11 Things Small Law Firms Can Do to Survive Coronavirus 2020
The Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 will have significant impacts on thousands of law firms across the world. How positive or negative those impacts end up being for your law firm will depend largely on what you do now. Below are 11 recommendations for surviving today’s challenging environment and achieving success in the future.
Don’t panic. I’m a bit surprised by how little panic I’m seeing during the many discussions I have had with attorneys. I suspect this lack of major concern is due to two factors. First, lawyers still have plenty of work on their desks and this slow down in normal operations is providing a much-needed opportunity to catch up. Second, most lawyers believe the market for legal services is largely recession proof. The truth of this statement is up for debate and will vary widely among different practice areas, but it is true that there will always be a need for skilled legal representation.
Work on your online resume. Your online resume is what a prospective client – referred or otherwise – sees when they Google your name. If you have followed me throughout the years, you know I believe this is a critical part of maximizing your value and revenue as well as something that is very much ignored by even the smartest, most marketing-minded attorneys. This pause in the action is a great time to rewrite your website bio, claim and polish-up your information on other internet properties (e.g. AVVO, Super Lawyers, Google My Business), publish impressive press releases, update poor quality photos, and do the many other things that will affect how those vetting you in the future will view your ability to effectively resolve their issue. In other words, give yourself every opportunity to convert the best cases at the best fees once the economy gets turned back on.
Explore new practice areas or variations in old ones. There are two things we already know for sure about the viability of various practice areas post-Coronavirus. First, it is too early to gauge exactly how a particular line of service will be impacted. That’s because nothing can be ruled out with respect to the impact of COVID-19 on our economy, society, and daily lives. Maybe the economy is turned-on in four weeks and things return to “normal.” Or maybe the healthcare system gets overrun with sick patients, panic ensues, and we become more interested in basic survival than subpoenas. Of course, the truth is probably in the middle. But regardless, we simply do not know yet what will happen with real estate, bankruptcy, divorces, taxation, employment, and other areas where great legal services have historically been in high demand.
Second, there will be new opportunities. Imagine for a moment the average employment lawyer who provided advisory work to a handful of small-to-medium sized businesses prior to COVID-19. Those businesses – along with many others – now need help with employee manual revisions, notices to customers, renegotiation of vendor contracts, cyber security for a remote workforce, and everything else related to new legislation, risks, procedures, and demand – or lack thereof – for their products and services. (Stayed tuned for another article with my predictions about what areas will see a boost post-pandemic.)
Learn about emergency relief programs passed by congress. From what I see, this is the most significant difference between the crash of 2008 and now. There are a vast number of programs that may be available to law firms to help with cashflow, employee retainment, and tax breaks. (See the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act a/k/a CARES Act.) I’m not qualified at this point to advise law firms on the details of available relief options, but there are three in particular that I recommend becoming an expert on: Advertising credits being provided by search engines, low interest – and forgivable – loans to businesses that keep employees on the payroll, and tax liability deferments for both 2019 and 2020.
Cut unnecessary expenses. Take a very close look at your firm’s credit card and bank statements, paying special attention to subscriptions and other services that can be paused for several weeks. However, be very careful not to cut expenses that are true revenue-generators and will be critical to the firm’s success after this time of uncertainly passes. (More on this next.)
Do not severe your best relationships. The tendency during these times is to cut everything that is not a “pay today” bill. But it’s also a time where really bad decisions get made. For example, I had a conversation with a consultant who works closely with CPA firms this past week and was put on hold by one of her long-time clients. When I asked her how it felt, she said something along these lines,
“I never take a decision like that personally. They’re doing what they feel is best for their business, which is something I’ve preached to them for years. However, I know they have the reserves to pay me for at least a little while longer and I can provide value as they work through this crisis. By cutting me loose, they’re forcing me to replace that income today to pay my bills. And if I’m honest, the easiest way for me to do that is to start working with one of their competitors.”
What this firm is doing makes perfect sense in the very short term, namely protecting cash flow. But the long-term implications of it are really bad if their consultant is a critical piece of their future success.
Reach out to current clients. A crisis such as this is a great opportunity to reach out to clients to see how their families are doing during this challenging time and provide reassurances that everything will be okay. It doesn’t matter that a temporary closure will not affect their specific case, or that you can still work on it remotely without missing a beat, or that you posted a general message on your website for all clients. Pick up the phone, call your clients, and ask them how their family is doing. One of the biggest challenges law firms face these days is the proliferation of negative online reviews. It is literally crushing the business of some firms. What better time to build rapport and reinforce goodwill than in the middle of a national emergency? And again, keep in mind that your call doesn’t have to be related to the matter on which you’re working. In fact, it’s almost better that it doesn’t.
Be careful what you post on social media. This advice is always applicable, but emotionally charged times like these make it more important than ever. Please also note that this warning applies to content posted on both personal and business pages. There are too many ways an attorney can stub his or her toe in this area, but the two most important pitfalls to avoid are:
- Appearing as if you are looking to capitalize on this situation and, specifically, the misfortune of others. For example, a subtle message or digital ad about advance medical directives is much different than a huge billboard with an image of a hearse and warning of the dangers of dying without a will.
- Downplaying the seriousness of the Coronavirus impact or, conversely, predicting doom. No one knows how much of a problem this is going to be for the world, nation, and your particular community. Therefore, do not post something publicly that will cause someone to view you as a fool later. Smart business owners don’t do this and are very conservative when it comes to broadcasting personal opinions.
Address maintenance and décor issues at your office. It always surprises me how bad some law firm lobbies look when the cost of paint is so cheap. I’m not advocating that anyone break stay-at-home orders, but in most states, at least at the time of this article, there is no problem with grabbing a family member with whom you are already quarantined and painting a room or two at your office. In fact, you may find that it provides some much-needed quality time with that college student who is bored to tears at your house. Don’t mistake what I’m saying here, however. Painting your office isn’t going to make the phone ring. But it does need done at some point, and what clients see when they enter your firm plays directly into your overall value proposition to them about who you are and what you can do.
Do not turn-off brand-enhancing marketing. This will be a tough concept for those who are not familiar with the difference between branding and direct-lead-generation marketing strategies. And this article is not designed to dissect that important distinction. However, in short, it is a mistake to turn-off any marketing that takes time to produce results. Why? Because it is impossible to make it produce fast enough when your office reopens and needs to be firing on all cylinders. Conversely, paid search engine marketing (aka PPC) can generally be turned on and off at any time without sacrificing overall results. (I know some quality PPC vendors will disagree with me on this.)
Give thought to the major components of your business. This is last because it goes without saying. A break in the action is a great time to reflect on practice areas, marketing, staffing, office space, technology, and everything else that must come together to achieve and maintain a successful law practice. None of us prefer the current situation over what existed on February 15, 2020. However, as said best by 1980 U.S. Hockey “Miracle” coach Herb Brooks, “Great moments are born from great opportunities. And that’s what you have here today….”
Like this article? Connect with me on LinkedIn as I’ll be posting similar content throughout the shut-down, https://www.linkedin.com/in/mattstarosciak.