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Why COVID-19 has potential to put me out of business

Wednesday, June 10, 2020 @ 11:39 AM | By Erich Johnson

Erich Johnson %>
Erich Johnson
If you know me, or know of me, you will know that I am committed to doing the right thing in my recruitment practice, even if that means doing something where there is no real financial gain. I look for the best in the candidates that I represent and the firms that I work with to see where their paths align.

Why do I do it? It's because I want to shape the world of work! Yes, it does sound like hokey business jargon but it’s also an objective that I hold dear. Whether staff or professional, this industry deserves to get people at their best. I want to shape the legal industry into a desirable place for people to do their best work as opposed to the state that it is in now, where countless professionals and staff are looking for a quick exit into in-house or a different career altogether, or worse, suffer in silence.

As I connect with more and more leaders in the industry, I am starting to believe that COVID-19 may have the potential to put me out of business. For the first time in almost five years of operating in the legal industry, I am starting to see glimmers of hope for a better, brighter and happier legal industry. Not only has the crisis forced many firms to upgrade their technology to allow their workers to continue to work safely from a distance, but I am also hearing stories of compassion from partners, HR leaders and c-level execs doing what is right for their people, and treating them as ... humans.

The more humanity that is brought to the legal industry, the less likely it will need my help. If you have a good culture (create accountability, make your employees feel safe and respected, trust them to do their work and give them transparency in your decisions), you will build the ultimate loyalty no matter how tough things get for the firm.

In a stable economy, 70 per cent of Canadians would be open to making a move to another job, if the right opportunity presented itself. In the current situation, I would guess that it’s closer to 90 per cent, making the chances of turnover for your firm that much higher.

In my opinion, there are three potential scenarios that a firm might find themselves in during this crisis.

1) Good cashflow pre-COVID-19 with a great culture

You had great cashflow going into this and already had a great culture. Hopefully, you are in a position to ride out the storm until things settle, or you’ve adjusted your operations, with little-to-no impact on your people (i.e., no layoffs/furloughs/worksharing, or a modest one if needed).

2) Rough financial outlook pre-COVID-19 with a great culture

Financially, you weren’t in the best position going into this crisis, but you still have a great culture. You likely had to take a hit on your draws, or compensation and had to make deep cuts to your operations.

3) Rough financial outlook pre-COVID-19 with a bad culture

You weren’t in the best position going into this crisis, and you have no culture, or worse, a bad culture. In this scenario, you were quick to react and cut either your most well-paid staff (if they’ve been complacent and not nearly as productive as they used to be), then you cut back on licences for your software packages (if you had an appropriate amount to begin with), making it even more difficult for the people who remain, to do good work.

Stay tuned for part two where I will discuss how your operations likely have/or should have adjusted in each scenario and how to recover to make sure you hold on to your most important investment: your people.
This is part one of a two-part series.

Erich Johnson is the leader of Randstad Canada’s legal recruitment practice and sources for lawyers, law clerks, paralegals as well as other legal operations roles. You can reach him at, or on LinkedIn.

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