How the Best Law Firms Are Beating the Coronavirus Crash
You’re facing a blitz of information about the coronavirus, like all of us. To help you get your bearings as a law firm leader negotiating this crisis, Firmidable gathered the most valuable legal industry insights we could find—and we put them all in one place.
Our recent webcast featured highly experienced law firm operations and marketing experts sharing the emerging strategies for lawyers to persevere and—once we all get through this—prosper.
We called it, “A National Conversation for Law Firms about COVID-19.”
Or, if you want a written rundown of the presentation right now, keep reading this blog post.
- What attorneys nationwide are saying
- How law firms can master remote working
- Law firm management principles for surviving the crisis
- How the COVID-19 outbreak is impacting different firms
- The state of the advertising environment for law firms
- How law firms can get federal stimulus money
Survey: How Lawyers Around the Country Are Reacting to the Coronavirus
Want to know what your colleagues nationwide are saying? At the Firmidable legal marketing agency, we did, too. So we conducted an online survey asking attorneys how the coronavirus upheaval is affecting them.
Responses came in from plaintiffs’ law firms in 31 states. Here’s what they said:
Most firms are using some form of remote or virtual work arrangements.
On a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the most negative fallout from the coronavirus, 5 being no change, and 10 being the most positive possible outcome, lawyers in the survey aren’t expecting radical changes from this crisis. Though, they do say its impact will be slightly negative on average.
Most firms said they’re waiting to decide on cutting spending.
Slowdowns in the legal system, short-term cash flow problems and clients having trouble seeing health care providers topped the lawyers’ list of coronavirus concerns.
More than half the attorneys surveyed said they will alter their marketing messages because of the coronavirus.
Most firms said they plan to keep their overall marketing presence the same.
Law Firm Remote Work Survival Guide
So how can you manage the working reality of law firms today?
It’s disorienting for many people to work from home. But it’s nothing new for Tim McKey, owner of the national law firm consulting agency Vista Consulting Team and a panelist in the webinar. Vista has always been a full-time, remote-work company, with consultants stationed all over the country.
“We’ve had to develop, over time, ways to maintain efficiency and effectiveness in our business, but also develop kind of a unique culture,” Tim said.
He asked law firm Operations Consultant Amanda Hankins from Vista to offer her top recommendations as a remote worker:
- “Give everyone some grace and some time,” adjusting to workplace technology at home, Amanda said in the webinar. Seemingly simple things, like working on a laptop instead of at a desk with dual monitors, can slow down team members.
- Get your phones organized. If your phone system has voice over internet technology, your attorneys and staff members could set up their office phones by plugging into their home internet routers. But you also may need to get creative, using services like Google Voice or other solutions.
- Use video conferencing. Vista is using online video conferencing more than ever to keep its team connected during the coronavirus crisis, Amanda said. You can choose among services like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, UberConference and more.
- Find alternatives for printed, faxed and mailed documents. Some companies will take your office’s forwarded paper mail and scan it for you to see. This also may be the time to adopt more electronic contract signing using software like DocuSign or AssureSign.
- Add Live Chat to your law firm website. These services increase the power of your intake process while your intake team is scattered. Plus, Live Chat offers another channel for contacting you in this confusing environment, said Firmidable law firm marketing agency President Nathan Chapman. “We need to be able to communicate with people however they want to communicate with us,” he said.
- Use a call center to amplify your intake capacity. A legal intake call center operates 24/7 and can greatly increase the efficiency of your intake process in a time when efficiency is a challenge. One Vista client, Amanda said, is sending all of their calls through a center. Similar to video conferencing services, Amanda said, call centers are getting a surge in business these days.
- Tend to your team’s morale. Around so much uncertainty and fear, you need to communicate with your team better than ever. Hold regular video huddles, Amanda suggested. Be honest about your firm’s status, so employees don’t fill information gaps with rumors of layoffs or other alarming scenarios. Plan morale-boosting events like virtual happy hours with casual conversation and emotional support.
- Support your clients more than ever. Use phone calls and video chats to stay in touch with clients, listen to their hardships, offer any extra help you can, show them how much you care, and let them know your firm is still operating, advancing their cases and fighting for them.
Operational Ideas for Firms to Come out Strong from the Crisis
The webinar panelists presented multiple strategic ideas for law firms to adapt and succeed in this unusual time:
- Widen the net of cases you take. If you’ve been highly selective in the types of clients you want for your firm, now may be the time to broaden that, Tim said.
- Convert more of your callers into clients. If the phones aren’t ringing as much, it’s imperative to secure more of your callers as clients. Live Chat and call centers are among the tools that help. It’s also imperative to make the most of the cases you already have, Tim said.
- Avoid gaps in medical treatment for clients. With a public health crisis unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes, states are declaring some non-emergency health care as non-essential. Clients also may be afraid (understandably) to visit clinics and expose themselves to the virus. Plaintiffs’ attorneys need to contact medical providers and ask if they can send clients instructions for physical therapy at home, or do appointments by video. Clients should keep journals of their injury recovery, including photos and descriptions of the emotional toll, like being barred from family visits in the hospital after a car wreck because of COVID-19 restrictions. As Tim said, the goal is to gather documentation to prevent insurance companies from using treatment gaps against your clients.
