Most of the stay at home orders have expired or been relaxed. Law school classes are starting to resume. Offices are reopening. Is it back to business as usual?
Most law firms quickly transitioned to work-from-home (WFH) status back in March, and for many of us in firms, it’s been pretty much remote business as usual ever since. Law schools went remote to finish last spring, and classes are resuming in August and September. Our local high school started classes last week, and the first 3 weeks are online, then we have the option of sending students in person or staying online. Luckily, we also have the option of changing the format at the end of each 6 weeks grading period.
That’s sort of how my firm is handling things this fall. No one is required to go back until sometime in October at the earliest. And even then, it may not be mandatory that we go back into the office. Even now, if you need to work in the office, you can. There are protocols to follow (wear a mask, stay in your office, etc.) but the office is open and functioning normally, albeit with fewer people physically there. So what has changed? Was it always business as usual?
It was for the most part. Lawyers continued to perform work for clients, staff continued to perform support work for attorneys. I don’t know if law schools offered classes over the summer. We had summer associates. And the summer associates performed research, attended hearings and meetings, there were just no in person social events and it was a shorter time period (we only summer associates for 6 weeks instead of the planned 8-10 weeks).
Practice groups couldn’t meet in person, so meetings were moved to online platforms – not much of a change since many of the meetings already involved some sort of video or telephonic attendance (depending on the size of the group). Our research staff is spread out among multiple offices, so we were used to meeting via video. The biggest change – instead of one monthly meeting, suddenly it was weekly meetings. For the first 3 months, I had more meetings in a week than I usually had in a month! And I don’t think the work that came into the library slowed down at all. We had more firm-related/business development requests than usual, but plenty of client-billable work as well.
The biggest change for libraries – everything (almost everything) had/has to be virtual. No more going to the shelf and pulling a book. The change to virtual also meant that attorneys had to use systems that we’ve been trying to get them to use. Which meant plenty of opportunity for one-on-one training. Teaching them to fish rather than doing the fishing for them. Even the AALL Annual Meeting went virtual! It worked, but I missed the opportunity to network with peers in person. The upside of going virtual for association meetings? Less cost, so more attendance. At the local level, where the meetings are held on the Zoom platform, I’m seeing people that haven’t been able to attend in person for years.
So, yes, it’s back to business as usual. With a few changes. Must be that “new normal” that everyone was talking about this spring.