Businesses around the globe continue to face hurdles in 2021 and law firms continue to grapple with adjusting to the challenges of pandemic. The evolution in law firm management that had been underway for some time was accelerated and made more complex in the era of COVID-19. Of course, law firm planning should include financial/profitability goals, practice mix, geographic scope, target industries and other traditional strategies. As firms plan for the remainder of 2021 and beyond, however, four key strategy considerations must be on the list:
Remote Work. Although lawyers have worked remotely in some capacity for many years, with a few exceptions, the industry had been slow to embrace the concept of a virtual workplace. 2020 saw the growth of virtual law firms, following the lead of established virtual firms like Fisher Broyles, Taylor English, Rimon and others, as well as BigLaw adopting previously eschewed work-from-home policies. The pandemic required extreme agility and an almost overnight shift to virtual operations for lawyers and staff, and according to industry studies to date, lawyers have largely embraced the work from home model. Similarly, law firm clients, facing the same challenges, have responded favorably to the nearly seamless transition in service delivery by outside counsel. As they look to space needs and business models for the future, firm leaders are facing difficult decisions regarding the future of work – from the necessity of class A office space in major metropolitan areas to ensuring adequate training to maintaining firm culture and collaboration in a remote working environment. Remote working models, however, provide opportunities for geographic and industry expansion that were cost prohibitive or impractical otherwise and increased profitability, productivity and retention.
Marketing & Business Development. Despite uncertainty regarding long-term repercussions of the coronavirus on firm profits, law firm marketing and business development spending dropped precipitously in 2020. The elimination of group conferences, events and seminars and nearly all travel and entertainment expenses are largely responsible for the decrease. For many firms, content marketing – webinars, podcasts, video, blog posts and email marketing increased substantially, particularly as lawyers had more time when demand slowed and billable hours lagged. Lawyer engagement on social media was on the rise, as well, as lawyers sought out new ways to connect. To some extent, the ability to meet online made networking easier and more accessible, but meeting with existing clients, a challenge pre-pandemic, became even more difficult. Firm leaders and marketing/business development professionals will need to continue to find creative ways to nurture existing client relationships and develop opportunities for new business in the months and years ahead.
Nextgen Leadership. In recent years, law firms focused on developing and implementing strategies to ensure a successful transition of clients and firm leadership as baby boomers entered the final phase of their careers (which were, in many cases, extended by the last recession). Firms identified and appointed or elected leaders who could bridge gaps in the needs, career paths, communications and work styles among the multigenerational lawyer ranks. The shift to a remote work environment, increased reliance on technology and work-life balance issues amplified by the pandemic underscore the importance of well-trained, next generation leaders in firms of all sizes. The selection and development of high-performing leaders will remain a priority and succession planning should include a reevaluation of the qualities of successful leaders in these rapidly changing times.
Wellness. 2020 was a year where the world was focused on physical health, but the stress of the COVID-19 crisis and resulting economic and societal changes had a significant toll on mental health, as well. The high-stress legal industry has for decades been plagued with disproportionately higher rates of suicide, substance abuse, anxiety and depression. What was historically an important topic has become an urgent focus for firms, as they evaluate program options not only for physical health and safety but also the mental and emotional health of employees. Corporate wellness programs will continue to gain importance and include a broader array of benefits, including mindfulness, yoga and nature/outdoor-based programs in addition to the more traditional fitness, nutrition and other programs focused on physical health. Firms that make well-being a focus will not only save costs – they will be a sought-after destination for new hires.
Strategic planning is more challenging than ever. To lead your firm boldly into post-pandemic times, remote working, marketing and business development, leadership succession and wellness must be key components in your plan.