Law firm management in times of crisis
The COVID 19 (coronavirus) outbreak is the worst health crisis that this country and the world has seen in our lifetimes, and it seems to be bringing our entire way of life to a screeching halt. There has been a run on numerous household items, and as of this writing, many states have shut down bars, restaurants, and other establishments, and the federal government has recommended that there be no large gatherings of any kind.
In the legal world, we like to throw the around the word “unprecedented”, but this crisis is on an entirely different level. To say the situation is “fluid” would be the understatement of the year – things are happening at warp speed, and it seems that federal, state, and local governments are updating their crisis mitigation policies by the hour.
So, during a health crisis of this magnitude, what can your firm do to effectively manage the situation?
The first thing we would say is that the days of ignoring this story, focusing on “business as usual”, and assuming that it will go away are long past. This crisis is real, and it is affecting literally everyone. There is no escaping it and there is no ignoring it.
In this new reality, firms need to be proactive and stay out in front of this, particularly when it comes to your interactions with employees, clients, vendors and service providers, and prospective clients.
Here are some of the most important steps law firms can take to effectively manage their practice during a health crisis like the coronavirus pandemic:
Take Care of your Employees First
There is a lot of future uncertainty, and everyone is scared right now, including your employees. They may be worried about getting exposed to the virus, or even more so about spreading it to an aging family member if they contract it. They might also be worried about their jobs – how much work there will be in the near term, whether they will be temporarily laid off, or what will happen if this thing goes on for a while.
Now is not the time to be vague or obtuse; you need to communicate clearly with your employees, keep them in the loop, assure them that you care, and let them know what is going on with the firm. Every firm is unique, and each will handle things a little bit differently. Some firms have decided to have their employees work from home, while others are keeping their office open and taking extra measures to ensure that everything is continually wiped down and sanitized.
The way this is handled will depend largely on what is happening in your local community. For example, if your office is in a heavily populated area where there are a lot of confirmed cases of the virus, it would probably make sense to close down for a while and do all of your consultations and legal research remotely. With the technology available today, most firms can function fairly smoothly even while away from the office, at least in the short term.
Clearly, you will also want to cover the basics. Reiterate the need to wash your hands repeatedly, not touch your hands to your face, don’t shake your clients’ hands while this is going on, keep a healthy distance from others, and if you are sick, stay home and do not come into the office.
Inform your Clients on What is Happening
Ongoing communication with your clients will be very important during this time as well. It doesn’t matter what stage you are at with their case or in what capacity you are working with them, your clients need to hear from you and be reassured that you are continuing operations. You should also let them know that you are taking all precautions to protect their health and well-being. Send an email communicating this to them, and you may also want to give some of them a call to check on how they are doing. Many people are having a hard time dealing with everything that is going on, and just a short phone call reaching out to them and letting them know that you care can go a long way.
Create/Update your Health Crisis Management Plan
If you do not already have a plan in place for managing a health crisis, now is the time to create one. If you do have a plan, chances are it did not account for a scenario like this, so you will probably need to revise it. This starts with creating a series of “what if” scenarios:
- What if one of the attorneys or staff tests positive for the virus?
- What if one of our vendors or service providers tests positive?
- What if one of our clients tests positive?
- What if one of our employees who is infected passes the virus to one of our clients?
- Are we legally required to give paid leave to employees who test positive under the newly passed federal legislation? If not, should we pay them anyway?
- What happens if one or more of the employees refuses to come to the office because they are concerned about their health?
- What is our plan to survive if this crisis goes on for a while and things are shut down for an extended period of time?
You should also put together a plan for how to most effectively and efficiently work remotely if your office needs to. Bring together others in the firm and get everyone’s input on how best to handle this type of situation. Think about logistics, how you plan to secure the supplies you will need, and other important issues that will need to be addressed if everyone has to work from home.
Chances are, the current COVID 19 outbreak will not be the last global pandemic our country will have to deal with. By creating a comprehensive health crisis plan now, you will be able to learn valuable lessons from the current situation and be well-prepared the next time it happens.
Prepare for Future Challenges when the Crisis is Over
We are in uncharted territory, and none of us can predict with any degree of accuracy what our country and the world will look like after the COVID 19 crisis is over. But one thing we can be pretty sure of is that these events will trigger an economic recession. Will it be as bad as the banking collapse back in 2008? It could be, but hopefully it will be far less painful.
In times like these, the best approach is to prepare for the worst and assume that we are in for a sharp economic downturn when all of this is over. If that materializes, it could be more challenging to bring new cases into your firm. When consumers are struggling to meet their basic needs, they will be less willing to pay for legal services.
That’s the bad news. But there is a potential upside to all of this. After the coronavirus situation is over, there will be significant societal changes, and among them will be an accelerated trend of employees working from home and students learning from home. This means consumers will be spending even more of their time online, providing greater opportunities to reach legal consumers all in one place.
With this in mind, it is more important than ever for law firms to have a strong online presence. Your website is your most important digital property, and you must treat it as more than an electronic calling card. Your website should be attractive, dynamic, and engaging, and it should show perspective clients that you are an authority in your area(s) of practice.
Another thing that is very important with regards to your digital presence is the ability of prospective clients to find you. This is accomplished through an effective search engine optimization (SEO) strategy that includes regular ongoing legal content. You should also be actively engaging with consumers on Facebook and other social media platforms where they spend a great deal of their time.
There is a decent chance that things might be slower for your firm in the coming weeks and months. With less work on your plate, now would be a great time to assess your current web marketing strategy (if you have one) to determine if it is accomplishing what you want it to. If not, this is the time to make the needed changes. If you need help with any of this, feel free to reach out to us any time and let us know what we can do.
About Sundown Legal Marketing
Sundown Legal Marketing specializes in helping law firms review their current internet footprint, developing a comprehensive internet marketing plan and implementing every aspect of that plan. Contact us today for a free website evaluation and a no obligation assessment of your internet marketing plan. Call us today at (800) 864-1764 or online at Sundown Marketing.