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How Lawyers Can Lead and Thrive in the Covid-19 Crisis

Amid the chaos and noise of the current Covid-19 crisis, one truth is ringing clear: law firms and attorneys have the opportunity to be heroes for their clients by helping them to make sound and informed business decisions that will have a lasting impact over the next couple of years. 

ALM recently hosted the webcast “Navigating the Coronavirus Pandemic: How Firms Are Aiding Clients and Running Their Own Operations,” where panelists highlighted how lawyers can immediately take meaningful action for their clients and themselves. On that call, former General Counsel of GE Alex Dimitrief, now partner at Zeughauser Group, in particular provided insights and advice worth sharing.  His message, merged with our experiences below, is: business clients are looking for true leadership right now, and lawyers are positioned to deliver it.

Here are five takeaways to help you sort out how best to serve your clients and evaluate your business development strategy in the Covid-19 crisis. 

Top Five Immediate Action Items 

1. Reach out to your clients right now.

They want to hear from you, their trusted advisor. If you email them: be brief, be smart, take your advice to the next level.  Nobody cares how you are managing YOUR operations right now.  Provide valuable, usable insights your clients can use in this moment. But we know they are fickle, so…    

2. When you do reach out, speak so they hear you.  

Everyone from the state governor to the corner dry cleaner has sent a generic email about monitoring, caring and being there for you.   GCs do not need or want the generic or obvious.  Instead GCs want next-level advice that is brief, clear, scannable, punchy (if possible) and assumes the sophistication of the reader; DO NOT send anything that is visually dense and will take up to/more than five minutes to read and comprehend.  Scannable is now officially a word in legal, too.

3. GCs aren’t out there vetting new service providers right now, so focus on your current clients. 

Crisis breeds opportunity, but now is not the time to be predatory. Clients are turning to their trusted advisors for the time being because they just don’t have the time to consider new vendors. Expend your energy being your very best self for your existing clients. Help to increase their bandwidth, lighten their heavy loads, and decrease their costs. Ask them what they need or how you can help.  Anticipate the needs they don’t know they have.  Roll back your rates. Defer billing. Offer secondment.  Visit with the client (virtually and from a safe distance!) to strategize and troubleshoot off the clock.  Triage their litigation issues: for instance, can you table depositions that don’t need to be taken right now? Invest in your own future and the future of your law firm with this client.

4. Add legal tech to your team. 

Because GCs are going to be under extreme pressure to cut costs over the coming months, they are going to take interest in ALSPs, the Big 4 and other technologies that have been trying to woo your clients for a decade.  This might be the time to for YOU to collaborate with THEM as a way to add value and extend the advantages of a partnership you’re your clients, while you absorb the learning curve.  Being creative and nimble will serve you well in current market conditions, so think differently and co-opt the people who were – under different circumstances — trying to eat your lunch!

5. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

External Edition:  In a crisis, your client needs you to be everything a good lawyer can be, and then some.  Will Covid-19 be your finest moment?  Can you be thoughtful, sober, rational, and innovative in the practice of law?  Holding integrity first, can you still find ways to realize the YES rather than the NO for your clients?    

Internal Edition:  In all likelihood, the next few months aren’t going to be economically pretty for anyone.  A lot of dysfunction gets papered over in a decade of good times in a law firm, even in those firms that have experienced lackluster growth or profitability.  This crisis can afford you the opportunity to reexamine what has been working and what hasn’t.  What practices have been limping along? And which practices hold the future of the firm (this likely looks a lot different from your answer of a few weeks ago)?  Ideally, your firm has been preparing for a recession and can approach the next six to nine months from a position of strength rather than a position of weakness. Either way, look to investing in practices sure to show near or mid-term growth such as L&E, litigation, restructuring, private equity, tax and regulatory.  Be realistic about practices that are likely to take a hit, such as M&A or capital markets.  

As they say, a crisis doesn’t define character, it reveals it.  This crisis is your opportunity to show your clients, your partners, and your firm the lawyer you are: dedicated, focused, and able to put the needs of the client, the firm, and the country above your own.  This is the moment to show you are someone to count on.  Make them glad they can.

Voice of the Client: Hearing the Client Through the Noise

This article originally appeared in Marketing the Law Firm. Lawyers and law firms are exhorted constantly to listen to the voice of the client! They are told this by the economic engineers who drive the legal profession — General Counsel — on panels, in media interviews …
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