Managing a Solo or Small Firm During a Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way we do business. If your practice was already prepared for remote work, or if you had to figure it out on the fly, here are some tips for making sure you are practicing safely in this strange, new world.

Managing a Remote Team

Make sure you are communicating with your team on a regular basis. Use Microsoft Teams, Skype or Zoom for calls or videoconferencing to talk about work projects, answer client questions, or check in to see how everyone is handling the crisis personally. At Lawyers Mutual we are using Microsoft Teams. We have a channel for all employees and a channel for managers. Through Teams, our IT department can screen share and troubleshoot technology or workflow problems as soon as they develop.

Our Employee Committee is working hard to keep morale high. The committee created a Home School channel where people can share advice, offer tutoring, or answer questions for one another. On Motown Mondays, our president, Dan Zureich, sends out a link to a favorite Motown song and he closes the week with a Far Side Friday cartoon. Dan says these touches provide opportunities for employees to respond directly to him with a quick “hello” or “have a great weekend” message.

Anything you can do to let your employees know you are concerned about them and you appreciate the extra effort of managing a remote work environment, along with the added roles of homeschool teacher or cruise ship entertainment director will be appreciated.

Cyber Safety

While working remotely, it is essential that you have safeguards in place to protect your clients. Provide your staff with the ability to only use office issued equipment, rather than personal devices for remote work. Always use a VPN connection to provide a secure communication channel. Setting up multi-factor authentication is highly recommended. At Lawyers Mutual, we use thefile-sharing programs Citrix ShareFile and Dropbox.

Fraudsters will use this crisis as an opportunity to scam, so be very careful before clicking on attachments or links in emails. This is a good time to implement password policies requiring strong passwords, as well as online training on scams. Lawyers Mutual uses a security awareness program called KnowBe4. Monthly video training keeps our employees up-to-date on the latest scams and how to avoid them.

Checklists

If you are working remotely for the first time, this is a great opportunity to create process and procedures to make your office flow more efficiently. Now that you are having to think through how everything is done in order to move it offsite, memorialize the process in a checklist. This is helpful now, but the checklist can also become a part of your procedures manual and assist in training moving forward. The checklists also provide a safety feature by confirming procedures and who is responsible.

Payment Plans

If you are not yet taking credit card payments, now is the time to reconsider. The annual Clio Legal Trends Report shows that practices that accept credit card payments receive payment quicker and have fewer overdue account receivables than firms that do not accept credit card payments. Products such as LawPay are safe and designed for law firms. You can also look to e-check options or ACH automatic withdrawals.

You may need to be more flexible with your payment options during this time. If you don’t currently offer payment plans, this may be a good time to experiment with new forms of payment. Your clients may be out of work, taking a pay cut, or concerned about losing their jobs. If the choice is to deplete their resources and pay 100% of your bill or pay a portion of your bill so they can meet other household needs, being more flexible with your options may allow you to keep some revenue coming in.

You may want to consider new client service offerings. Clients are looking for advice and guidance and creating flat fee plans that offer tiered services and varying payment options may be a great way to have some recurring revenue for you and offer manageable services for your clients.

Client Communication

In the best of times, clients complain about their lawyer’s failure to communicate. During this time, be proactive in your communication. Let clients know where you are and how to get in touch with you. Check in with clients to see how they are holding up during this time. Make sure your clients understand the impact of court closures on their cases. You may find clients at extreme positions – clients who are concerned about everything but their case and clients who are only concerned about their case. Expect to see people at their worst during this crisis and be prepared to deal with it. Try to de-escalate client situations and emotions by listening and responding appropriately.

Communicate changes in how your office is working directly with clients, on your website, on your social media postings, and by leaving a sign on your law firm office. Change your voice mail to inform clients of a new location or adjusted office hours. Does your phone system handle your new needs? If not, now may be a good time to explore other options. Lawyers Mutual is using Celito which allows us to unplug our office phone and plug it in at home with no loss of service or to use a desktop and mobile app which allows us to use our mobile phone just like our office phone. I can easily see when personal calls are coming into my mobile phone or when work calls are being routed through Celito. I can view the directory of my co-worker’s extensions and have the same ease in contacting people in my office as if we were still down the hall from another.

Deadlines

While the courts are operating under Chief Justice Beasley’s extension order through June 1, 2020, most deadlines remain in effect. Now, more than ever, your calendar system is a key component to mitigating your malpractice risks. Make sure you have a designated calendar czar who is managing your firm deadlines. If your team is working remotely, make sure you are checking in periodically and reviewing all deadlines and status of work to meet those deadlines. Give yourself plenty of time to get filings done so that you don’t show up at the courthouse at 5:00 only to find it operating on reduced hours. When possible file electronically. Test this system out in advance as well.

Conclusion

Managing a law practice is always an exercise in juggling multiple balls in the air. You are used to the chaos. However, COVID-19 presents a new challenge. Ask for help if you need it. Or offer help if you can. Together, the legal profession can come out on the other side of this stronger than before.

Camille Stell is the President of Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services. Do you need to talk with someone about how to manage your remote office, how and when to re-open, or updating your business continuity plan? Continue the conversation by connecting with Camille at camille@lawyersmutualconsulting.com or 919.677.8900.