On March 23, 2020, Chicago personal injury attorney Tim Rhatigan of Rhatigan Law Offices, LLC found himself like many other attorneys across the state: working from home. This marked the first working day of Illinois’ “stay-at-home” order, issued by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in an effort to flatten the curve of spiking COVID-19 cases.
Rhatigan doesn’t have a home office, so he set up a makeshift desk with his laptop and scanner in his bedroom. But he struggled to write a brief due to intermittent Wi-Fi. In another room, his wife tried to help their children with remote learning. Emotions quickly ran high. Before the morning was over, he decided that the only way to be productive was to return to the office.
“I was back in the office by lunch time,” Rhatigan said. “I didn’t even last half a day.”
Since last March, 84% of law firms had at least three-quarters of their attorneys working remotely, according to a Bloomberg Law survey. While some lawyers have successfully transitioned to at-home offices, a separate survey from design and architecture firm Gensler found that 74% of U.S. lawyers at large firms want to return and work from their physical offices for a majority of the week. The lawyers polled indicated that they miss face-to-face interaction and socializing with colleagues as well as scheduled client meetings. Nearly half also found it more difficult to avoid distractions at home.
But before attorneys rush back to work, even if only for a few days a week, they want office spaces to make specific safety adjustments. In addition to stricter policies preventing sick workers from coming into the office, 45% of attorneys want their offices cleaned more frequently and 38% want air purification systems added. More than 30% would also like to see provided hand sanitizer and touchless bathroom fixtures/doors.
While many of these safety measures are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois Department of Public Health, air purification systems and touchless doors are expensive to install, and some firms in traditional commercial spaces simply wouldn’t be able to afford them.
“My business is contingent upon a case resolving, and there are no trials right now,” said Rhatigan, who has three full-time team members. “So, there’s an income hit because of the pandemic.”
But if attorneys return to work without safety adjustments in their offices, they risk exposing themselves, family members, coworkers and visitors to the virus. If someone gets sick, it could pose legal issues. One employment law attorney at an Am Law 200 firm told the Wall Street Journal that he has advised roughly 600 companies on COVID-19 questions. Of those considering reopening, one-quarter decided against it due to challenging legal requirements.
So, what’s the solution? Upgrading home Wi-Fi and working around family distractions for the foreseeable future? Moving physical files and equipment to a makeshift home office?
There’s a better option, and law firms are jumping onboard. Since 2018, Rhatigan has housed his firm at Amata Law Office Suites, Chicago’s first legal community of 700-plus attorneys operating out of seven Class-A downtown offices. Early in the pandemic, Amata CEO, Ron Bockstahler, recognized that attorneys wouldn’t want to completely abandon office space.
Amata quickly contacted O’Malley Construction Co. and invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement important safety measures, ensuring attorneys would feel as safe and comfortable as possible when returning to the office. Now, each location is equipped with glass sneeze shields, touchless entry doors and bathroom fixtures, directional signs, touchless temperature guns, sanitation stations and more.
“It’s been reassuring to see what Amata has done because it has taken every possible step,” Rhatigan said. “How quickly the team got it all in was remarkable.”
Along with building improvements, Amata scanned lawyers’ mail for 90 days and handled document preparations (free-of-charge) to encourage firms to make choices based on safety, not financial concerns. They even waived some related fees on items that needed to be shipped. Fellow Amata attorney Sarah LeRose of the Law Office of Leonard J. LeRose Jr., Ltd. found the complimentary mail services to be extremely helpful during the stay-at-home order.
“As a small firm, it’s an obvious issue if you don’t get your mail for months,” she said. “We all have bills to pay.”
LeRose returned to her office in late August and has been coming in a few times a week. She “absolutely” visits frequently because she feels safe with Amata’s installations. Both LeRose and Rhatigan have also noticed other Amata-based attorneys return to their offices over the past several months.
Although COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed, most Illinois residents won’t be able to get their shots for months. But in the meantime, Rhatigan thinks Amata has successfully created a safe culture.
“They always have a tenant-first approach, so they’re always asking if there’s anything they can do to help your practice or even you personally,” Rhatigan said. “Even these COVID-19 implementations … they were implemented not only to comply with CDC recommendations but definitely with us in mind. Amata does a terrific job of fostering a comfortable environment without compromise to safety or other resources. It is their commitment to the providing of these resources that puts its tenants in a position to succeed. I love it here.”
Don’t struggle with productivity and challenging work-from-home conditions any longer. Whenever you are ready to return to an office outside of your home, Amata prioritizes your safety and offers other services to help you focus on practicing law, including virtual offices, live reception and paralegal support.
Call us or visit our website and take an online or in-person tour of one of our seven Class-A law firm office spaces to learn how our COVID-19 safety measures will help keep you safe as you return to work.