Law firms across the United States have been impacted by the COVID-19 virus and various orders have been issued from the governor, the courts, and the local authorities. This crisis is one that none of us have ever been through before. As a result, law firms are having to manage their firm and staff without a prior game plan in place. The various orders from the state and counties have been moving targets and different courts have different rules for operating, while some are not operating at all. To complicate matters further, clients are having the same issues.
The most difficult task law firms are presented with during this time of crisis is how to balance the reduction of work, the safety of the firm’s personnel, and the economic realities of running the firm. Firms did not prepare for this. Some firms may have had pandemic policies and human resource policies that outlined what protocols to implement, they likely did not cover complete office closures. There was likely not a provision that considered your entire staff to have to work remotely and how that would be implemented. Furthermore, layoffs and having to reduce employees’ work hours were likely not considered. If someone told you a pandemic was going to require the entire country to shut down and require all businesses to immediately cease all in-office work, you would laugh it off. No one is laughing now.
There are many layers to the impact of this pandemic. First, firms have had to reorganize and restructure all facets of their operations. Second, employees have had to figure out where they stand within the organization and determine if their jobs are in jeopardy and what their immediate future looks like at the firm. Third, clients are concerned that their cases will be put on hold while at the same time they, too, might lose their job and the ability to pay their bills. Lastly, what impact does this have on the leaders of the firm? Those who are in leadership are responsible to figure out the best way to care for their business while still supporting their employees and meeting the needs of their clients. This is no small task.
Honesty is key to getting through this tough time. The saying, “some things go better unsaid,” does not apply here. Being honest with your employees and providing them the truth of how their hours and salaries will be affected is critical during this time. Admitting you do not have all the answers is also okay. Employees and clients will appreciate your honesty. However, they will likely then ask, when will you know and what do you think you are going to do. That leads to having to take action. First, share your concerns with your firm and your employees. Explain the concerns that you have and what you anticipate happening in the weeks to follow. Be clear that things are subject to change and you cannot predict the outcome. By doing this you humanize yourself and can be relatable, as everyone is in this situation together. True leadership is being in the trenches with your employees and exhibiting transparency.
Attorneys like to be able to make sound decisions after intense evaluations and a consideration of all the facts. This pandemic has not given people this luxury. Law firms have had to adapt on the fly in a matter of days. This has required a complete shift in how the firm operates. The longer this pandemic has dragged on there has been time to adapt, however, due to the uncertainty of cases and court openings from county to county, it has been hard to determine when another shift is going to occur.
Unfortunately, layoffs, limiting employees’ hours, and putting employees on furlough has been a consequence of the pandemic. One step you can take to show that you value the employees that you have put on furlough or limited their hours is to continue to contact them and provide them with status updates as you get more information. This will allow them to realize you appreciate them and you desire to have them back once this pandemic ends. These regular calls, emails, or texts will allow your employees to feel a part of and will breed loyalty and trust for the future. Your human resource professionals and administration team can also assist you with being transparent and help include your employees in the solution.
Although there is light at the end of the tunnel, in the sense things will start to open back up in the coming weeks, the belief things will go back to normal is naive. The uncertainty of what is to come is alive and well, and the concern that this pandemic will linger for months, if not years, is a realistic one. The decisions and steps that firms take during this time will impact the firm during the recovery period.
So, what is important during this time? Communication is probably the most important tool during this time. Build a foundation of trust with your staff. Be kind, patient, and empathetic to all. Finally, don’t forget to update your employer handbook. This could happen again, and you will want to be prepared if it does. As an employer you are the leader and are measured by how you handle a crisis when it arises.
If you have more questions regarding this, contact a lawyer coach, like a lawyer coach in Arlington, TX, today.
Thanks to Brandy Austin Law Firm for their insight into how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic if you are in charge of a law firm.