The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has introduced social distancing as a basic business practice.
We also need to master the skills of business intimacy.
Even as law firms close their doors and lawyers work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, good crisis management requires that we also quickly develop skills of business intimacy and practice them daily.
While minding the "two-meter" rule for physical separation, lawyers and law firms -- both individually and institutionally -- need to get intellectually and emotionally closer than ever before to people who hold the keys to their ability to navigate through the current crisis and emerge stronger than before. This requires attention, empathy, and a willingness to put aside paradigms from the "old normal."
Getting closer to our clients
Most of the more than 300 e-mails that I have seen, describing the responses of law firms to COVID-19, talk about how the law firm has changed its operations, with only vague reassurances that "we will be here for you." The better approach -- the one that will keep clients and make them more loyal than ever before -- is to understand in detail what the clients need, especially with respect to service delivery. This requires a proactive initiative by law firms, aimed at specific needs, concerns, and expectations, not just soothing slogans.
Remember that in a time of crisis, the six most powerful words in client relations are: What do you need from us?
Ask that question early and often. Don't wait for the client to come to you.
Getting closer to our colleagues
Crises offer frequently-overlooked opportunities for substantial, sustainable improvements in law firm operations and internal service delivery processes. In most instances, the best sources for better ideas are not the partners or external consultants, but the people who do the work everyday. As you document the problems that you encounter during a crisis, don't forget to note and document what went wrong and what worked better. Get "closer" to the others in your firm -- while respecting the "two-meter" rule and avoiding temptations to micromanage -- and get them involved in spotting and improving the internal operations that ultimately drive service delivery to clients.
Here the most important question that everyone in the firm should ask each other is: What do you need from me?
Ask that question of everyone in your firm. You might be surprised by the answers.