The Society’s COVID-19 Lawyer’s Guide to Reopening the Office reflects the transition to phase 5 of Nova Scotia’s reopening plan.
If you are considering reopening your office, you should have an operation plan in place that focuses on the tools to avoid the spread of COVID-19:
- Encouraging vaccination.
- Physical distancing.
- Frequent hand washing and cleaning.
- Staying away from the office when showing signs of illness.
What should I do to support employees?
To support and prepare employees, you should:
- Ask them if they have any concerns about returning to the office.
- Manage concerns and expectations.
- Review with employees changes that you have made in the office to promote vaccination, masking, physical distancing, etc.
- Advise employees not to come to the office if they are sick, waiting to be tested, have been exposed to COVID-19, or are under mandatory self-isolation.
- Remind employees of the resources available to them and their families through the Nova Scotia Lawyers Assistance Program, including resources specific to dealing with mental health and workplace change during this time (review General Resources).
What should I do to prepare the office?
To prepare the office consider:
- Ordering sanitizers and disinfectant cleaners/wipes
- Arranging a professional cleaning service. If your employees normally clean, have them review recommended disinfecting procedures.
- If possible, implementing methods to limit numbers in commons spaces, such as reception, hallways, kitchens, meeting rooms, and washrooms.
- If practical, ordering and installing physical barriers (e.g., plexi-glass) for areas of the office where it is not possible to maintain two metres of separation.
- Ordering or creating signs and floor decals to encourage physical distancing.
- If you are in a rented space with common areas, asking your landlord about the measures they have in place for the common areas, so you can share this information with employees.
How do I prepare to interact with my clients?
As more options become available for client interaction, consider:
- Using face-to-face meetings when necessary to meet regulatory or professional responsibilities and continuing to use phone and video conferencing with clients for service reasons and/or additional safety measures. Setting fixed hours for in-office client meetings and limiting the number of people in a meeting space.
- Sending clients an email or text in advance of office meetings to outline any measures being taken to ensure safety in the office – e.g. directions for navigating office space; elevator and parking instructions; vaccination recommendations/requirements; face mask requirements; procedures at front desk / reception; any suspension of food/beverage services.
- Ensuring clients are aware of relevant office policies (e.g., around attending the office if they are sick, waiting to be tested, have been exposed, or are under mandatory self-isolation).
What risk management issues should I be considering?
In times of change, additional risks can arise in addition to the normal practice management risks. To manage risk, you should:
- Monitor the Court directives for changes to deadlines that were previously abridged.
- Continue to monitor your files for statutory limitations.
- Implement systems created to re-execute estate documents or other documents executed remotely that may not be effective through remote execution.
- Be mindful of and advise your employees of fraudulent scams.
- Review your accounting controls.
- Ensure that client documentation you or your employees took home or stored on a laptop/home computer is returned to your central filing system(s) and removed from home devices.
How do I prepare for future practice interruptions?
We know that future interruptions are likely to happen, due to both COVID-19 and other unforeseen reasons. Make best use of what you learned during this time by:
- Creating a business continuity plan, if you don’t have one, review General Resources.
- Documenting lessons learned in your business continuity plan
- Maintaining and improving upon changes that help(ed) your practice (e.g., electronic banking, electronic file storage; video conferencing; etc.).
- Assessing and continually improving upon your ability to work from home (e.g., remote electronic access to files and client information; enhanced internet bandwidth at home; remote access to accounting records, etc.).
- Involving your employees with your business continuity planning and reviewing your plan annually.
General resources and further information
- Homewood HealthTM , the Nova Scotia Lawyers Assistance Program’s service provider, has compiled a Pandemic Toolkit to assist employers and employees including (but not limited to) information on programs dealing with mental health, managing workplace change, supporting a hygienic workplace, reviewing employment policies, etc.
- Returning to the Office: Considerations for Workplaces is a CBA-NS resource developed for specific use by law firms and organizations in NS. It will be updated as new information becomes available and is accessible online to both CBA members and non-members.
- For a general overview of the basic technology required for working remotely, view the Law Society of Saskatchewan’s webinar: An Introduction to Remote Working for Lawyers, hosted by Craig Zawada, Q.C.
- For help creating a business continuity plan, review:
- Canadian Chamber of Commerce: Pandemic Preparedness for Business
- Canadian Bar Association: Pandemics in the Workplace: A Resource for Lawyers
- LIANS: Disaster Planning
- American Bar Association: A Lawyer’s Guide to Disaster Planning
- Cushman & Wakeman’s “Recovery Readiness: A How-to Guide for Reopening your Workplace,” outlines some best thinking and practices for bringing workers back into the physical workplace.
For additional questions & support please contact the Society’s Legal Services Support at email@example.com.