Confronting COVID-19 Q&A Series: Michael Newman, Foley & Lardner, LLP

Michael Newman, Partner at Foley & Lardner LLP, discusses how the firm has helped companies navigate legal and business challenges during COVID-19, and the ways it is supporting its own remote employees.

This Q&A is part of an ongoing series of DRC interviews with representatives from our member organizations about how they are facing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q: How is Foley helping clients navigate legal and business challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic? What have been the most prevalent issues?

A: Given the nature of the events that have unfolded over the past few months, our clients have been coping with unprecedented and ever-evolving legal issues and business challenges. As legal advisors, our role has been to stay ahead of the information curve and rapidly changing laws to help our clients navigate these uncharted waters. This pandemic and the shelter-in-place orders are forcing all businesses to deal with unanticipated financial hardships, labor and employment matters, financing issues and opportunities, contract termination and force majeure issues, as well as all of the national and local health and safety guidelines, among many others.

Foley & Lardner worked quickly and effectively to develop a Coronavirus Resource Center, offering our clients insights from across Foley’s many practice disciplines and providing timely perspectives on what our clients can do now and how they can prepare for the future. Additionally, we have organized a multidisciplinary and multijurisdictional task force to address the wide range of legal and business challenges that our clients face in responding to COVID-19.

Q: How is Foley keeping its associates and partners motivated, engaged, and mentally healthy while working from home?

A: After a few weeks of stay-at-home mandates, it became clear that our close-knit Dallas law firm community was missing the daily office interactions that come from working in a large and busy law firm.

We adjusted our teams and established a “Virtual Engagement Task Force” that quickly developed a six-week virtual engagement program. Here are some of the ways we have connected with our colleagues remotely:

      • Meditation Mondays: Wellness coach Melissa Marks provides weekly tips on wellness, intention, and focus during our time in quarantine and remote work.
      • Fitness Fridays: We engaged longtime Dallas fitness guru Doug Rice (aka Buff Tanner) to lead the office through 30-minute boot-camp-style workouts each Friday.
      • Weekly Challenges: From mystery photo challenges to office Jeopardy to a “friendly” Skype Pictionary challenge, the strong competitive spirit of our employees comes out each week.

Our culture is very collegial, competitive, collaborative, and energetic. We’ve worked hard to carry over those traits during remote work so they can remain intact when we head back to the office.

Q: What legal challenges do you foresee as companies begin to transition back to the office, especially as it pertains to employees who are unwilling or unable to return due to health concerns, childcare challenges, or other factors? What guidance can you provide employers to navigate these issues?

A: As some states are beginning to reopen for business, new legal issues are developing. For example, when an employee fears returning to work or refuses to come back to in-person operations, our lawyers can provide counsel on how employers might manage the disruption and associated legal risks. Foley can also guide businesses in the development and implementation of disaster recovery plans.

Among the more persistent considerations is what types of medical questions can employers require employees to answer upon returning to work. In a recent blog, Foley’s Kenneth Broodo, Partner (Dallas Office), and Taylor Appling, Associate (Houston Office), address that question, together with the EEOC’s new guidance on accommodating employees at high risk of serious illness or morbidity from COVID-19.

Foley can guide businesses in navigating a wide variety of business and legal issues. Our Coronavirus Resource Center is a good one-stop shop for relevant developments, insights, and resources to support businesses during this challenging time.