Adapting Your Law Firm to a “New Normal” After the Pandemic
We all agree that America has walked through unprecedented times in early 2020, and as we move into summer, it’s time to start thinking about a “new normal.” Eventually businesses will reopen at partial capacity and courts will resume hearing cases and selecting juries, but just what that will look like is still unclear. There are things law firms can do now, though, to shore up their ability to work virtually and prepare for what’s coming next.
It will be important to leverage technology like never before and evaluate existing ways of doing things. Processes that worked in the past may not work in our new future. We have to ask ourselves which processes still work and which don’t. Are there ways of making your office more efficient? Do you need more or less staff? How can we retool now for immediate concerns while doing all we can to shift to this new paradigm? These are all important questions to ask ourselves as we move into our collective future.
Here are some things for law firms to think about as we move forward:
- 5 Tips for Conducting Legal Work Virtually
- How to Market to Potential Clients During and After the Pandemic
- How to Handle Backlogs with Courthouses and Insurance Companies
- Become Active and Build Your Brand in Your Local Community
By getting creative and thinking in innovative ways, this can be a time of opportunity, not just hardship, for law firms that are willing to try something new.
5 Tips for Conducting Legal Work Virtually
- Leverage Technology
You may have a patchwork of tools you had to quickly cobble together to keep things up and running during the pandemic. But are they the best tools for your workflow going forward? Are there new software programs and technology infrastructure worth the financial investment to prepare your law firm going forward?
It’s also important to stay abreast of changing state guidelines about conducting legal work virtually. Just as rules changed regarding remote notarizing and online depositions to accommodate social distancing during the pandemic, some states may revert back to previous guidelines once the greatest infection danger has passed.
- Consider Efficiency
There may be training and learning curves for staff as you increasingly use Zoom and videoconferencing. With new distancing guidelines, it’s worth considering whether your existing square footage can accommodate every staff member returning to the office, or can you allow some staff to work from home indefinitely? For staff that continue to work remotely, do you need to provide a spending allowance for each employee so they can get an office set up and running at home to efficiently do their job? Staff investments for home copying machines, new laptops or phone systems may enable your firm to work smarter and more effectively. You will also be better prepared if a virus returns in the future.
- Prepare for the “Reopening” of the Economy
Be flexible as the economy reopens. For every two steps forward there may be a step back as we adjust our way into managing this virus. There may be returns to stay-at-home orders in varying degrees as hotspots emerge and autumn arrives. Learn lessons from the first quarter of 2020 and all of its chaos. It may be time to put a firm-wide emergency plan in place and familiarize your staff with the plan.
How will you rearrange the floor plan of your existing office space to create more distance when employees return? Do you need to hire a space planner and get rid of some desks? What about your public reception area – does it need to be reorganized?
What about rotating shifts of staff and increased reliance on couriers and answering services? Is there work you can outsource and rely more heavily on vendors? Think about ways to streamline workflow and office space as the economy reopens.
- Consider Referrals
If you’re not set up for a large volume of virtual work and don’t want to invest in additional technology infrastructure, it may be time to formalize referral arrangements with other law firms that have extensive virtual networks and highly specialized attorneys. Referrals can create a passive income stream for your law firm.
- Reassure Clients
Many clients are going to have questions about whether settlements will take longer and whether payouts will be larger or smaller because of the pandemic. Have ready answers prepared. Many clients are still nervous about everyday life. The more certainty you can provide. the better. It’s important to reassure and comfort clients.
How to Market to Potential Clients During and After the Pandemic
It’s a perfect time to rethink your marketing efforts for the balance of 2020. Media and print campaigns that you planned for this year may no longer be appropriate. Make sure your messaging is compassionate and reassuring.
It’s important for lawyers not to be driven by emotion, but by data, in their marketing efforts. It’s tempting when we are all at higher stress and anxiety levels to make assumptions about the environment around us. But with digital marketing, the data paints the clearer picture.
For example, you may pull back your ad budget because you feel that is the appropriate thing to do and make the assumption that’s what your competitors are doing, too. However, the data shows us in many areas that the more aggressive, growth-oriented firms have doubled down on marketing budgets – growing their firms during the pandemic! Use available data to help you understand the actual competition and what role your firm needs to play in the marketplace. Don’t make assumptions.
