Leading in a crisis: Managing a law firm through Covid-19 – Part 2

Thursday 9th April 2020

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Part 2: Shaping up for the future

Guest post from Peter Scott 

In our last article, we examined the steps you can take to support financial survival through the Coronavirus crisis, but if you are to thrive as a business through the lockdown and economic fallout, your responsibilities as a leader go further than the cash. First and foremost, there is a need for visible leadership that must be:

  • Challenging: prepared to question every aspect of a firm’s business, its people’s attitudes and performance and every assumption on which its plans have until now been based.
  • Inspirational: able to build consensus within a firm that change must happen.
  • Visionary: to develop and communicate a future for a firm which people can believe in and will follow.
  • Determined with the drive to implement necessary changes.
  • Team building to ensure that speedy and effective decision-making and implementation of necessary change happens. Putting in place a Top Team for this purpose will be crucial in order to get the firm through this short-term crisis, to prepare and adapt it for strategic change and to deliver the necessary business transformation. Continuous review and re-evaluation of a firm’s plans must, even now, be a priority.

Communicate communicate communicate

It is difficult to over-estimate the importance of communication. Good leaders understand the need to continuously communicate with their people to take them with them, particularly in times such as these. Being honest and transparent with partners and staff about the problems faced is vital if they are to be supportive and to buy in to the pain and difficult changes that will be required. If you don’t communicate with your people they will look elsewhere for information – including rumours.

And empathise. Think about the best way to do this. Videoconferencing may not the best way of getting people to open up to their real concerns. Sometimes a telephone call can be better.

It is not only internal communication which is required. While you cannot stop the world outside forming perceptions about what you do, more than ever you need to manage those perceptions. Even in these difficult times you have multiple opportunities to shape the messages about your firm that reach the market. Do not leave space for others to shape the way you are perceived.

Innovate

Radical change in the markets in which law firms operate is now going to happen at an ever-quicker pace. Doing nothing is not the way to survive COVID-19. Law firms will need to focus strongly on change management, have quick response times to threats and opportunities, have streamlined decision-making processes and their people must be open minded, flexible and prepared to learn new skills and ways of operating. What are – or could you be – famous for? Seize this opportunity to encourage innovation. Embrace new technology and more flexible working and develop strategic responsiveness to create tomorrow’s agile and more competitive law firms.

Future plan

Begin planning for the future NOW. The consequences of COVID-19 will increase the rate of disruption in the legal sector. When disruptive changes occur, many lawyers will automatically go into ‘denial’ or fail to focus on the scale of the threat to them of such changes. Don’t fight disruptive change; go with it and use it to your advantage. In the wise words of Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, “Change before you have to”.

Peter Scott, Peter Scott Consulting, former managing partner of Eversheds, is currently assisting law firms with their COVID-19 challenges.

CLT’s Two-Day Law Firm Management Masterclass is running as a virtual classroom on 22-23 April and will provide a toolkit for managing through this crisis as well as the opportunity to share experience with others.

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