The Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) continues to present unforeseen and ever-changing challenges on a daily basis, disrupting the American economy – and law firms are not immune.
Just like many other business, no matter the size, scope, or industry, law firms need to be prepared for a situation such as this (or other emergency situations) and have a plan ready to be implemented. Executive leadership has a responsibility to protect the firm, its clients, and just as important, to protect the employees’ ability to thrive and provide for their families.
Strategies to keep it “business as usual” – or better
The firm needs to have strategies to keep daily operations as close as possible to “business as usual.” Executive leadership should be meeting daily to monitor business operations from every aspect of the firm. Each department/division should be reviewed and analyzed, even for the smallest changes, and action plans need to be developed, communicated, and implemented to preserve firm viability.
A “task force” should be established and activated to respond quickly. The team needs to be comprised of knowledgeable individuals that are poised to address any situation from all sides. Leadership representatives from key departments, such as purchasing/supply chain, operations, human resources, information technology, and client relations, should be considered to fill this group’s roster. This team serves as your firm’s “go-to” resource for all firm employees to contact if any questions need to be addressed. Additionally, for convenience and efficiency, there should be just one medium of communication to utilize to contact this team throughout the duration of the task force’s existence.
A communications plan should be developed to identify what the message’s main points are, when to disseminate the message, the communication channels to be utilized, what audiences should receive which specific messages, and who is responsible for managing all communications processes. Keeping employees, clients, and the communities a law firm serves well-informed not only demonstrates good public relations, but it goes a long way with enhancing employee engagement and reinforcing your customer service philosophy to your clients. It demonstrates you are a true partner advocating for them when they need your firm.
Tactics to counter negative impact
Whether it is implications from coronavirus (i.e. “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” orders), or other public emergency conditions, a law firm’s business likely will be negatively affected.
Evaluate the current financial status of the firm and plan for an expected and certain overall reduction in firm business. Most importantly, communicate this interim financial plan with your employees. This will no doubt have an effect on salary increases, bonus structures, promotions, and any other incentive programs the firm already may have implemented. Have a financial plan ready to be communicated once the “emergency situation” has passed, so that firm employees know what they can expect. The firm’s goal throughout any crisis is to preserve its resources to ensure its longevity. To do so, quick and unique action is necessary to ensure the firm remains strong throughout the financial downturn.
Be certain that processes and procedures are in place so financial transactions can continue to take place. Accounts payable and receivable, and daily field office financial activities continue “business as usual” to maintain normal firm operations and maximize cash flow.
Do not forget to review and make any adjustments to the firm’s marketing plan. We all understand that a business has to spend money to make money. Belt-tightening may be necessary, but not to the point where it is hard to breathe. Adjusting the overall amount of your firm’s marketing spend, as well as identifying which strategies and tactics are more efficient and effective will help maintain brand awareness. Do not neglect efforts to garner “free advertising” from a public relations perspective. Reaching out to news media outlets to tell your story – mainly from the point of view of how the current situation affects your clients and how your firm is there to help them – will only help.
Understanding the situation from a human resources perspective
If your firm has a “work from home” (WFH) policy and has the technological resources to do so, actively communicate it and allow employees to work from home for the duration of the crisis. Most likely, a majority of your employees will have children at home as well, since schools will be closed. This is another opportunity to increase employee engagement through work-life balance and help firm employees manage stress related to a unique situation, professionally and personally.
Managers also should be sure to not only maintain communication but increase contact with their teams, due to remote working conditions. Communication and productivity cannot suffer, because the firm will suffer in turn.
Identify one HR employee to be a liaison that all employees must call, in order for the firm to track illnesses and other activities related to employee well-being. With regard to “social distancing” or other “people gathering” issues, have a well-defined plan developed and communicated to manage employee activity and congregating within a firm’s office spaces. You also should distribute resources – whether online or hard copy – to provide further education and information to help employees manage their mental, physical, and emotional well-being during the crisis. If you’re going to have employees work remotely, your Information Technology (IT) team needs to make sure network connectivity remains viable and that employees have the right hardware with them to set up at home and remain productive.
Every firm is unique and has its own culture. But in times of crisis, every firm – or business – needs to pull together, so that when the crisis has passed, the firm is poised to grow.
Always remember to communicate with your employees and be transparent. Consistently thank them for their patience and efforts through these trying times, because the firm could not do this without their support.
The law firm’s clients are experiencing an increased level of uncertainty and anxiety also. Employees need to recognize the personal difficulties clients face and remember to be sensitive to the multiple pressures they are experiencing.