So, You Have a Law Firm. Here’s What I’ve Learned Seven Months into the Pandemic

The events of 2020 were not in my vision board nor on my list of conceivable scenarios, but here we are. Seven months into the pandemic and an economic recession, if you are running a business/law firm like I am, what should we be doing during this time to stay alive, thrive, and prepare for the future? Since I last wrote for Think Immigration on this topic at the beginning of the pandemic in March, I wanted to share seven suggestions inspired by the last seven months on where to focus:

1. Make well-being a priority—take care of yourself and staff

Seriously, if you have not had at least a week-long vacation by now, schedule one. The external factors of the pandemic, decision fatigue, and constant changing factors in immigration law and business can have a huge impact on your well-being, and the morale of your staff. You need a break and should make sure your staff is using their time off as well. I even gave my staff well-being bonus time off earlier in the year. After a break, everyone comes back to work refreshed and more efficient. You don’t want anyone to burn out. You can find ways to have safe trips. We rented a beach house and it made a world of difference.

2. Know and reassess your budget

Review your budget and costs (including rent and labor) and regularly reassess. What can be postponed, waived, frozen, eliminated? Can you get a better deal? Do you need your office space? Can you get out of your lease, move, or reduce your space? Know what your burn rate is and be prepared to cover payroll and fixed costs if the months ahead are slow. Efficiency is crucial to being successful. My team assessed this early in March and we have kept that mindset through the year, including as we make plans for the office space ahead of our lease expiration.  Additionally, with the holiday season around the corner, make sure to have reserves for payroll when business is generally slow.

3. All hands on deck

With the change in demand since COVID-19 hit, we had to adapt. Some tasks were no longer needed, not all staff were needed, and some positions were merged. It is critical all staff know your expectations for their roles and have additional duties if their primary duties do not take as much time as before. For example, my receptionist began onboarding a new customer relationship management tool (CRM) and improved our system on following up on former consultations with the new time available from less business. You can use the extra time to close and scan files to use less office space and develop a tickler system for predictable future matters from former clients. Aim for a well-oiled machine, all members pulling their weight, and working together as a team. Finally, remember to delegate, to free yourself up to see the big picture and work on the business, not just in the business. This may seem counterintuitive, but it is more essential than ever.

4. Assess technology and automate

Reassessing tasks and roles and evaluating systems, software, and vendors go hand in hand. A change in software can change a process and task requirement for a staff member, and vice versa. It is important to dedicate time and energy to ensuring you are being as efficient with resources as possible and making sure you or your staff are not continuing to do something “because that is how we have always done it.”

When we first started working from home on March 13, we quickly learned how many of our software programs and vendors had more functionality than we were actually using. That eye-opening experience is a further reminder to find out what each program you are paying for offers, which programs you can eliminate and how your programs can integrate with each other.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, we have had conversations with our case management software vendor, which has led to us using it even more than before. We also started using a new customer relationship management program that includes contract, intake, lead pipeline, and newsletter functionality.

Ultimately, your goal is to make sure you are using what you are paying for, eliminating what isn’t necessary, and trying to reduce the number of clicks and friction your staff members have to go through to accomplish tasks. Eliminate waste and aim to be as lean as you can. Your future self will thank you.

5. Re-evaluate your ROI and keep up your marketing

This is not the time to stop marketing but it is the time to be smarter about it. Use this time to analyze your numbers, marketing process, and sales pipeline. I liken any loss of prospective clients in the call-to-consult-to-hire pipeline to a hole in a bucket that needs to be patched. With a little more time on hand, not only have we started using a CRM but we are also providing a lot more content for the community through Facebook live videos and webinars. Even if prospective clients are not ready to hire now, they will remember if you offered something of value when they are ready to hire.

6. Learn to adapt to clients’ needs

In a world of uncertainty, clients are searching for guidance and clarity from their lawyers. Many are holding on to their funds because of high unemployment and fear of the unknown with the election looming. What problem can you solve for them? Can you put them in a better place?  Take some time to think outside the box and think like your clients. Is there an additional service you can provide? How can you make working with your firm easier?  We should all be taking payments online and offering payment plans by now. Instead of only full-service options, consider unbundling your legal services to offer more a la carte opportunities at more affordable fees. Make sure to listen for client needs and be willing to adapt. Not only has the practice of immigration law changed constantly this year, COVID-19 has also made the practice of law and the expectations of how our clients interact with us shift fundamentally. That won’t be turning back once the pandemic is over.

 7. Virtual Teamwork: Communication is key

I ran my law firm in Houston from Dubai nine years ago and learned early that over-communication and clarifying expectations with remote staff was essential to a successful remote arrangement. Now that I work from home just half a mile from my office, instead of halfway around the globe, that reality still rings true. It is more important than ever to make sure everyone knows their job duties and expectations and to have clear communication policies for staff and clients regarding when to use chats, calls, emails and video conferencing. I recommend that you regularly check in with your staff about their professional and personal well-being. At my firm, we have a Friday 9AM staff video conference and we take turns answering one question. These questions have included favorite books, a recipe they tried this week, something they did for self-care, or which historical figure they would want to meet. In the beginning the check-ins took a while, but as we have adapted to this new environment, this has become a light-hearted quick time for everyone to see one another, take a pulse on how we are doing, and get feedback on how to adapt.

Overall, if you apply the tips and strategies above, you are in good hands. In the encouraging wise words of Dory in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming.”  Stay positive—you’ve got this!

by Ruby Powers