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The Coach: Law firm leadership in uncertain times | Gary Mitchell and Lisa Dawson

Wednesday, May 06, 2020 @ 2:07 PM | By Gary Mitchell and Lisa Dawson


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Gary Mitchell
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Lisa Dawson
What we are going through collectively and on a global scale, we have no precedent for. It’s surreal. It’s big. And it’s impactful. It is unprecedented that such social distancing, layoffs and daily rule and regulatory changes have even taken place.

So how can we help? Take a deep breath.

Law firm leadership comes at all levels. Sure, the owners hold the pursestrings but, your accountant, administrator, marketing manager, paralegal team lead and the receptionist should all feel wanted, needed and important by carrying out some of the necessary steps in these times of uncertainty.

Obviously, forecasting cash flow, keeping on top of changing tax deadlines and getting creative on payables and accounts receivable options should include the leadership of the accountant.

Your administrator ought to have a feel for “hot spots” whether that be HR, IT, procurement, insurance or leases. Negotiating with landlords on lease arrangements and understanding what government subsidies/deferrals/rights you have as a small business is vital.

In small firms, owners may be the HR leader. Work with your team to ensure these important questions are addressed:

  • What do employers need to consider when implementing mandatory work from home arrangements?
  • What are an employer’s obligations regarding self-isolating or quarantined employees?
  • Are there significant differences in remote work obligations between provinces?
  • Law firms may have the right to restrict employees on coming to work, how can they reduce the risk of discrimination claims?
  • How can your firm meet your legal responsibilities concerning an employee’s health and safety if they’re working from home?
  • What are the obligations businesses have to their employees in situations like the threat of COVID-19?

Depending on your practice, marketing may have to, temporarily, reprioritize “finding and mining” new business to “retaining and reassuring” current clients that the firm is doing everything possible to continue service on their file. Messaging externally and internally becomes, essentially, an elocution effort; targeting the hierarchy of needs, regularly and clearly. You can’t change the COVID-19 situation, only navigate through it.

With lawyers working from home and many (sorry folks this is a reality) not as tech savvy as they could be, it is typically the paralegal who will be running the file. Organizations’ skills and remote working infrastructure are paramount. Do paralegals need improved ways to share documents, insert secure and encrypted signatures, get their hands on precedents faster, or need improved PDF software for editing and sharing? IT becomes essential to leaders in solution finding. Ensure those leaders are in regular communication.

And the physical office? Though many have decided to just close, the receptionist plays a key role in delivery co-ordination; mail scanning, saving and distributing; security of the office; co-ordinating office sharing; and maintaining a “germ free” environment as well as the triage of phone calls.

Consider creating a checklist, review and reprioritize it daily with your own firm’s situation in this dilemma. It might look something like this.

Overall continuity planning

  • Identify staff and lawyers who can accurately assess how your firm operates (internally and externally).
  • Determine which employees, tools and procedures are essential to keep the business operating (this may be time to say goodbye to under performers).
  • Which functions/processes are critical to survival and recovery (example: payroll, expeditated financial decision-making).

Dealing with clients

List your key clients. Establish a plan to serve them for the duration. Since it is impossible at this time to know long that will be, plan for at least four to six months and identify priorities for each.

Suppliers, vendors, contractors

Identify key suppliers, vendors, contractors, banks and any other businesses you must interact with on a daily basis. Consider developing a professional relationship with more than one company in case they are compromised and cannot service your needs.

Quarantine and premises

Determine what to do if one your employees are identified as having, even casual, contact with anyone known to have COVID-19, as well as what to will do if your building or office is not accessible. Define business continuity procedures and individual responsibilities in advance.

Communications and emergency planning

Your employees and clients are your most valuable asset. Did we say that earlier? It is worth repeating. Here are actions to consider:

  • Open lines of communication.
  • Create e-communications with virus/preparedness information and regulatory updates.
  • Continue briefings via Skype, Client Portals or whatever e-communication method your firm adopts.
  • Choose which senior management will communicate updates to the public.
  • Check with your IT to ensure key employees have the right tools to work remotely.

Finance

  • Review business insurance coverage. Understand deductibles.
  • What records does the insurance provider will want to see?
  • How you will pay creditors and employees.
  • Determine cashflow, work with the bank(s) on lines of credit and banking challenges.
  • Keep current and respond to law society, federal-level regulatory changes, government subsidies, tax remedies and ramifications, and the other areas which affect the firm’s financial capabilities and limitations.

Back to you, the owner. You are the central command centre. Remember everyone, everywhere is going through this at the same time so be resourceful. Here are a few links to start:


Gary Mitchell, gary@ontraccoach.com, is a strategic business coach working with lawyers and law firms since 2005 helping them realize higher profits through improved retention, client service and strategic thinking. Lisa Dawson, ljdmanagement@shaw.ca, is a 25+ year veteran of the legal industry helping firms navigate client expectations through improved administration and management.

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The Lawyer’s Daily, contact Analysis Editor Richard Skinulis at Richard.Skinulis@lexisnexis.ca or call 437- 828-6772.