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Keep calm and collaborate

Opinion
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Keep calm and collaborate

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Darren Sylvester and Rachel Roche suggest some ingredients for firms’ disaster recovery plans

Every firm has had to embrace new ways of doing things during covid-19. There is no question that all firms’ disaster recovery plans have had to be read and implemented – as well as tested.

Those that did not have disaster recovery plans in place have had to respond at pace.

Lawyers working remotely from home – which, until the pandemic, many firms had looked down on as unproductive and unprofessional – has been a major shift arising from the pandemic.

It’s one where fee-earners are still able to access case management systems, time record and produce documents and correspondence in exactly the same way as if they were in the office environment. 

Many argue that this could be the new normal. Technology such as Zoom, Teams and Cisco Webex have allowed firms to communicate effectively with their fee-earners and clients to ensure case files are progressed and, in some cases, to check employees’ wellbeing during lockdown.

Courts have regularly dealt with telephone hearings and handled virtual hearings and trials with electronic bundles, which for the most part have worked well. 

Priorities for leaders 

The pandemic is a time to focus on clients and their changing needs.

Firm leaders should aim to connect with them proactively and orientate the firm’s client service agenda to meet clients’ changing needs – perhaps by adding a new area of expertise (skills and resources permitting), or tailoring communications to reach those needing legal advice on a matter that didn’t affect them pre-covid-19.

Clients are looking for sound information, hard data and impartial advice. It is axiomatic that there will be an increased demand for bankruptcy and insolvency advice, employment law advice and medical law/healthcare law advice as a consequence of covid-19.

Marketing doesn’t stop in a pandemic. The question is, how does your firm get its message out and heard in a different way to the normal emails and bulletins that are commonplace?

Innovative communication methods are required, and we foresee a number of firms utilising, for example, YouTube channels for communication.

It must not be forgotten that the personal elements of covid-19 must be handled with empathy. Employee flexibility and collaboration are vitally important.

Families may be juggling work with home schooling, family illnesses and bereavement, as well as trying to keep their own mental health in positive shape. Understanding from firm leaders towards their staff during this pandemic is crucial. 

We suspect many firms will be updating their staff wellbeing policies to include counselling resources for staff; and or expending firm health insurance coverage options that include access to mental health resources for a certain period of time.

Pricing discipline and collection of fees for cash management and solvency is important. However, to reinforce and cement your firm’s value proposition, you could consider offering one-time discounts or flexible payment terms to clients.

Being resilient and having a 360-degree view on all aspects of the business can ensure that the short and medium terms are covered, as well as being best placed for the long-term once the pandemic abates.

Resilience to, and thorough oversight of, your firm’s clients, sectors, practice areas and locations will see the firm successfully navigating the choppy times ahead. Uncertain times may well offer the chance for inorganic growth.

Naturally, no one course of action will be appropriate for all firms in these unparalleled and evolving times.

Clients want the reassurance that your firm can operate successfully, with minimal interruption to them, during the pandemic; and the confidence that you’re there to assist them with and solve their legal problems. 

We suggest that firms that don’t overlook or neglect client needs, marketing, understanding, fees and resilience will stand a much better chance of surviving during the pandemic – and thriving in the ‘new normal’.

Darren Sylvester is the founder of DJS Law djslaw.co.uk; and Rachel Roche is the founder of Roche Legal rochelegal.co.uk

They are the co-authors of How to Start a Law Firm – A practical guide to offering Legal Services (The Law Society October 2020)