Your law firm is dealing with an incredible number of headaches right now. Clients and therefore many law firms may be slowing down. Revenue may be short of target projections; cash flow might be jeopardized; and there are a basketful of administrative difficulties associated with remote work.
But this time can also be an opportunity to pull ahead of your competitors. As a consultant to law firms and law departments, and a former client (as a GC and Law Department COO), I can suggest things that clients would be impressed with and what would help grow and strengthen your relationships with your clients. I also know what opportunities for improvement are out there.
Here are 10 tactics to help you grow and strengthen your legal business now:
1. Profitability — This is when to analyze if your RFP responses are winning the business you want. You have the time now to assess your pricing to assure your margins and profitability are the best they can be. If you are in the market for a new kind of vendor, like an e-discovery or litigation support vendor, do your search and fee negotiations now. It should be an opportune time, as some litigation is temporarily slowing down.
2. Business Retention — Reach out to your clients to see how they are — by phone if possible. As I drafted this article, I received a phone call from one of my vendors to see how I was doing and if there was any help that I needed. That one-minute outreach meant a lot. It made me feel that, as a client, my vendor cared about me. And it also resulted in more work for the vendor because I took the vendor up on its offer to provide some telecommunications-based services.
Your law firm is a vendor to your clients. I know — we are a profession, and don’t like to think of ourselves as vendors or suppliers — but in fact, that is what we are. We supply legal services to our clients, analogous to Amazon providing shopping services to its clients. Reach out to see what your clients need and offer your services — and maybe additional or alternative services — to help clients get through these days.
3. Review your compensation plans — You may think that compensation plans and partnership agreements are not business development matters — but you’re mistaken. Your firm should be rewarding certain kinds of skills and behaviors that directly result in more and continued business. Now might be the time to really study whether you are rewarding the right activities in the right way.
I’ve done many analyses of partner compensation plans. Often, firms live with the one that’s been in play for a long time, because it is too hard to change it. But newer attributes may be the ones to be recognized, and now may be the time to really think about your priorities as a firm.
4. Leadership training — You’ve probably been meaning to do this for a long time and may not have found the time to concentrate on it. With just the commuting time you are savings, you can develop these plans and start the work via virtual meetings. With strong leaders come better teams and more client engagement wins.
5. Diversity & inclusion assessment and improvement — Data about your firm’s diversity and inclusion status, including retention of talent, exists within your firm. Use this time to hire a professional to analyze your situation and implement some positive changes, so that when business really picks up again, you are ready for your clients’ D&I demands.
6. Get your remote working arrangements right — You may already have an operations or IT professional at your firm to handle the day-to-day issues associated with remote work. If you don’t, there are consultants you can retained to advance your operations through these strange times. You — the law firm partners and business development professionals — should be concentrating on your clients and continuing the work that can be done now. Billings don’t necessarily have to go down in times like these, even though we can’t congregate or go to court.
Engage in e-discovery, video depositions, and fruitful settlement negotiations now. Instead of the typical waiting until the last minute to do a document request or deposition, conduct it now. Prepare briefs that you know will be need in a case. Legal research and writing is perfect for internet handling. Imagine how pleased your client will be to learn that a matter might be resolved earlier than anticipated and that you proactively worked out a deal.
7. Provide video CLE — Take some time to put together video CLE programs for your firm and for your clients. Get your CLE credits done now instead of at the last minute, and help your clients get their CLE credits, too — they will thank you for it. You can use the sessions to show off how up-to-the-minute your firm is on legal issues of concern to your clients. And your clients may learn about other areas of expertise within your firm that they didn’t know about.
8. Communications training — This is especially appropriate now that we must communicate in ways that are not face-to-face. Hire an advisor to train your people on better communications tools and skills — both oral and written. Better communications will definitely support more business and more solid client relationships.
9. Update your policies — Compliant and current policies, such as Work from Home policies, are obviously needed at a time like this. So are policies around issues like employee bonuses for talent referrals, parental leave, and use of firm technology. These are policies that your firm will need to continue succeeding and growing now and in the future. Without relevant, current policies for guidance, your firm may be acting “like the old days” and thus risk losing business.
10. Succession Planning — Succession planning could not be more relevant. This is an area where law firms typically lag behind many other professions. As lawyers, we don’t like to completely quit or retire, and we often think we know better than anyone else about our matters and our clients. But if we’re learning anything right now, it is that we must have contingency plans in place. Use this time to work on those plans. Implement procedures to share clients with the next generation of lawyers so that your firm can continue to grow and succeed.
This period of remote work and non-congregating certainly does not mean that work stops. But it does create opportunities to come out stronger on the other side for the firms willing to put in the effort now.