2020 and now into 2021 has been described with more adjectives than I ever thought existed. Most were not complimentary, and most had four letters. But if we borrow the phrase: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” (Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals" is responsible for this quote and re-phrased by Rahm Emanuel.)What lessons can we take away from the 2020 pandemic and apply them to legal sales and marketing in the future?
WFA – Work from Anywhere: Historically, most firms have used a business model of “nesting” their people in offices. The ability to work one or two days from home was considered a real perk. Whether that was just a long-time cultural norm, a distrust that the staff could not be trusted out of sight, or something in between, this model has been forcibly changed.
Today – We have found that people can work effectively from home, and they can also actually work quite effectively from anywhere. Homes, vacation homes, riding a Peloton, or walking a treadmill are all common. I have a Director level friend at a major firm who rented out his house and has been traveling the country for nine months living in Airbnbs.
Future – Offices will reopen but unlikely to pre-pandemic levels as WFA is now a recruiting tool as well as a way of life.
Meeting Protocol: Meetings in law firm offices have always had a formal air to them. Suits, catered food, information packets neatly stacked on high-class conference tables, and screens dropped from hidden places in the ceiling. Genuinely nice, and sometimes a bit pretentious.
Today – Welcome to Zoom Life and Teams World. Crying babies and barking dogs are now as common a part of meetings as the catered food and other amenities. This has added a refreshing informality to most meetings that allows us to really get to know people on a much deeper level. Seeing the photos on the wall, guitar in the corner, the snow out the window, and the pets and kids allows us to know peers and clients at a much greater level that most of us have come to appreciate.
Future - Maybe this is how business in the legal industry should and will be done?
Cloud Readiness: Firms that were well-prepared and already had data and systems in the cloud allowed attorneys and staff to grab their laptops and not miss a beat in the WFA world, creating a significant advantage. We want to think every firm had this type of agility, but not so. More than one firm shuttled files between the attorneys’ homes and offices by staff. The office culture of “nesting” also lends itself to on-premises data centers and desktop, immobile computers. Clients were impacted by firms not prepared. Prepared firms had the opportunity to gain some competitive advantage.
Today – This was a tough lesson on many firms as it not only created chaos internally and demonstrated to clients how ill-prepared their legal counsel was in a crisis. The real test here was how agile are we to think, plan, execute, operate the business, and still serve clients in the manner they need and deserve.
Future – Clients will ask about Pandemic readiness in RFPs and ask to see how firms operate in a crisis.
Crisis Communication Readiness: In the early days when offices first closed, the command from the top to every marketing team was “let all of our clients know we are open for business and ready to take care of them.” What seems like a simple request, and probably was for some firms, but for many, was a fire-drill nightmare. Based on the emergency calls we received, the firm’s anecdotal data had a ready-to-go, current list of client contacts was not a simple request.
Today – Not having the most up-to-date contact information was another tough lesson for many firms. However, on the bright side, there is now a strong business case to firm leadership to invest in basic marketing communications (“MarCom”) blocking and tackling type things. For example, keeping contact data up-to-date and well-organized and having operable CRM systems had a bright light shined on it.
Future –2021 looks like a boom year for Marketing Technology, Practice Management Technology, and the ability to operate all of it in the cloud and deliver on a moment’s notice.
Work-Life Balance - Forced time off and moving out of the nest has sparked the desire for more quality time, and rethinking work-life balance lightened practice loads. Professionals and their staff have evaluated how they want to live moving forward and how they will define the value of workforce freedom and flexibility.
Today – Firms have (or should have) learned attorneys and staff can not only function but can operate in a highly productive fashion without the need for a “nest.”
Future – WFA and the desire for work-life balance are changing all industries in more ways than we can begin to know. In legal, this certainly opens new opportunities to recruit both legal and support staff without geographic boundaries. Conversely, lawyers and staff will migrate to firms where WFA and work-life are a part of the culture and not seen as an inconvenience to the firm.
Personal – The pandemic tragically impacted many people. On a personal level, the Covid-19 pandemic has made me very aware of how fortunate I am considering all the tragedy. I am sorry it took a pandemic to help me realize this. I regret something I wish I had done differently: I did not stay in touch with all my friends as I should have. Early on, we had Zoom happy hours and made some effort, but it faded. It always seemed to be something I would do tomorrow. I owe many of you.
On to the next three quarters of 2021...
Dave Whiteside is Director of Client Growth & Success at CLIENTSFirst. Dave is a consultant for CRM, Data Quality, eMarketing and Client Intelligence service offerings as well as leads ClientsFirst business development and Alliance programs.