- Look to cut non-personnel costs first. Look for breaks or deferrals in office rental costs, malpractice insurance premiums, case expenses or any other areas relevant to your firm. Keeping people in their jobs is the kindest thing to do, but also the move that best positions your firm to thrive when the crisis passes. If you need to furlough employees, consider it as a last resort.
How the Coronavirus Is Impacting Different Types of Law
Nathan, from Firmidable, reviewed how the pandemic is affecting various types of law firms.
- Employment law firms: “They’re getting kind of a bump in people reaching out to them,” Nathan said.
- Estate law has potential to grow.
- Bankruptcy law also could see increased demand in the economic aftermath of the virus outbreak.
- Social Security Disability law tends to see more clients during recessions, as people with serious health problems give up on trying to work and seek government benefits instead. Intakes already are spiking at some firms, like one Firmidable client who just saw the biggest week for intakes in the firm’s 50-year history. Google searches for Social Security Disability also are spiking.
- Workers’ compensation law might see a reduction in demand with so many people not at work. But Google searches for workers’ comp are down slightly, suggesting that significant demand remains.
- Personal injury law could see a slowdown with fewer people on the roads. But personal injury searches are also dipping only slightly on Google.
How the Coronavirus Impacts Law Firm Advertising
The pandemic is shifting the media landscape in ways that could help law firms increase their market presence.
“I definitely have talked to some firms where they’re saying, ‘There’s some opportunity here,’ and they’re actually running additional ads, either digital or traditional,” Nathan said.
Nathan broke down the major channels for law firm marketing during the coronavirus:
General internet use is up 70%, according to Forbes. You can take advantage of the larger audience by adding a coronavirus popup message to your website, announcing that your firm is open, taking cases and helping people. You also can use paid search advertising to channel more of that increased internet traffic to you.
“More people are watching television (during quarantine),” Nathan said. “It’s not just streaming, like Netflix. And it’s not even just the news.”
But even with viewership up, other advertisers are cutting back. This creates an opportunity to raise your firm’s visibility.
“Legal is a category where we think you ought to be steady-as-she-goes,” Nathan said.
You may be able to negotiate for your ads to fill empty slots on TV stations.
You can quickly and inexpensively add graphics to your existing TV ads highlighting your continued accessibility by phone during the crisis. You also can create commercials tailored for the coronavirus, perhaps with public service messages appropriate to the times, or messages thanking medical workers and first responders.
When everyone stays home, the billboard industry struggles. That means you can ask billboard companies for low-cost extensions to your messages. And you may find that they will comply.
“In recessions, the studies show, it’s an opportunity to keep your market share or even grow your market share,” Nathan said. “The companies that stopped advertising during recessions usually lost market share to the ones who kept going.”
How Your Law Firm Gets Financial Support from the Federal Stimulus Package
For employers like law firms, the economic stimulus package Congress passed, called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act—or CARES Act—has the major goal of keeping people on payrolls, Tim said.
Explaining to your team that you’re pursuing this financial assistance is an important part of your crisis communication, demonstrating that you care about your employees.
Tim covered key points to know about the federal stimulus:
- First off, get set up with a third-party payroll service.
- If your firm doesn’t use a payroll service, like ADP or Paychex, Tim urges you to do it. The stimulus relief programs will later require complicated calculations, which those platforms can handle.
- You may be eligible for payroll tax breaks. Under the CARES Act, you could get a deferment of payroll taxes. Or you could get a payroll tax credit later if you show that you kept people employed even when their workload dried up. One caution: Using these programs could disqualify you from stimulus loans, so proceed carefully.
- Take advantage of existing disaster loans. The Small Business Administration (SBA) runs a loan program called EIDL—Economic Injury Disaster Loan—which was already in place before the coronavirus. It offsets expenses caused by the pandemic. You can get a $10,000 advance on that loan. And what’s most interesting is that the advance becomes a grant—you don’t have to pay it back—even if you end up not qualifying for a loan. “So we’re advising all of our clients to apply for that EIDL loan,” Tim said.
- Look into the new coronavirus Payroll Protection Plan: This is a forgivable loan that you apply for through your financial institution. The loan provides 2.5 times your average payroll for the last three years. If you use and track the money properly, you can get the loan forgiven.
When Times Get Tough, Don’t Hesitate to Reach Out
If you have questions about this information, or any other aspect of protecting your law firm’s future during and after the coronavirus pandemic, both Firmidable and the Vista Consulting Team are available to talk about anything you need.
You can reach out to Firmidable here, and we can put you in touch with Vista.
We know that someday—hopefully not too far off—you’ll be celebrating your law firm’s resilience as this crisis fades to the past. We’ll be right there with you.
Firmidable has been a national expert in legal marketing for almost 30 years. It brings law firms customized, data-driven marketing strategies and services, including online and traditional media for a wide range of legal practices. From Maine to Hawaii, it has transformed the lives of attorneys—and their clients.