Law firms have faced some significant challenges in adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic. Financially, COVID-19 has taken its toll on firms, easily the biggest since the 2008 recession, and with many of the same unfortunate outcomes: layoffs, furloughs, compensation cuts, and deferred classes.
But even as firms see similar economic impacts, the pandemic gives law firms a whole new set of challenges and opportunities to grapple with. Today’s public health conditions mean a completely different way of working, including dealing with how to stay on the forefront, stay relevant, and keep clients (and get new ones). There’s a lot of change – but the firms that adapt and are flexible can be well-positioned.
Focus on current conditions
COVID-19 conditions vary from state to state. A law firm operating in New Jersey will have different public health conditions than one operating in Nebraska. Depending on where you’re based, your firm may be considered part of the essential workforce. It’s important to stay keyed into what your local and state public health officials are recommending.
That being said, approximately 60% of US residents are still under stay-at-home orders. You’re probably working from home. So given the current conditions, are you optimized for it?
In the hustle to switch to remote work, you and your firm have come up with solutions to manage your workload. But are they the best solutions for working from home on an ongoing basis? At a minimum, your team should have:
- Desktops or laptops that can handle professional work
- Sufficient home office bandwidth
- The correct legal software on their computers
- Phones that are set up to route office calls
- Business communication apps: Slack, WhatsApp, Zoom,
- Document management apps
- VPN or remote login
But look to the future
Even at this uncertain juncture in COVID-19’s timeline, there are some long-lasting effects that will likely come out of this that seem obvious: ongoing remote work flexibility, more teleservice options for clients, and expanded remote court proceedings. But there are other directions in which the legal industry appears to be moving. Resilient law farms are already paying attention to them.
The benefits of a small footprint
Law firms that were ahead of the curve have long known what others are finding out now: when your firm works from home, they benefit from the convenience. You benefit from big savings on overhead costs. When your lawyers and staff are adept at remote working, your small footprint can still have a big impact on clients.
A warmer relationship with technology
The legal industry isn’t known for its embrace of technology, but the pandemic is changing that. The sudden and pressing need to move staff out of the office demanded that law firms implement a more robust relationship with tech tools. The learning curve may have been steep, but it’s likely to have a lasting impact on the industry as professionals adopt and adapt.
While the largest threat of COVID-19 is public health, the waves of workers transitioning to remote work has given cybercriminals opportunities to exploit weaknesses in security. Phishing, ransomware, hacking, and other forms of attack can lead to data breaches that seriously erode client trust and industry reputations.
However, firms that proactively address these threats by providing clients and staff with well-vetted, reliable tools, developing an incident response plan, and adhering to security standards will be in a better position to head off problems and offer a secure remote work and client environment in a future that looks to be increasingly virtual.
Prioritize relationships and communication
Relationships have always been key to law firms, but it’s even more important now. Your firm needs to prioritize building and nurturing relationships to stay in the game. This goes for internal, staff-oriented communications as well as external, client-facing communications.
Internally, your staff needs to know that leadership is keeping abreast of the situation and making informed, rational decisions on managing it in a way that prioritizes health and safety. Processes, plans, and policies need to be easily understood and easily available.
The same goes for client-facing communications. Law firms that are rising above the rest right now are making their operational information easily accessible to their clients and they’re offering their clients a range of ways to receive services. Phone calls, emails, video conferencing have quickly become routine and they are likely to become an ongoing expectation.
But make sure that as you adopt these new relationships and communication practices, you’re not riding roughshod over your staff’s wellbeing. Setting expectations, both with staff and clients, on availability and response times will help facilitate satisfaction on both sides.
Make data-driven decisions
Making data a driver in key decisions isn’t a new concept in law, but it’s one that’s becoming increasingly important as law firms look to stay up-to-date. Metrics for profit, performance, client satisfaction all help shape the tactics and strategies of firms. But how will the pandemic shape the value of metrics?
- What does financial performance mean?
- How can we interpret firm performance?
- What does efficiency mean now?
- Will more business practices be implemented?
Business professionals have taken on a larger role in law firms in recent years, helping develop more efficient operations and facilitate project and practice management. Business professionals, due to their training, are more likely to look to data-driven decisions than attorneys. If data continues to play a significant role in law firm planning, we can expect to see business professionals work in a more significant capacity at firms.
Staying on top of the legal field is a challenging proposition at any time. Doing so during a pandemic? It’s even more complicated.
However, by responding thoroughly to current conditions while looking to the future and making decisions based off of data will give firms the best chance of success.