a few weeks
  • Sheppard Mullin to determine formal return at a later date

(Reuters) - Several large U.S. law firms are once again postponing office return dates as the COVID-19 Omicron variant continues to shake up their plans.

Firms that had scheduled widespread returns for late January and February, including Morrison & Foerster and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, have confirmed they will further delay by a few weeks.

U.S. law firms have repeatedly changed their approaches to reopening offices over the past year, as new variants brought waves of surging case counts.

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Many delayed planned returns as Omicron began to take hold before the new year.

New COVID-19 infections have decreased week-over-week in U.S. regions initially hit hard by Omicron, such as the Northeast, according to a Reuters analysis published last week. But other areas like the Midwest have seen an uptick, the analysis said.

Morrison & Foerster, which previously set an office return date of Feb. 14, will keep attendance voluntary until at least March 1, a firm representative confirmed on Friday.

Many law firms have allowed lawyers and staff into the office, while not requiring their presence.

San Francisco-founded Morrison & Foerster is requiring COVID-19 vaccinations, and "strongly" encouraging boosters, for those going into its U.S. offices, the representative said.

Such vaccine requirements have been another important piece of large firms' COVID-19 decision-making.

Paul Weiss, which had previously told employees they could work from home until Jan. 24, extended the remote work option to Feb. 14, a firm representative confirmed Thursday.

The Wall Street firm will then expect personnel to work in offices at least three days per week, chair Brad Karp said in an internal memo dated Jan. 20. The firm is requiring boosters to enter its offices.

Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton has aligned with some other firms, such as Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, that said they have indefinitely postponed formal return-to-office plans.

The Los Angeles-founded firm pushed its office return from Feb. 7 to a date to be determined, firm chair Lucantonio Salvi said in an internal memo dated Jan. 14.

Vaccinated employees are free to work in Sheppard Mullin's offices if they prefer, Salvi said. The firm will give 30 days' notice before setting a new return date, after which employees will have to work in the office at least three days per week, the memo said.

Other firms are so far sticking with upcoming office return dates.

Littler Mendelson previously shifted its return back to Feb. 22, and as of Friday, expects to go ahead with that plan, according to a firm representative.

Read more:

Omicron fears spark new delays for law firm office re-openings

Law firms torn on office returns as COVID-19 questions swirl

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Sara Merken reports on privacy and data security, as well as the business of law, including legal innovation and key players in the legal services industry. Reach her at sara.merken@thomsonreuters.com