Two years after Portland law firms sent employees home to work remotely during the Covid-19 public emergency, they are starting to return to downtown — but not to the five-day-a-week routine of pre-pandemic times.

“As employers, we have to be flexible to the myriad of circumstances,” said Graciela Gomez Cowger, CEO of Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt. “We’ve been profoundly disrupted.”

Law firms are among the thousands of businesses assessing next steps, now that Oregon’s indoor mask mandate is set to expire March 12, and Covid cases and hospitalizations have fallen to levels not seen in months.

Most law firms never officially closed their offices, since mail still needed to be opened and documents printed, signed and delivered. But hearings, status conferences, depositions and client meetings all shifted online, and there they’ve remained. Now the transition back to in-person is underway, with participants masked and spread out around a huge conference table.

Four of Portland’s largest law firms either have already welcomed employees back to the office two or three days a week or plan to start doing so in early April. All plan to build flexibility and hybrid work into long-term plans. None have downsized their office space, though two said that is a strong possibility in the future, especially when their leases are up.

Another big change that has taken place, at least at Schwabe: relaxing of the dress code.

“We used to have casual Friday and now we’re implementing that more across the board to cross the great divide between soft pants and suit that probably don’t even fit any more,” Gomez Cowger said.

Long-term, firms need to figure out their space needs. Some are sitting tight, others looking to reduce their footprints.

Read the full article in the Portland Business Journal here.

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