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The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unique obstacles and disrupted the legal industry. However, it has also created opportunities for “on the business” projects, creative thinking, smart problem solving, and team cohesion. As law firm owners navigate new and uncharted waters in the industry and economy, responsible and forward-thinking firms are searching for approaches that protect their clients, their team members, their leads, and their businesses.
During this time of uncertainty in the legal field, communication is paramount. Now is the perfect time to communicate with and reassure your clients that your firm is still there, still working incredibly hard on their behalf, and still committed to obtaining justice for them, even if all your team members are not face to face in an office. Build that bond, and show your clients they made the right choice in picking a law firm that cares.
Communication with your clients should not rely on just one channel. Every business, from credit card companies to freelancers, has emailed recently regarding their COVID-19 response. The number of emails in everyone’s inbox has grown exponentially, and therefore even well-done emails with timely content have a lower open rate. If you are relying on email only, know that it might be white noise at this point. Getting your message out to clients right now requires multiple channels. Email them. Text them. Post on social media. Get a message on your website. Hit them however and wherever they may interact with your firm. Otherwise, your firm’s message may be lost between food delivery and airline emails.
Use video communication when you can. If you have a large client social media following, great! Consider adding a video element to grab those clients as they scroll through their feeds. It does not have to be a full production, expensive video. It can be as simple as a trusted member of your firm explaining that you still have a team of people behind them, working hard on their behalf. That team member can explain your investment in technology to ensure that no aspect of their case skips a beat. Cell phones are capable of capturing high-quality videos, and human interaction is important right now.
In addition to messaging your base, you must guide individual clients through this unprecedented time. Being proactive with client contact is always a solid law firm best practice, but it is especially critical now. Your clients may experience gaps in treatment if they are unable to keep in-person doctor appointments or therapy sessions, and addressing and preparing for those gaps in treatment now will allow for a more seamless experience later in the case during settlement or litigation. The following tips will help you navigate your clients through the case experience smoothly and effectively, during both calm and chaotic times:
- Encourage journaling: If your clients are not already journaling, now is the time to teach this skill to them. Encourage them to keep a record of how they are feeling daily, note any increase or change in pain medication, and record any notable information about their health. Effective journaling also includes photos. Every health detail should be captured. Keep in mind clients who are hospitalized during this time. They may have no emotional support if family members cannot visit due to social distancing guidelines. Details like that will be important to note in demand.
- Take advantage of home treatments: Some treatment facilities are offering telemedicine and encouraging home treatment regimens for physical therapy. Encourage your clients to take advantage of those treatment options if they cannot see their providers in person.
- Reach out to insurance providers: Proactivity is key. Provide adjusters with injury and treatment updates more often and make them aware of any and all obstacles and how your firm and your clients are working to overcome them.
- Work on building and cultivating relationships: If your firm is finding a decrease in intakes and perhaps an increase in available focused time as team members work remotely, consider devoting that found time to building relationships with your current clients. Personal relationships drive increases in word of mouth referrals and positive reviews, so take advantage of this newfound capacity to reach out to clients and freely give your most precious resource – time!
Now is a tenuous time…at home, at work, and for many business owners. It is human nature for team members to worry about their jobs or think the worst as their situations change. Communication with all team members is crucial. So, too, is some patience with them as they navigate what may be a new work environment. Thank your team for their flexibility, offer help as needed, and make sure all members of your leadership team are reaching out early and often to their individual groups.
Those who function in a managerial role and are well tenured in their careers have potentially weathered storms and developed coping mechanisms to handle stress, endure change, and simply get things done. Some are even energized by the stress! Keep in mind during this pandemic and ensuing quarantine that some team members may have less experience and may resist new workflows. They may have more trouble thriving in an uncertain environment. It is crucial for leaders to recognize that not everyone is operating from the same depth of experience or change tolerance and some team members could be struggling. This is the time to diffuse drama while allowing people to be heard. Now that most firms are a few weeks into remote work, their teams should be settling into routines, coming out of any productivity dips, and becoming accustomed to new tools and expectations. If you have team members who appear to be struggling, reach out. Assure them that change doesn’t have to mean stress. It can also mean opportunities for learning, for growth, and for seeing old problems in a new light.
As you look for those growth opportunities, look, too, to your intake team. With fewer cars on the road, non-emergency medical care being postponed, and many people home for days or weeks, there is a very real possibility of decreased intakes coming into the firm. That means every lead is even more precious than usual, and time and energy must be spent on nurturing and capturing those leads.
If your firm is not already using an E-sign method to sign up new clients, now is the time to implement it! E-sign is a preferred sign-up method because it “stops the shop” more quickly than other sign-up methods. It’s also the responsible way to handle intakes during shelter-in-place mandates. Sending out investigators or having clients come into the office may not even be feasible as we practice social distancing. E-sign allows you to take cases entirely remotely with no fear of disease transmission or being in violation of health and safety requirements.
As your team works to shore up the caseload, firm leaders should consider using this time to look inward at the business and develop strategies for recession-proofing as much as possible. Many firms and firm owners are experiencing unprecedented “spare time.” It is important to think about what you can be doing now in order to sow the seeds of success for the future. That means taking the time to invest in your operations and processes. Remember: Some of the greatest gifts come in unexpected packages. Now is the perfect opportunity for the proverbial sharpening of your saw. Take a step back, dig into your data and processes, and maximize your efficiency and productivity. Here are some ideas for projects to complete while your team has time to focus on the business:
- Develop Standard Operating Procedure Manuals if you don’t already have them in place. These are critical for outlining departmental workflows, laying out step-by-step instructions for entering data, and providing clear screenshots of necessary fields to complete.
- Tighten up your firm’s processes or procedures. Time often serves to erode our best-laid plans. If you know your proverbial rules of the road have become lax, work to address any issues, retrain your team, and introduce new methods.
- Assess your use of case management and intake software to assure data integrity. Run and analyze reports. Shore up common data entry issues like cases missing critical dates or omitted assignments. Now is the perfect time to clean up data and identify missing case components.
It will be fascinating to see how law firms apply and adopt newfound information, methods, and systems when the crisis is over. In just about every area and phase of life, change tends to come more easily during troubled times. Law firms may resist substantive change when the sailing is smooth, but during the bumps, they are more willing to power through obstacles, develop solutions, and take the change in stride. Firms who use this time to provide better service to clients are the firms that will continue to thrive. Your clients need you now more than ever. Our industry can and will weather this storm, and the positive aftermath will be better and more frequent client communication, strong internal processes, and a team who knows how to pivot gracefully.
Mary Ellen Murrah is an Operations Consultant with the Vista Consulting Team. With over 18 years of experience in the personal injury law firm space, she has become a familiar face at annual legal events and a frequent voice on topics ranging from legal marketing to data integrity. The Vista Consulting Team has visited more than 130 personal injury law firms across the US and Canada. Our work takes us “under the hood” at those firms and has allowed us to develop deep relationships with many law firm teams. Our experience also allows us the opportunity to view the industry as a whole and react to patterns, trends, and concerns. Visit www.vistact.com for more information.