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By Nicole Black
It’s been a few weeks since our lives were suddenly interrupted and put on hold by COVID-19, resulting in mandated “social distancing” in many communities. Since that time, for most law firms, business as usual came to a screeching halt, and many were required to close their doors and begin working remotely, with no immediate end in sight.
The future is unknown, and the situation is incredibly fluid. The news changes hourly, and local and state governments are constantly issuing new rules and regulations in response to the pandemic. For lawyers seeking to keep their law firms afloat in the midst of the uncertainty, it can be unsettling because the landscape is always evolving.
Fortunately, there are resources available to help you create a path forward for your law firm. Take advantage of the law practice management and business COVID-19 tips and the information below to help you plan for your law firm’s future success, despite the uncertain times we’re all facing right now. As long as you’re armed with sufficient information, you can make decisions grounded in facts that will help you create a strong foundation for success both while working remotely and when we emerge on the other side of this epidemic.
Document business interruption expenses
One important step to take as your firm begins to work remotely is to document business interruption expenses in case your firm is entitled to compensation from coverage under one or more insurance policies.
As explained in this post, there are a number of steps you should take in order to accurately document your firm’s business interruption expenses. These include:
- Preparing a timeline
- Tracking and documenting key business metrics (Attorneys should track all time spent dealing with COVID-19 issues.)
- Tracking and documenting expenses that are related to the event (These may be new expenses or increased expenses as a result of the event.)
- Tracking specific event-related business activity, i.e., cancellations, customer complaints, returns
- Compiling a three-year look-back of financial data
To learn more about insurance coverage issues and how COVID-19 may impact coverage, take a look at this article.
Tax-free disaster payments to employees
Another reason it’s important for your firm to take stock of its expenses and the costs associated with moving forward during today’s uncertain times is so that you can take advantage of any disaster relief regulations that are available. For example, as explained at the Real Life Practice Blog, employers can provide tax-free payments to employees affected by the crisis, as long as the employer can establish that the expenses relate to the COVID-19 pandemic. These payments can cover:
- Medical expenses of the employee that are not compensated for by insurance (for example, the employee’s deductible and out-of-pocket expenses)
- The cost of over-the-counter medications and hand sanitizer
- Funeral costs of an employee or a member of an employee’s family
- The costs associated with enabling an employee to work from home throughout the pandemic, including the cost of a computer, cell phone, printer, supplies, and even increased utility costs of the employee
- The cost of an employee’s childcare or tutoring for family members that are not permitted to attend school throughout the pandemic
Rent and mortgage suspensions
Another step to take to reduce costs is to check to see if your jurisdiction is considering temporarily suspending rent and/or mortgage payments. This will be relevant not only for your law firm but potentially for clients for certain types of cases. One example is this legislation pending in the New York State Senate.
Payroll and mandatory leave issues
Another way to reduce costs is to ascertain which exempt employees can be placed on furlough or can be required to work reduced salaries and hours. You can learn more about your options in this article.
It’s also important to ensure that you fully understand how the recently passed Emergency FMLA extension will impact your small law firm and its employees. The requirements of that legislation are set forth in this article.
Consider creating a remote work policy
Now that your law firm has a workforce that is primarily remote, you should draft a remote-working policy in order to provide your employees with guidelines and expectations for remote work. This article suggests that remote work polices should address the following issues:
- How strict will your policy be? Are your workers simply encouraged to work at home or absolutely barred from coming to the office?
- Will there be exemptions for “essential” personnel that need to be at a certain physical location?
- Will they need to be available at all times during working hours, or will remote meetings and appointments be scheduled ahead of time? (Take into account that your workers’ lives may be disrupted in other ways because of the COVID-19 outbreak, and therefore they may not be able to maintain normal working hours during this time or may be somewhat distracted by family or medical obligations during certain times of the day.)
- Will remote meetings take place online, over the phone, or on camera?
- Will you prohibit employees from meeting together in person during this period? Will you only restrict in-person meetings of a certain size (no more than three or five workers)?
- Will you prohibit employees from meeting with third parties while doing company business during this period of time?
- Will you prohibit workers from performing work outside of their homes (coffee shops, libraries, etc.) because of security concerns? If this kind of work is permitted, do you have sufficient security infrastructure in place (encryption, password-protection, log-out/lock requirements, etc.), and are your workers aware of your requirements to prevent data breaches or other loss?
- Can workers perform work on their own devices, and, if so, do you have a comprehensive BYOD (bring your own device) policy in place?
- You should include an anticipated end date in your remote-work announcement, and/or inform your employees that you will provide weekly updates regarding the status of the remote-work period.
Additional COVID-19 resources
Depending on your firm’s practice areas, location, and remote-work setup, there may well be other guidelines and regulations you’ll need to consider when setting up your law firm for remote work. The following list of resources, while not exhaustive, is a good place to start:
- List of state quarantine and isolation statutes
- CDC Legal authorities for isolation and quarantine
- CDC Specific Laws and Regulations Governing the Control of Communicable Diseases
- COVID-19 court closures by state
- An Employer’s Guide to COVID-19 (Coronavirus)
- COVID-19 legislation under consideration or passed in each state
Sign up for our April 2nd webinar to learn how to run your law firm remotely
And last, but not least, make sure to join us on Thursday, April 2nd, when MyCase presents How to Run Your Law Firm Remotely During COVID-19 at 11 AM PST / 2 PM EST.
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York, attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, legal practice management software. She is the nationally-recognized author of “Cloud Computing for Lawyers” (2012) and co-authors “Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier” (2010), both published by the American Bar Association. She also co-authors “Criminal Law in New York,” a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for Above the Law, ABA Journal, and The Daily Record, has authored hundreds of articles for other publications, and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. She is an ABA Legal Rebel, and is listed on the Fastcase 50 and ABA LTRC Women in Legal Tech. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
This article was originally posted on mycase.com and is shared here with full permission from the author.