Another mistake we see lawyers make is watching the NATIONAL news about the GLOBAL pandemic and assuming that’s what is happening in New York City or Sioux City or Dallas or Smalltown, USA. Cities are not all the same during this pandemic. We watch the digital marketing data, and some areas of the country are already back to 70% of their pre-COVID digital marketing volumes. Meanwhile, other areas that may still be under heavier restrictions are hovering at 40-50% pre-COVID marketing figures. Knowing what your community and marketing area looks like by the data should inform your marketing decisions. To learn more about Local/Community-focused response and marketing, read here.
Attorneys often use downtimes in our yearly calendar (e.g., holiday breaks, summer lulls, etc.) to improve various aspects of their business. Maybe that’s when they take a closer look at HR issues or marketing budgets, or they review new case management software. The current environment is a perfect time to review what improvements can be made to your digital intake process. How are your phones being handled when your potential client calls from your website? Are you still having off-hours calls go to an old-fashioned messaging system? Are your online forms complete with an auto-responder email that tags your inquiry back immediate with information? Are you using an SMS system to tag your clients back with reminders about reviews? Collectively, small improvements can yield big results when it comes to tightening up your intake process. Now is the perfect time to walk through your systems and evaluate how you’re doing.
Next, it may be prudent to emphasize some practice areas over others in your marketing. With stay-at-home orders still in place, there will likely be fewer workers’ comp claims than normal, but – unfortunately – there may be more business and personal bankruptcy cases. You may also see a rise in family law cases. including divorce, domestic violence and child custody cases. Small companies may be going out of business or need restructuring. If you are a business law firm, be prepared for an influx of cases.
More and more folks are spending time online and becoming increasingly comfortable with Zoom, virtual meetings and telehealth. Consider upping your digital advertising with banner ads, backlinks, and native content. Local publications and news organizations – especially smaller ones – are hungry for revenue, so you may be able to negotiate discounted advertising deals.
Remember the valiant efforts of “essential workers” during the pandemic and consider print ads that thank them for their courage and service. Thanking doctors and nurses, grocery store workers, truck drivers, garbage collection workers, firefighters and others can be a meaningful way of fostering goodwill and showing appreciation. It also builds positive feelings toward your brand.
All of the marketing efforts listed here can boost your brand awareness and client conversions, which means a more robust bottom line.
How to Handle Backlogs with Courthouses and Insurance Companies
It’s inevitable that there are going to be backlogs with judges and court clerks’ offices. Be prepared. Proactively manage the expectations of clients and let them know that it will likely take longer for cases to be heard and verdicts rendered.
Prioritize cases to the best of your ability and stay in frequent contact with clients. You may not be able to speed up the legal process in the near future, but you can reassure clients that they’re still on your radar screen and you’re doing everything you can to move their cases forward. No client wants to feel like they’ve been forgotten.
If there are opportunities to negotiate virtually with insurance companies, leverage these quickly. Watch for trends in courthouses that enable faster filings and resolutions.
Become Active and Build Your Brand in Your Local Community
Now more than ever people are looking for a sense of community and the reassurance it provides. If your law firm doesn’t have a community involvement plan yet, it’s time to develop one. Your brand will benefit tenfold.
While you may not be able to sponsor a Little League team or 25K charity bike ride because of social distancing restrictions, you can shift these dollars to supporting community food banks and shelters for the homeless. Your staff may also get a morale boost from volunteering in the community (with appropriate social distancing) — projects like picking up trash beside a roadway or sprucing up local parks can provide sunshine, exercise and a boost to your law firm’s brand.
Stepping up and being a community leader by serving on boards and donating legal services to seniors and low-income individuals can increase your perceived E.A.T. – expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. These are very important in building a brand, and Google search algorithms respond positively to law firm websites that show positive E.A.T. You can also partner with other local non-profits and community agencies that residents know and care about as part of your efforts to give back.
Here’s the Takeaway
The world as we know it has forever changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now is the time to think about and start planning for a “new normal.”
Your law firm’s technology and communication systems that worked well in the past may not be adequate in the future. Be prepared for increased virtual legal work and allocate your staff accordingly. Look for new and innovative methods of marketing that leverage opportunities and enhance your bottom line. Don’t forget to thank “essential workers” whenever and wherever you can. Consider stepping up your community involvement to reassure local residents and position your law firm as a community leader. The choices you make now will position you for future opportunities — or saddle you with unintended consequences. Be proactive in finding new and flexible ways to meet the coming workflow with efficiency and adaptability. And always remember to reassure clients, because they are nervous and uncertain as we emerge from this unprecedented pandemic.
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