Crisis Management for Law Firms
The emerging cliché of the Coronavirus/Covid-19 era is that we are in “unprecedented times”. Whilst true, it is also for law firm leaders just the latest example when leadership and the ability to think clearly under pressure should enhance the outcome for their law firm.
Perception in the moment
The pressure of a crisis typically narrows the perception of those dealing with it. The focus becomes narrower and narrower and the risk is obvious things get missed. There are lots of studies on the theme and there are lots of practical examples. In yesterday’s Sunday Times the journalist and author, Mathew Syed, referred to US Airways flight 1549 which took off from runway 4 of New York’s LaGuardia airport on 15 January 2009 and 97 seconds later was hit by a flock of Canadian geese. The pilot and co-pilot, realising that they were 3000 feet above New York in a 70 tonne Airbus A320 bereft of any power with the lives of 153 passengers and crew and countless people on the ground in their hands managed the crisis well and realised that landing at any of New York’s airports was a recipe for disaster.
Many readers will recall that they in fact landed the aircraft safely on the Hudson river. The pilot and co-pilot worked in tandem to land safely dealing with different aspects of the crisis and sharing information to ensure neither’s focus was too narrow.
In the aftermath of the landing they were widely praised but the lesson for law firm leaders is one of dual focus. The first focus needs to be on the immediate crisis, which is probably the urgency of homeworking over the last 10 – 14 days for law firms, the second focus must be around the wider business issues, whether that be cashflow controls, lock up times, terms of converting work undertaken to realisation and fees, managing and supervising staff for what probably will be an extended period on a remote basis, attracting and servicing the limited work that remains in the market place, the collapse of the conveyancing market in light of the governments recommendation that house sales should be paused for the duration of the lockdown period.
As a sector we do not face the severe challenges of the NHS, nor do we have life or death decisions in our hands whether those be medical, or flight related.
So how should you be entering this second phase?
Crisis Management Tips
This is our interpretation having advised numerous law firms through crises of one sort or another whether that be due to internal misconduct, SRA interest, partnership disputes, including total implosion, unexpected team departures and numerous financial challenges from human error as to where funds are transferred, fraud and the financial crisis of 2008 – 2010:
1 – Develop a crisis plan. This should focus on what you are seeking to achieve immediately (that day), in the coming days and very realistic forward projection period (whether that be a week, a month or three months);
2 – Accept responsibility and encourage others around you to accept responsibility. By working as team you will be far more effective, and you will develop more effective solutions, that means talking things over, accepting responsibility to lead elements of the response and the crisis plan above, and encouraging others to accept responsibility for their own areas of expertise;
3 – Take time to reflect. That time might be 5 seconds in an extreme situation, as the pilot and co-pilot did in the aircraft situation when they calibrated airspeeds, altitude and sink rates when considering landing options, or it might be a longer period providing a decision is made which has been developed as a part of the crisis plan, for which you are accepting responsibility and which you have reflected on to make sure it is the right approach and the context of your situation. The aim of the period of reflection is to make sure there is nothing in your thinking in the planning which is defective;
4 – Execute the plan. There is little point developing a plan, being willing to accept responsibility for it, reflecting and discussing it with colleagues if appropriate and then not implementing it. Solicitors and lawyers generally like to weigh up the pros and cons of matters and to analyse, but in a crisis implementation is a critical phase and as law firm leaders we should not be scared of it, we should embrace the benefits of having taken action;
5 – Communicate, communicate, communicate. In uncertain times staff, business partners, suppliers and clients all need information and dialogue. Embrace this opportunity to communicate with them keep them informed and even when the news may not always be entirely positive ensure that you are being open, transparent and communicating with them so that they can understand the decisions, even if they do not like them and do not wish to accept them. It ultimately will reduce your distractions and will allow you to execute a better plan and to achieve a better outcome.
Naturally you should reflect upon what has worked and what has not of any steps that you have taken. That does not mean obsessing about the decisions that you have made or indeed hindering your future execution of linked elements by enabling procrastination to occur. It does mean enhancing your future responses and your future decision making by learning the lessons.
We are here to support you
Over the years, having faced hundreds of crisis management situations, some of which last just a few hours, some of which have lasted weeks, the lesson that we would encourage law firms to take is that action is far more beneficial than inaction. Do not be afraid to lead your law firm in these unprecedented times.
Understand that both from a regulatory perspective and from a business management perspective it is inevitably your professional duty to do so and you should embrace it as our challenges are insubstantial when compared and contrasted with the challenges in some other sectors.
Over the course of the coming days we will publish a series of blogs on linked areas to try and support our wonderful profession at this challenging time.
If you need legal advice, or if you need crisis management support, get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org