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"The New Workplace World"

February 3, 2022

Stewart Weintraub article on "The New Workplace World"

The Legal Intelligencer

Reprinted with permission from the January 31, 2022, edition of The Legal Intelligencer © 2022 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited, contact 877-257-3382 or reprints@alm.com.

The New Workplace World

By Stewart M. Weintraub

March 6, 2020 is the date that forever changed how we work. That day, to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued a Proclamation of Disaster Emergency which led to his April 1, 2020 “stay at home order.” The Order read, inter alia, “All individuals residing in the Commonwealth are ordered to stay at home except as needed to access, support, or provide life-sustaining business, emergency, or government services.”     

As a result, all non-essential workers, whose jobs permitted them to work from home were required to work from home. While we as lawyers might like to think we are essential, with limited exceptions, lawyers were non-essential workers. For example, lawyers representing clients in child abuse cases were considered essential. The effect of the Governor’s Order changed the face of how all of us work. The pluses and minuses I experienced include, but are not limited to: 

Pros Of The New Workplace

Not having commuting time is a major plus. Before the pandemic I came to the office regularly. My commute, for a good day, was an hour to an hour and a half, each way. To minimize the commute, I had to set my alarm clock for 6:00 AM so I could leave my house by 6:30 AM and arrive at the office about 7:30 AM. Working remotely, I can sleep until 8:00 AM and still be at my desk by 8:30.

For employers whose policy is to require employees to work remotely, partially or totally, another plus is that non-residents of Philadelphia, are able to reduce their Philadelphia wage tax obligation for that portion of their work performed outside the City. 

Cons Of The New Workplace

Conversely, trials or appellate arguments are different. Being able to look the judge or jury in the eye and convey to the judge or jury the sense that you know what you are talking about and that what you and your witnesses are saying can be trusted is made more difficult virtually.

Similarly, trial preparation can be more difficult. If you have taken a deposition virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic, I am sure you experienced difficulty trying to assess the credibility of an opposing witness. 

Not having the camaraderie of colleagues is a minus. As a senior lawyer, one of my responsibilities is to mentor younger lawyers. Not being able to sit with a young lawyer, discussing the legal issues in our cases and guiding them through the practice of law is much easier face to face than by video conference. 

Representation of business clients today is relationship based. Building relationships is much more difficult virtually. Speaking at a CPE or CLE program virtually does not afford you the opportunity to meet potential referral sources and develop the kind of relationship which provides the referral source with the confidence needed to refer new clients or new matters to you. 

What’s Next?

As the COVID-19 pandemic subsides and offices re-open what will the new normal be? Time will tell. While we will be returning to in-person activities, it is likely remote work will be more prevalent than before. For years, some accounting firms did not provide staff with individual offices.  Instead, they provided shared offices whereby in office time had to be scheduled and an office was provided for that day (“Hoteling”). As we return to our offices, will law firms follow the pattern of the accounting firms? Will law firms schedule when staff comes to the office and require that, when you are not in the office, you work remotely? By Hoteling, law firms can reduce the amount of office space they need which concomitantly would reduce its School District Use & Occupancy Tax obligation. Reduced overhead yielding greater profits. This is likely to be THE NEW NORMAL. 

 Stewart Weintraub, shareholder at Chamberlain Hrdlicka and the firm’s S.A.L.T. practice chair emeritus. He can be reached at sweintraub@chamberlainlaw.com.