The COVID-19 pandemic almost certainly caught all law firms on the wrong foot. It might be safe to say that no law firm could have foreseen the effects of the pandemic and hence have no contingency plan. Any contingency plan probably would have taken only 25% of the COVID-19 effect into consideration.
Thus, managing a law firm during these unprecedented times is a very real challenge. It is under these circumstances that the following 5 tips may come in beneficial for law firms to consider, traversing this unchartered territory.
1. Manage the short term
The short term is one of total bedlam. You will face the absence of key attorneys and resource people, who may have been infected by the virus. You might have lost key personnel to the virus. The courts have issued various orders that limit their functioning.
On the business front, you will find that your cash flow has decreased significantly. You still have to pay your employees and your utility bills and rentals. Normal communication channels are in disarray and talking to colleagues normally is difficult, although video conferencing is an option.
Your business development efforts take a back seat, as no one knows how things will pan out. Nevertheless, you have to run your law firm.
Firstly, you should manage the short term. You can create several task forces to deal with the issues. The issues to be dealt with should include remote working systems and associated protocols, monitoring of federal and state government orders affecting law firms, sourcing funds from stimulus packages, strategies to cut expenditure, complying with statutory orders, monitoring court orders and updates, learning from past downturns and managing and safeguarding the interests of existing clients.
2. Manage existing clients
Managing and safeguarding the interests of existing clients should be the number one priority, as they are the backbone of your law firm. You must reassure them that you are fully behind them. Keep them updated on the changes that are there due to the pandemic and the orders of the court, on a real-time basis, suggests veteran Jonathan Rosenfeld. Your attorneys handling these clients must engage in periodic conversations with them and offer them any help you can provide, both in terms of their cases, as well as on the COVID-19 disease itself.
3. Manage the medium term
The pandemic will run its course in phases and probably settle down once a vaccine is found. There is no doubt that its effects will be felt in the medium term and the long term. Set up a mid-term revival task force, which should look into the business after a semblance of normalcy returns. There would be numerous changes in the way work is conducted and your law firm would have to adapt quickly. The task force should anticipate the changes and come up with a plan to address the changes. Once the top management approves the proposals, an implementation manual must be prepared and distributed to the staff.
4. Develop business
The aftermath of the pandemic will create vast opportunities for acquiring new clients, both in traditional businesses and new businesses. You should not lose out on this opportunity. The potential new business areas could be spread over practice areas and transactional areas. The pandemic will affect sectors in different ways, leading to new business opportunities. For instance, the tourism, travel and transportation sectors may provide new business in transactional areas, whereas employment and labour may offer new business in practice areas. Your law firm should exploit these opportunities in a systematic and consistent manner, by deploying senior employees to this exercise.
5. Manage the long term
Your law firm’s long-term corporate strategy needs to be headed by the most senior employees, supported by competent staff. The corporate strategy should take into account various aspects in the future, such as behavioural patterns of people, changes in court procedures, changes in practice areas and transactional areas, more emphasis on remote working systems, training and retraining issues, recruitment policies, new skill sets and contingency plans to expect the unexpected.
One of the most important long-term strategies is the meeting of client needs. While there is excessive information available to clients, your law firm should quickly focus on the needs of clients and convince them of your capabilities to advise pertinently on those needs. Thankfully, the media consumption habits of customers, namely the increased dependence on online media, will come in useful for you to undertake this task.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the disruptions created by the pandemic. It is up to you and your enlightened management to rise to the occasion, catch the bull by the horns and emerge stronger by creating opportunities.