Report: Survey Reveals How Law Firms Can Prepare for the Next COVID-like Crisis.

In an effort to help our clients assess the damage from the COVID-19 pandemic and spur thoughtful conversations about how these firms can move forward, as well as prepare for the next major disruption, Legato Law Firm Management Consulting conducted a survey of over 200 attorneys and other law firm leaders across Kansas, Missouri and Iowa. The questions we asked were designed to gain insight into how the COVID-19 crisis has already impacted the respondent’s firms and what their outlook is once we get back to something resembling “normal”.

Who participated in the survey?

The respondents came from a variety of firm sizes and practice types. This survey was developed for firms with less than 50 attorneys. As you can see below, most of the participation came from firms with 10 or fewer attorneys.

When asked what the general practice mix of their firms, the response covered a broad range of disciplines.

When asked about their individual practices, the range of responses, of course, narrowed a bit with the majority of respondents having some part of their practice focusing on litigation.

How has the COVID-19 crisis and its attendant lockdown measures affected the respondents outlook for their firms?

To gauge how much the COVID-19 crisis impacted their firms’ outlook, we asked those surveyed what their expectations were as they entered 2020. As you can see, most firms were bullish about their prospects with over 60% reporting a very positive outlook as we began the new year.

As one might have expected, now that we have been fighting this battle against the virus for nearly 5 months, the optimism that was prevalent earlier in the year has faded. The percentage of respondents reporting some degree of a positive outlook for the remainder of 2020 has fallen from 89% to 64%.

How did the crisis impact the day-to-day operations of these firms?

We then wanted to see how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted specific functions that are important to maintaining a successful practice. For the most part, the responses came back as “No Impact”, but there are a few items worth pointing out.

  • When asked about intraoffice communications, 30% of the firms believe that the crisis had a negative effect on their ability to clearly communicate with their team members. On the other hand, nearly as many respondents (26%) reported that the remote working conditions resulted in improved communications with their colleagues.
  • It seems that most of these firms have done a good job of moving the technology solutions required to manage their practice and matters to the cloud. 48% of those surveyed said their access to the technology solutions that they use daily actually improved, vs the 15% who reported that their access to these tools was reduced to some degree.
  • Although 48% of firms report that their collections may have slowed down a bit, 52% tell us their ability to keep up with accounts payable has not changed.
  • While a few firms have seen a slight increase in new business, 45% report that their incoming flow of new clients and matters has slowed.
  • The results that pertain to remote working are very interesting. Contrary to what most studies have shown, 41% of these law firm leaders believe their firms’ productivity dropped a bit during the lockdown. Also, looking at employee morale, 41% of these firms say that this crisis and the measures that were instituted to reduce risk have had a somewhat negative impact on employee morale.

How do these firms think the COVID-19 crisis will impact their operations going forward?

When it comes to how these respondents feel about the post-COVID world, nearly 41% expect the lingering effects of the crisis will result in increased demand for their services.

Although in the earlier questions addressing work from home issues elicited a somewhat negative response, 63% of those surveyed believe that their remote working policies will be more liberal going forward.

Overall, the attorneys and other law firm leaders that responded to our survey do expect to see change in how their firms operate going forward. Only 7% of the respondents believe the COVID-19 crisis will have no impact on how they run their practices once the smoke clears.

What are the key takeaways that can be gleaned from these results?

The COVID-19 crisis uncovered hidden opportunities for improvement in all businesses, including law firms. For a firm to be successful going forward, firm leaders need to use this situation as an opportunity grow and strengthen their position.

Obviously, a great deal of the problems that arose from the COVID-19 crisis and the ensuing lockdown were a result of everyone, including your clients, not being able to work in the office and have face-to-face meetings.

Here are some of the ideas that law firm leaders can consider to help limit any potential negative effects that could arise from working remotely.

  1. Be sure you have the technology that maximizes your team’s ability to work from anywhere. A modern law practice, no matter the size or practice area, should have cloud-based technology solutions for Practice Management, Time & Billing, Matter Management, Document Management and Document Review.
  2. Develop best practices for holding meetings remotely. The process for all users should be uniform and straight-forward. Look for tips on the internet regarding ideal set-up, lighting, background, and equipment.
  3. Add policies for remote working to your employee manual or clearly communicate expectations to everyone on the team. We are all professionals, but we need to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding work hours, availability, and productivity.
  4. Encourage as much group interaction as possible via ZOOM, WebEx, or any other video chat solutions. Feelings of isolation can lead to depression and other issues that can significantly reduce morale. Continue having your scheduled group meetings and occasionally host a remote cocktail party or trivia contest.
  5. Work with your clients to make sure they know the best way to communicate with your team while working remotely. There are hundreds of solutions that make client communication easier than ever.
  6. If you do not have a VOIP phone system, get one. Modern VOIP systems are cheaper than traditional phone systems, integrate seamlessly with email and other technology, and can basically make your office phone extensions work from anywhere.

Other things to consider would be:

  1. Make it as easy as possible for your clients to pay their bills. There are dozens of web-based solutions that provide clients access to their account and enable electronic payment. Once the solution is in place, work hard to move your clients over to paying their bills electronically.
  2. Develop a business development plan that does not heavily rely on face-to-face meetings. There are many ways to build a law practice using social media, writing and online presentations. Having a robust, technology driven, business development plan will me mandatory for a successful law practice in the not-so-distant future.
  3. Institute office policies that can reduce the risk of spreading viruses and other contagious illness. There are hundreds of online resources that detail procedures and supplies that can greatly reduce the likelihood of spread without negatively impacting your workflow and productivity.

Final Thought

The one thing on which nearly everyone can agree, the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the inevitable change that businesses will need to embrace to be successful in the future. Firms that use this as an opportunity to improve their ability to implement the technology, procedures, and policies that embrace this change, will have a significant strategic advantage over their competitors.

If you would like more information about how Legato can help your firm address the issues discussed in this report, please contact us at info@asklegato.com or call 866-863-5272.