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New work from home reality an opportunity for law firms | Andrea Lekushoff

Friday, March 27, 2020 @ 8:34 AM | By Andrea Lekushoff


Andrea Lekushoff %>
Andrea Lekushoff
It’s hard to believe how quickly the COVID-19 outbreak has changed our business landscape. The overall tone of public messaging went from cautious to urgent in just a few short weeks. In the midst of all this uncertainty, companies are trying to figure out how to best follow publicly issued guidelines and directives while serving clients and conducting business in as close to their usual way as possible.

Some of the country’s oldest, most well-established businesses are law firms, and the legal industry is built on certain long-standing cultural expectations. Lawyers have long prided themselves on the personal touch they bring to clients and the many hours they spend in the office. Yet the most prominent instructions we’re getting in the COVID-19 crisis are about staying away from people — letting employees work from home and serving clients from afar. These ideas are quite a departure from law’s long-held traditions.

But the fact is, things have to change. We don’t have a choice.

It’s clear that keeping people apart is the only way we’re going to limit the spread of this virus. Schools have closed, sporting events have been cancelled, restaurants have shut down. The business community, including the legal industry, is doing the same. If this is the first time your firm has widely adopted a work-from-home approach, it will feel new and different and strange. But by keeping the following thoughts in mind along the journey, you can make it work.

Things are different for all of us

Remember that new and different and strange is par for the course at the moment, for everyone, everywhere. It’s OK that this feels uncomfortable. That’s how things are going to be for a while.

You’re set up for this

Consider that professional services firms are probably the best-positioned companies to have employees work from home. They tend to have fairly current technology, their work tends to be done onscreen or by conversation and their employees are tech-savvy and flexible. As long as you have the technology and tools to make it possible, work can and will continue to be just fine.

Your employees want your guidance

It’s not enough to just suggest that employees use their discretion about where they work. They may take that as a subtle hint that their actions are being watched and judged and that they should demonstrate their dedication by continuing to come in. Making it a company-wide directive leaves nothing to question and ensures that everyone in your business is doing the right thing and staying safe together.

Your clients are watching you

Law firms are highly respected. Others are watching how you behave and taking their cue from you. This is your opportunity to be a leader in the industry, to declare that your firm is doing everything possible to help curb the spread of COVID-19. And on the flip side, consider what your clients would think if you weren’t doing this, given that public health authorities are directing everyone to limit all interactions.

This could be an opportunity

This may be temporary; I certainly hope this crisis has an endpoint, ideally in the not-too-distant future. But you could consider this an opportunity to begin moving away from the always-on, always-here law-firm culture, to step boldly into a new, flexible way of working. Other professional services firms have been doing it for years. Maybe this is a signal for law to do it, too — for the long term. Why not use this opportunity to test out new policies at a time when nobody’s expecting perfection? With luck, your new progressive ways will even attract some new top talent to your firm.

It’s really tough to change how you work and serve clients. And to do it so abruptly, with so little opportunity to plan or even think about it, is certainly jarring and disruptive. But the legal industry can take this change in stride. It’s not easy but take comfort in the knowledge that you’re not alone, that you’re well set up for this, and that your employees, and clients, will appreciate your efforts.

Andrea Lekushoff is the president of Broad Reach Communications, a PR agency specializing in crisis and reputation management, corporate and consumer PR and social media, as well as executive profiling and media training. She can be reached at alekushoff@brpr.ca.

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