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4 Strategies to Help Manage the Impact of COVID-19 On Your Law Firm

  • March 28, 2020

There can’t be many – if any – individuals left who haven’t in some way had their lives disrupted by Coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it’s also known.

Commercial organisations such as law firms are continuing to strive to keep up with the challenges the outbreak has presented. But as it spreads, many are finding their clients impacted by the virus, as well as the ability of their solicitors to carry out work. One London firm temporarily closed its office after a potential case of Coronavirus recently, and another international law firm has confirmed its employees will be working remotely wherever possible.

The problem for many law firms is that legal work requires a degree of team effort. And although many solicitors can do some of their work remotely, the usual pace will drop if teams are not together at the firm. Also, litigation, which requires a physical presence in court, is becoming increasingly hazardous – not only for the solicitors involved but their clients, the witnesses, experts, judges and court staff.

In light of this situation, what steps can your law firm take to minimise disruption?

In this article, I offer four simple strategies to help reduce the impact of Covid-19 on your law firm to ensure you mitigate risk, protect your employees and support your customers.

1. Nerve-Centre Management

In such unusual circumstances, when it’s easy to panic, a calm and focused leadership is crucial. Therefore, your first step should be to surround yourself with other senior partners or business managers who can help diffuse any panic. A thorough, clear action plan is critical to help you plan and execute strategies to manage the challenges going forward over the next few months.

The management team should be in alignment on the methods you are implementing to cope with challenges that may arise. Integration is paramount, and a transparent communication system between partners and the wider legal team is crucial to ensure not only employee buy-in but that your team continues to place trust in your leadership ability and understands the processes in the action plan.

2. Protect the Workforce

The safety of your employees is paramount. Therefore, strategies such as staggered work times and social distancing will help to keep your legal team healthy and stress-free. This will enable you to continue operating during the outbreak with as little disruption as possible.

You may wish to introduce additional, short term policies such as flexitime, initiate help for employees to work at home, and provide onsite guidelines for those still coming into the workplace.

Measures to consider include:

Remote Working

Where it is possible and practical, you may decide to encourage employees to work remotely, especially if they are in an at-risk group. Providing the necessary equipment, they will need such as laptops, cameras for online meetings and other work-related items will not only reduce the stress of individuals but will allow them to perform as well from their external base as they would in the office.

Be mindful to keep in touch regularly. In essence, this will allow you to monitor productivity but also, and as importantly, it will permit you to check up on the mental health of your employees and ensure they are not feeling isolated.

Additionally, providing a schedule of activity will help them focus and stay motivated. It will also serve to clarify responsibilities so that everyone knows what is expected of them.

Office Working

Ensure there are systems in place to minimise risk for your employees in the office. Discourage physical contact including handshaking, and provide hand gels, reminders about good handwashing practices and ensure surfaces such as door handles, handrails, tables and desks are disinfected regularly.

Postpone internal team meetings, or hold them virtually to minimise exposure.

Remember also to be sensitive to external factors over which your employees have no control. For example, as and when schools and nurseries close, there will be some inevitable flexibility required to enable parents to cope with childminding duties. Additionally, some older children coming home for the Easter holidays may not be able to return to university. So, understanding and empathy are called for, and it’s wise to have a contingency plan in place in case you find yourself short-staffed at any point.

3. External Engagement

Also of importance is external engagement – ensure you keep your stakeholders and clients safe by:

Minimising Face to Face Contact

Routine conversations between solicitors and clients can take place via Skype, Zoom or telephone calls to minimise direct contact.

Using Video Testimony

Currently, an emergency bill is about to be pushed through parliament here in the UK. This bill includes a provision that in several stages of a dispute, video testimony will be allowed in civil (and criminal) courts to minimise the current risk of contracting the virus.

Keeping in Touch

It’s also good practice to communicate with your customers regularly to keep them up to date. Fact-based updates and electronic (or paper-based) communications covering how to contact your firm, what to do if they have a case coming up and other relevant advice, will keep levels of trust high in your firm’s capability to handle the challenge.

Be transparent with your clients. After all, this situation is affecting everyone, and they will appreciate your honesty. Clear communication guarantees an empathic response:

Harvard Business Review advises: “When customers are separated from the work that’s being done behind the scenes to serve them, they appreciate the service less, and then they value the service less.”

These actions will also help confirm you as a law firm that clients can rely on in times of disruption and position you as a calm authority.

Avoiding Unnecessary Travel and Events

It’s wise to steer clear of conferences and other law-related events, although most are likely to be cancelled anyway. Similarly, avoid business travel and encourage your team to do the same.

4. Plan for the Long-Term

Although the situation in China seems to be improving, the ripple effect of this pandemic is set to last for some time yet.

Therefore, an immediate response is vital, and many law firms are pursuing initial coping strategies to ensure the best outcome for both employees and clients, in so far as is possible in the short term.

But it’s important to remember long term responses – McKinsey report that there could be other repercussions such as financial implications and shifting industry structures. So, it’s essential to ensure your management team are dedicating some time to planning responses that focus on possible long-term requirements.

We currently do not know the outcome of this virus. However, what is clear is that those law firms who act now to protect their employees and customers, address challenges and help mitigate damage in whatever way they can, will be better placed to cope successfully and come out of the other side stronger.

About Clayton Legal

Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability. We have made over 5,000 placements from partners to legal executives, solicitors to paralegals and legal IT personnel to practice managers.

If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.

If you would like to know more about recruiting trends in the legal sector this year, download our latest guide here.

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