Law firm responses to COVID-19

Over the past few weeks many of our local ALPMA branch committee members have been asked what other law firms are doing in response to the possible implications of a more severe COVID-19 outbreak in Australia and New Zealand.

The most common theme that we are seeing so far from these discussions is that most law firms are taking a pragmatic and sensible approach to this threat, that is by reviewing their firms: 
•    Risk response; 
•    Business continuity plans; 
•    Occupational health and safety practices; and
•    IT infrastructure and equipment.


Additionally, many workplace policies are being reviewed in light of this potential risk and specific COVID-19 related policies are being prepared and communicated to staff. 


The health and safety of all staff, clients and other stakeholders is obviously the main focus for all firms and this has been seen for some weeks now with the global firms having implemented travel bans in place to high risk areas since January 2020.  

Firms are anticipating that disruptions will occur for staff and clients as public authorities consider and potentially impose shutdowns and quarantines affecting pre-schools, schools, public transport and events.    Those firms who have well developed IT infrastructure supporting paper-light working and remote worker setups will be well placed to respond to any disruptions.


Communication and face to face meeting protocols are being considered including proactive discussions with clients as to their health and any flu-like symptoms they or family members are experiencing before meeting with lawyers, paralegals and support staff. 

As at the 3rd March 2020, The World Health Organization advised that COVID-19 can still be contained, (or slowed), that said, this situation does provide an opportunity for firms to proactively review their ability to respond to an impending risk, assess their action plans and conduct some prior preparation exercises. 


We have compiled a list of items below that we know firms are considering and/or have implemented already. Most of the implemented items are being seen within global law firms at this time, where it makes sense to do so. From what we can gather the introduction of or amendment to, workplace policies are being: 
1) regularly communicated to staff;
2) imposed for fixed periods of time (e.g. a month); and 
3) regularly reviewed.


This list is not exhaustive and there will be many more items being considered internally. If you have some additional items and would like to contribute to this list, please get in contact.


List of items firms are reviewing in light of the current COVID-19 situation

  • Health and safety education on COVID-19: How to reduce your overall risk and what to do should staff develop flu-like symptoms
  • Promotion of staff to work remotely or apply for personal leave should they develop a cold or flu like symptoms
  • Travel bans for all (work related) international travel or alternatively travel bans to high risk regions
  • For staff who have travelled (whilst on personal leave) through high risk regions in the past 14-days either mandatory remote working for an additional 14-days from re-entry into the country or a 14-day extension to the current leave period 
  • Staff who plan to travel internationally should be referred to the Smart Traveller website (see below)
  • Medical clearances to return to work (onsite) for staff who have flu-like symptoms and/or have travelled to or through a high-risk region
  • Staff commuting policies including staff allowances/reimbursements for non-public transport travel costs to and from work 
  • Review of IT infrastructure including security protocols and reviews of actual IT resources on hand (e.g. laptops/mobile phones) to service a remote workforce
  • Set up of online conferencing facilities (e.g. Zoom, WebEx, BlueJeans, Goto Meeting, MS Teams and Skype) for internal & external meetings
  • Delay or postponement of large meetings or events or for meetings to be conducted online instead (where possible) via an online conferencing facility 
  • Workflow/workforce forecasting and modelling including the review of staff accrued leave balances
  • Frequency of office and facilities cleaning 
  • Earlier flu vaccinations & additional promotion for staff uptake
  • All external visitors to the Firm to be signed in and also asked (prior to attending the premises) if they have travelled to a high-risk region in the past 14-days. Any client who has travelled to a high-risk region will not be able to come on the premises
  • Review of applicable insurance policies


We are sure many more items are being considered internally at law firms and we welcome your participation to adding to this list of items being considered. If you would like to contribute, please reach out. 


In addition, ALPMA's Victorian Risk Management Group met on 4 March 2020 and has compiled a handy list of useful links relating to COVID-19.

 

Useful resources for information on coronavirus (COVID-19) - Australia

Australian Department of Health daily health alert 

  • As of 3 March 2020, 33 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia15 of the initially reported cases in Australia all had a direct or indirect travel history to Wuhan, China
  • 10 cases are associated with the Diamond Princess repatriation flight from Japan
  • 7 cases are reported to have had a direct or indirect travel history to Iran
  • 1 case reported in a health care worker who did not have a history of travel to any high risk countries in recent weeks


Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (for statements on status of virus)

The key decision-making committee for health emergencies.  It is comprised of all state and territory Chief Health Officers and is chaired by the Australian Chief Medical Officer.

Coronavirus Health Information Line - 1800 020 080

Call this line if you are seeking information on novel coronavirus.  The line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Smart Traveller

 

Useful resources for information on coronavirus (COVID-19) - New Zealand

Ministry of Health

Ministry of Health Updates

Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment

There are a number of government sources providing guidance and support to the public as part of the response to Coronavirus (COVID-19). This page brings a number of these sources together in one place, to help people stay informed and help to answer any questions or concerns that they may have. 

 

Additional useful resources

Getting your workplace ready for COVID-19 - World Health Organization 3 March 2020

Coronavirus disease advice for the public: Myth busters - World Health Organization

How Bad Will the Coronavirus Outbreak Get?  Here Are 6 Key Factors - New York Times 28 February 2020

Lead Your Business Through the Coronavirus Crisis - HBR 27 February 2020

Business Pandemic Influenza Planning Checklist US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

 

ALPMA Member resources

To assist our ALPMA members preparation efforts we will be providing our Members with free access to our “Prepare or Panic? Business Continuity Planning Essentials” seminar held at the 2019 ALPMA Summit. This seminar will be available in our On-Demand library shortly and you will be able to access it by logging into your account.  Non-ALPMA members can access this resource here

We hope these items assist you in the coming weeks.

Emma Elliott
General Manager
ALPMA 
 

Article written: 5 March 2020

About the Author
General Manager - ALPMA

Emma Elliott is the General Manager at ALPMA.