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Omicron fears spark new delays for law firm office re-openings

By David Thomas and Sara Merken for Reuters

More U.S. law firms are delaying large-scale office returns and taking other steps to confront the rising Omicron coronavirus variant, with one large firm telling its employees to work from home and another now explicitly requiring COVID-19 booster shots.

Several large firms confirmed Monday that they are pushing back their return-to-office dates, including Cooley, Willkie Farr & Gallagher and Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo.

Wall Street law firm Debevoise & Plimpton said Friday in a firmwide email provided to Reuters that its employees should work remotely until Jan. 7 due to the Omicron variant.

Law firms in recent months have been grappling with when and how to bring lawyers back into their offices, even part-time, as the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved. Several have changed course more than once, with the rise of the Delta variant upending earlier law firm return-to-office plans over the summer.

Mintz in a statement Monday said it had indefinitely postponed a planned Jan. 4 return. The firm is also now requiring that its employees receive a COVID-19 booster shot, in addition to initial vaccination against the virus.

It appears to be one of the few large firms to require a booster for already-vaccinated workers.

Cooley, a Silicon Valley-founded firm known for its tech industry clients, said in a statement Monday that it won’t require its U.S. attorneys and staff to return to the office until March 31.

A Norton Rose Fulbright representative said in an email Monday that it will “postpone” its full return-to-office date to Jan. 25. The firm did not answer what its original return date had been.

Two other large firms, Willkie Farr & Gallagher and Sheppard Mullin also confirmed Monday that they have delayed office return plans from next month to Feb. 7.

At Debevoise, by Jan. 10 employees were supposed to spend two-thirds of the month in the office as part of a gradual return plan. Presiding partner Michael Blair said in the email asking workers to stay home until Jan. 7 that the firm will decide early next month whether to go ahead with that plan.