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Whenever employees find themselves working from home for the very first time, they usually discover that it’s not as easy as it seems. Fortunately, most attorneys are already comfortable working remotely.
Whether it’s during a large-scale crisis or a minor hiccup in the routine, attorneys are often adept at working wherever they can power a laptop. Even so, according to a 2019 American Bar Association Legal Technology Survey Report, only 41 percent of lawyers reported that their firms had disaster plans in place.
Small firms in particular seem to be even less prepared than most; only 37.4 percent of firms with two to nine lawyers had a plan in place, while firms with 10-49 attorneys came in at 38.6 percent. So, while firms may be used to their attorneys occasionally working from home, they likely lack a firm management plan should the entire workforce need to do so at once.
Without a firm disaster plan in place, two things that may be difficult to maintain are company culture and client service. With no more office time for people to interact with one another, and with the unfamiliar territory that comes with trying to balance home life and client work, these two crucial elements can begin to slip.
What’s a firm manager to do? Below are some tips to set you in the right direction.
Social distancing can make it hard for firm management to maintain a sense of community and company culture. And while such intangible concepts might be far from people’s minds during a crisis, you will do yourself a favor by maintaining some semblance of normalcy for your firm.
For example, if your firm has 10 or more attorneys, it may be near impossible to get everyone together at the same time for a virtual lunch and learn session. Everyone is juggling children and home life while also trying to work, so schedules are more hectic than usual. Instead, consider offering the same lunch and learn at two or three different times over the course of a couple of weeks, so that everyone can choose a time slot that works for them. Talking and learning with even a few coworkers over video chat can help people feel connected and less isolated.
Similarly, it may be wise to consider implementing regular touch points between attorneys who are working on the same project. If everyone can jump on the phone even once a week, it can help foster a sense of teamwork and fight off unsaid feelings of isolation. In general, it’s a good idea to encourage people to pick up the phone and call one another, instead of having discussions over email or messaging apps. Speaking by phone can accomplish effective communication more quickly, while maintaining a deeper sense of community.
Keep in mind that everyone is under stress during a crisis—including your clients. Added stress may mean that clients are more demanding or more challenging to deal with, but encourage your team to always lead with kindness and empathy, and be prepared to answer more questions than usual.
To help ease the burden on your attorneys, consider putting together a client newsletter that deals with disaster-related questions and answers. You might also consider tasking someone with collecting daily crisis news updates to reduce the number of hours your attorneys spend individually keeping up on the fast-moving news.
It’s also wise to keep in mind that all clients are different and will react to new circumstances differently. Some clients may be more relaxed and have a chuckle at a small child talking in the background of a conference call, while others may not find it so funny. Know which of your clients will be more flexible with the challenges of working from home, and which will require you to be buttoned up no matter what. Knowing your clients and acting accordingly can save you a lot of awkward conversations in the future.