How are law firms and their leaders navigating the COVID-19 crisis?
Last week, in a webinar for the New York State Bar Association moderated by my colleague Craig Brown, Managing Principal of Bridgeline Solutions (Lateral Link’s temporary staffing arm), these six managing partners offered excellent insights and advice:
1. Protect your people.
A law firm’s most valuable assets are its people. The panelists repeatedly emphasized how they put the health and well-being of their own lawyers and staff first.
Doing everything possible to make sure employees don’t contract the coronavirus is just the first and most obvious goal. The social isolation created by remote working can give rise to loneliness, depression, and anxiety. The managing partners talked about measures they took to make sure that their lawyers are staff remained healthy in the most holistic sense, including hosting virtual events like town halls and happy hours to promote community and connectedness.
Many lawyers found themselves taking on additional responsibilities during the pandemic, such as child care, elder care, or care for sick family members. Adam Klein said that at Outten & Golden, he and his partners told their associates and staff to put those priorities first.
2. Connect with your clients.
During times of crisis, lawyers need to let their clients know that they’re there for them. The panelists talked about the myriad ways they tried to remain connected to their clients, including email updates, check-in calls from practice group leaders, and even virtual wine tastings.
At Blank Rome, clients signed up for email updates that would inform them about important developments related to the coronavirus crisis, such as changes to government programs. These updates helped clients navigate the tumultuous times while also keeping Blank Rome top of mind, explained Alan Hoffman.
The wine tastings hosted by Cohen & Gresser have been a huge hit with clients, according to Lawrence Gresser. The firm would have wine shipped to clients ahead of time, followed by online tastings led by professional sommeliers — who in normal times would be very difficult to book, but who are more readily accessible during the current crisis.
3. Leverage technology — thoughtfully and carefully.
Law firms moved online so smoothly and successfully thanks to an array of sophisticated systems and advanced technological tools, such as VPN, Citrix, and Zoom. Lawyers learned how to use numerous new technologies, whether they wanted to or not — and this knowledge will stay with them even after the pandemic is over.
The increased use of videoconferencing has been a highlight, as Wayne Outten of Outten & Golden noted. Depositions, hearings, and arbitrations are all being done remotely during the pandemic — and even after the current crisis is over, expect videoconferencing to be used more often than it was pre-COVID-19, now that lawyers (and clients) have seen the money and time that can be saved.
But technology needs to be implemented with thought and care. For example, as Dauna Williams pointed out, you need to make sure that your tools all play well with each other. Certain applications or platforms don’t interact well with one another — and can even compromise each other’s security. Law firms should work with experienced technologists to make sure they avoid such pitfalls.
4. Have a standard reopening procedure.
Moving to remote operations was no small feat for law firms, and reopening offices will also pose a challenge. This is especially true for large law firms with dozens of offices and hundreds, if not thousands, of employees.
The key to successful reopening — according to Gregory Katz of Lewis Brisbois, which has some 3,000 employees working in 52 offices across 22 states — is to have a standard reopening procedure. Each office will reopen at a different pace, reflecting conditions on the ground, but all offices will pass through the same stages of the same process. That process must be carefully designed to consider such factors as who can return and when, where workers can sit in the reopened offices, when visitors can be allowed, and what signage should be erected.
Law firms closed down and moved online with surprising success, and law firms can and will reopen successfully as well. But reopening can’t be taken for granted or handled haphazardly. Instead, firms much approach reopening with all the intelligence, ingenuity, and innovation that they apply to solve the problems of their clients. If lawyers take reopening seriously, they will reap substantial rewards.
Managing Partner Response To COVID-19 [New York State Bar Association]
Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. This post is by David Lat, a managing director in the New York office, where he focuses on placing top associates, partners and partner groups into preeminent law firms around the country.