Corona is omnipresent. And leadership is what is now most urgently required. Decisions must be taken amidst great uncertainty and may have to be revised the
next day. Structuring provides orientation. That is why it is now important to think through the crisis and its consequences and to identify what can be done now, in the short, medium and long term to get through the crisis and even use it as an opportunity to strengthen and expand client relationships.
In this first short article, we will highlight the two ad hoc lines of action that we consider relevant:
- Ensure leadership, communication and cooperation within the firm
- Supporting clients as a partner in the crisis, i.e. staying close to them and front of mind
Over the next few days and weeks, we will present possible scenarios for economic and social development and the resulting short, medium and long-term areas of action for law firms.
- Ad hoc – What makes sense now?
Now that the operational functioning of most law firms has been secured – also with a view to further possible restrictions on public life – the ad hoc challenges for us are:
– to ensure collaboration by increasingly virtual teams that are not necessarily used to working in separate locations; and
– to establish the firm as a reliable and loyal “partner at my side” in times of crisis for clients.
a. Ensuring cohesion in the firm Organisations function through communication. Law firms are no exception. The fact that many lawyers and employees are now working from home, technically well equipped, ensures the basis for them being operational. However, working methods and effectiveness depend on how members of a firm can exchange information within teams and regarding matters and on feeling psychologically “safe”. Leadership and
communication are therefore – as in any crisis – of crucial importance. In a study published this week on the occasion of the Corona crisis, the Edelman Trust Barometer states that, alongside scientists, doctors and organisations such as the 2 WHO, the CEO is one of the most trustworthy sources of information on Corona.
More respondents trust the CEO than for example the media or their own government. 63 percent of respondents say that they trust information from their employer about the Corona virus after one or two communications. By comparison, only 58 percent say the same about information from a government website and 51 percent about information from traditional media.
This attitude of employees results in an obligation for employers: to communicate
regularly, clearly and transparently. The (economic) insecurity of people is high, so
providing security is the first duty of all managers. If you have any questions on how to deal with the risk of infection in everyday working life, we trust that you already refer to your national health department and the WHO. Besides that, we consider the following three measures to be ad-hoc useful.
1. Unbureaucratic facilitation of digital cooperation
Many of the software solutions used today in everyday office life already contain collaboration functions that have not been used up to now. Numerous providers of collaboration software currently offer free access, training, tips and tricks. Consider opening digital doors a little further without compromising data
protection and security. When in doubt, seek sound IT advice; there is usually more to the software than meets the eye. Support the learning of consistent virtual collaboration. Lead by example.
- Be visible and responsive
Webcasts and other digital conferencing applications are easy to use with existing resources. Managing Partners’ most important resource is time for their teams. Hold regular digital meetings. Preferably without a heavy agenda and preparation. “Ask me anything” is often enough as a central agenda item. Nobody expects perfectly polished answers to everything.
- Encouraging client orientation
Create space for partners and associates to use it for unbureaucratic support of clients – without having to think immediately about recording time. Actively share such initiatives – preferably those of teams – with the entire partnership and staff, whether on the intranet, in webcasts, via regular e-mail communication or in other internal news formats. Where client wins are usually celebrated, investments in client relationships should now also come to the fore.
b. Invest in relationship building with clients
In a conversation we had this week, a client answered the question of what the firm was currently doing regarding communication with clients, that partners were mainly sending out invoices. Taking care of one’s own liquidity is important, but as the only approach to relationship building in a crisis it is certainly not ideal.
Law firms have reacted very quickly and provide their clients with specialist information and advice to help them overcome a mountain of immediate operational problems – from short-time working to securing liquidity and insolvency management. Recently, many law firms have formed teams to deal solely with Corona-related issues, developed websites and sent out newsletters. However, this communication is usually done through mass mailings, social media or on the website. It doesn’t stand out from the efforts many firms make.
What is often missing and makes the difference is the targeted and individual approach to strategically important existing and potential clients in order to:
– strengthen the relationship;
– present and demonstrate the full range of the firm’s capabilities; and
– gain a far deeper understanding of the client’s operational and strategic issues. Firms who do this – potentially combined with an attractive financial arrangement (whereby we do not simply mean discounts or pro bono work, but rather a change in payment modalities) – position themselves as a reliable partner with whom clients can overcome this crisis – creating the basis for potentially close collaboration thereafter.
We recommend three things in the current situation:
- Identify ad hoc highly relevant issues per target group among clients (top management, heads of legal & compliance, other relevant client contacts) – please also consider whether and which industry-specific issues arise for them.
- Use of existing or currently emerging information on these issues in the law firm to address specific target groups
How should a newsletter be adapted? Which webinar should be offered to whom? Which key messages should you use in your telephone or e-mail address? If you decide to use e-mail, which aspect do you put in the subject line that will stand out from the many e-mails from others? Announce a follow-up telephone call in the e-mail.
- Coordinate internally
Which clients are best approached by whom and how, and on what topics? What does the (interdisciplinary) team look like that you offer the client to solve short-term problems?
2. What will we have to face in the short, medium and long term?
What comes after the crisis? How will Corona change the global and local economy and our society? What are the consequences for individual industries and the companies / clients operating in them? Farsighted corporate and law firm leaders are already addressing this issue or will start doing so in the coming weeks. The starting point for this is scenarios that are currently being developed by various think tanks. Scenarios are not a strategy.
However, they do represent thinking spaces and thus reference points for strategies.
We assume that the Corona crisis will have far-reaching impact on our society and economy. That is why law firms should think through such scenarios. Thereby, they will be able to better understand the developments in their clients’ industries an adapt more quickly to any upcoming changes.
In our next article, we will share with you scenarios of economic and social development, against the background of which we will formulate ideas and present approaches for discussion on what can be done in law firms and for clients in the short, medium and long term.
Stay tuned and healthy!