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COVID-19 is now wreaking havoc on businesses. From travel restrictions to office and school closings, the coronavirus is beginning to affect everyone. At the very least, your clients may behave differently in response to the outbreak.
There is plenty of up-to-date information available on how best to mitigate your exposure to the virus elsewhere. This blog is intended to discuss how solo and small-firm attorneys can best mitigate financial and operational harm even if COVID-19 continues to spread, as expected.
A Calm, Measured Approach
Panic rarely helps anything. Certainly, panic isn't the appropriate response to COVID-19. Still, it is clear by now that COVID-19 will almost certainly affect normal business operations, whether you live in a state with a currently documented case or not. The need to take precautionary measures is real.
While the mortality rate is not yet settled, it hovers between .04 and 3.4 percent. In the U.S., where fewer patients are currently tested, the mortality rate will likely lower as more people with milder cases are tested. It is not unreasonable to expect an ultimate mortality rate of around 1%, although certainly that could change as more information becomes available. While the danger of dying from the disease once infected is relatively small, it's easy transmissibility and the potential to overwhelm hospitals makes the coronavirus concerning nonetheless.
Communicating With Staff and Clients
It is essential to communicate with your staff and clients about contingency plans, staying home when sick, and good hygiene practices.
We are at the stage where shaking hands with clients and colleagues should be avoided. Some clients may feel obligated to shake your hand if you initiate it, despite not wanting to, so in this case keeping your distance is the most professional and respectful thing to do.
Some clients may scoff at this reluctance as an overreaction, so communicating is important. You can be light-hearted and self-deprecating about it. World leaders and health experts recommend not shaking hands, so you have support for this position. If you do end up shaking hands with anyone, remember to wash your hands afterward. As we've all learned, it's extremely difficult to stop yourself from touching your face. So hand-washing is vital.
Several large law firms have already implemented travel bans. Many have shuttered offices for an indefinite period. Several firms have canceled partner meetings, instead choosing to meet virtually.
The CDC recommends that older adults, and adults with pre-existing conditions, not go on long plane trips. The CDC and the Department of Health recommend not going on any cruises, period. The CDC has not yet recommended against all plane travel for healthy young and middle-aged adults, but it makes sense to consider alternatives for any non-essential travel, if available.
If you haven't already, it is time to test your IT infrastructure for the ability to work remotely. That could include limiting client meetings to phone/video conferencing, making sure staff can access work systems from home, and investing in collaborative software such as Microsoft Teams or Google's G Suite. FindLaw has some tips on securing your wi-fi network when working from home.
You should have a plan in place in case someone at the firm comes into contact with anyone infected with COVID-19. This could mean working from home for several weeks. Also, be aware and have contingency plans in case one of your staff (or you) cannot find daycare arrangements. Flexible scheduling arrangements may need to become necessary.
Several federal courts have already considered closing in the event of a widespread COVID-19 outbreak, so be prepared for the potential for dates to get pushed back.
In addition, the government is considering economic stimulus packages. One step may involve cutting the payroll tax to help businesses financially during the outbreak. The details are not clear, but there is the potential for economic help on the way.
For most of us, it's business as usual. But the need for planning is clear, and it isn't too late to start.
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