Let’s cut to the chase. The world is in crisis mode and it’s difficult to know what to be doing with clients to help them through this—while still trying to maintain our own business operations. Having worked with law firms through the 2008 financial crisis, there’s a couple of relevant lessons in how to best adapt to a market that completely transforms overnight.
Below is a quick overview, but I will be hosting a webinar next week to share what the biggest changes are that law firms can expect in the next six months—and how to navigate those changes effectively. [You can register here.]
6 Actions to Start Taking Today
1. Pick up the phone and call your clients
I don’t know about your inbox, but mine gets hit with about 200 email bulletins each day with an update on how companies are responding to COVID-19 and their plans to “continue to serve me in the best—and safest—way possible.”
If the email isn’t from a personal contact, it gets trashed immediately. So put your efforts elsewhere. Staying close to clients, albeit virtually, is more important than ever.
Clients need help and guidance, right now. Your call isn’t going to be seen as intrusive if it’s providing a lifeline to clients on how to navigate the rapidly changing marketplace. Which means…
2. Schedule a (virtual) client meeting—all your clients’ priorities have just changed
Today looks nothing like yesterday to your clients. Every matter/project/initiative/whatever your client was planning on tackling this year just got side-lined. Get a meeting on the books to talk through the new priorities:
- Have an agenda set with the most pressing issues and risks you see on the horizon for your client and be prepared to have contingency plans in place for whatever might arise. Top areas we’re already anticipating a spike in include:
- Corporate financing and liquidity
- Cyber threats in the new work-from-home environment
- Employee claims
- Supply chain stalls and concerns
- M&A contingency plans—and opportunity spotting for brave investors
- Offer clear recommendations—not only options—when meeting with clients during this critical stage.
3. Matter prioritization and triage is mission critical
Expect budget cuts to come hard and fast. During the financial crisis of 2008-2009, legal departments were faced with reducing costs by 20%—it will likely be no different this time through and will happen a lot faster. Being the firm helping clients prioritize their resources most effectively and efficiently puts you at the top of consideration lists for the work that is going to proceed.
Matters can be quickly prioritized from highest risk to lowest by looking at:
- Continuity of business operations
- Monetary risk
- Reputational impact
4. Get really comfortable with budgeting
Budgets are about to become mandatory conversation starters for all new work. The new financial crisis is starting now—not a year from now. Which means clients are cutting back on their spend and need to be accountable to new, tighter budgets.
Be prepared to address these conversations head on.
- Know the cost of the work and talk through what factors will have the most potential to upend the budget. Clients will want to avoid any surprises in billing at all costs.
- Keep the conversation focused on the value of work being done for the price you’re charging. It’s going to be tough having cost conversations for awhile and discounts are going to come up a lot. While there will be inevitable discounting, destroying all profit margins is not how to weather the storm. Talk about:
- How the work will ensure continuity of operations
- What potential costs or fines are you helping the client avoid
- What ways can you help control the costs for the client
5. Efficiency is going to be a core differentiator
Value—in particular efficiency—has been a strong differentiator for law firms. This is going to be even more so now. Especially for those firms willing to be proactive and offer options to clients rather than waiting for clients to ask. Start talking to clients about:
- Secondments or other flexible talent options to help clients get through a skyrocketing workload with limited resources
- Hosting or sponsoring process improvement courses for client legal departments to help streamline and find efficiencies
- Online risk assessments to help clients quickly diagnose issues and figure out who to contact at the firm for specific questions
6. Avoid business as usual
The next 6 months are going to be a proving ground for law firms. Thinking quickly, creatively, and differently is going to separate those who are going to grow from those who are going to struggle.
Industries are about to be completely reshaped as we figure out new ways to deliver products and services—just look at the movie industry.
Firms that are staying in close contact with their clients and talking about evolving and unexpected business challenges are going to figure out new and innovative ways to serve clients through this crisis. This will likely set a new set of expectations in motion long after the crisis is contained.
What can you do different to help clients?