This is my fourth post on law firms and the Coronavirus Crisis.  This week I’ll examine how firms can make themselves stronger in the long term, by actions they take during the crisis.

This post was inspired by a question Bob Ambrogi asked me on his show, Law Insights,  earlier this month: “Do you think there are any silver linings in this crisis,” he asked.  I answered yes and offered a couple of brief examples.  

I think the crisis actually creates a number of significant opportunities to advance firm interests, including to: 

  • Strengthen vital relationships
  • Activate institutional resources
  • Address projects that need attention 
  • Achieve a shared sense of accomplishment

Strengthening Vital Relationships

Law firms have a number of vital relationships, including, specifically, with their people, their clients, their suppliers, and their communities.  In each case there is a mutuality of interest and dependence. The healthier and stronger those relationships are, the healthier and stronger the firm is.

In a time like this, the way people interact with each other matters.  Nearly everyone is under stress, and uncertain about the future. They notice who seems sincerely to care about them, and who does not.

As they navigate this crisis, firms should take care to demonstrate–by word and by deed–empathy and readiness to support their vital relationships.  Taking affirmative steps to help employees deal with isolation or challenges caused by an ailing parent, offering creative ideas to help clients meet their new business challenges, assuring suppliers that they will continue to support them, and going the extra mile for communities.  These will all leave lasting impressions. And make the relationships stronger.  

What I am suggesting must be genuine.  These are not business development or public relations techniques.  They are acts of concern for the welfare of others. People will recognize the difference.

Activating Institutional Resources

All firms invest time and money in resources to support the firm in normal times. This crisis gives firms a chance to reap more benefit from those investments, now and for the long term. Here are three examples:

          Technology and Data

Firms make significant investment in technology and managing their data.  Most firms do not make nearly as much of these investments as they could. Now is the time to make more of them.

The most obvious example is communications technology.  Firms already are finding that the Zoom and other tools enable remote meetings that are just as effective as in person meetings, at a fraction of the cost and inconvenience.

There are countless other examples, such as technologies that:  

  • provide managers real-time, user-friendly, actionable data to facilitate oversight of a remote workforce; 
  • efficiently and accurately identify who in the firm has a particular expertise required for an engagement; 
  • access historical cost and price data on similar prior matters to enable improved process design and pricing on a new one;
  • enhance billing and collections with time capture and mobile time entry and automated information flows between timekeepers, billing partners, and finance department;
  • activate underlying data bases to remind  lawyers to do vital non-billable tasks such as mentoring and relationship management.

These tools are powerful in normal times.  At a time like this, with everyone working remotely and clients under unprecedented pressure, these tools materially increase the firm’s ability to overcome the challenges of the crisis.

Increased adoption of these technologies now will lead to sustained adoption in the long term.

          Innovation Initiatives

Most firms have adopted innovation initiatives to find ways to do what the firm does better. These obviously vary from firm to firm.  It has been a challenge for most firms to get lawyers to convert from tried and true methods to new ones, making the pace of actual innovation slower than it could be.  

Firms should look for ways to apply these innovations to address the crisis, and promote sustained adoption.

          The Leadership Team

Every firm also “invests” in a group of partners tasked with leading and managing the firm.  The partners chosen for these roles are among the most successful. The opportunity cost of taking part of their time away from client service is substantial, but warranted by the value of their management contribution.  

This crisis gives the firm a chance for a much higher return on its investment.  If the leadership team effectively pursues a comprehensive plan to manage through the crisis, and leads in the ways I discussed in an earlier post, the payback will be enormous.

Leadership teams that work effectively during this time, will also be more effective in the “new normal” that comes next.

          Addressing Important Non-Billable Projects

All firms have projects they would like to address if they had sufficient available  resources, but normally don’t. Innovation projects and expansion of pro bono legal work are good examples.   

During the crisis, firms will commonly find themselves with underutilized lawyer and other professional resources.  Firms now can devote those resources to these important projects. Win win.

Achieving a Sense of Shared Experience

The nature of this crisis creates a truly unique opportunity for firms to work together in a way that creates a memorable shared experience– one that will deepen personal bonds for the long term. 

Firms that embrace their people in the way I described in an earlier post will create an environment of everyone being “in this together.”  Firms that level with everyone about the risks they face and their plans to surmount them; support them professionally, financially, and emotionally; and call upon them to do their part to help the firm succeed; those firms likely will have a team that feels a greater sense of connection and dedication. 

We will all remember what and how we did during the Coronavirus Crisis of 2020.  We will feel a kinship with those with whom we struggled through these days together.  Firms have an opportunity to make this an experience that enhances how all their people feel about the firm going forward.