Banish the phrase "new normal" from your thinking about the future.

 As law firms begin to think about operations after the pandemic subsides, many of their partners have been using the phrase  new normal.  This mindset -- that the future will be just a continuation of the past -- is as risky to the future of your law firm as ingesting bleach or taking ineffective, dangerous drugs to fight a coronavirus.

By Photographer: Pete McBride, U.S. Geological Survey - http://gallery.usgs.gov/photos/10_15_2010_rvm8Pdc55J_10_15_2010_0#.Ur0mcvfTnrd, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30350057

The Colorado River in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico no longer flows into the Sea of Cortez. Instead, due to diversion for irrigation upstream, it evaporates in the desert about nine kilometers away.

Many law firms are experiencing an analogous situation with cash flow during the COVID-19 crisis.

But not all of them.

iStock image licensed to Walker Clark LLC

An article posted today in the Law Society Gazette suggests that as many as 5,000 small English law firms and solo practices could be forced out of business within the next six months. Most of these firms are retail firms, or "high street" firms, that primarily serve individual clients and small businesses in relatively small matters, such as real estate conveyancing.

The problem, in a word, is cashflow.

public domain image

The coronavirus collapse has the potential to be worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Developed countries, like the United States, might be at even greater risk.

Law firms, especially small and midsize ones, need to start making plans that they hope will never be needed. The most important questions might seem to be hypothetical at this point, but they must be asked now, not once the economy "opens up" again.

portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson

Resilience  has become a big buzz-word in the business world during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the legal services industry is not immune from it.

But what does resilient leadership look like in a law firm? How do the leaders of a law firm -- both the titular ones and the de facto ones -- successfully guide their organizations through bad times?

This article, first published in Walker Clark World View in 2015 and updated for the current crisis management context, offers six actions to build resilient leadership in a law firm. Remember, the goal is not just to get through the current storms, but to emerge from them stronger than before. To do this, everyone in a legal services organization -- but especially in law firms -- need to deal with some very disquieting questions.

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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. 

By Jonas Petersson (UU) - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64608056

Take good notes.

Document everything.

Effective crisis management involves more than just good planning. It also is a valuable learning experience.

iStock image licensed to Walker Clark LLC

The March 9, 2020, issue of Bloomberg Businessweek contains a practical strategic checklist to "make your company disaster-proof-ish."

The nine steps listed in the article apply with full force to law firms -- especially small and midsize ones. It should be required reading for every law firm managing partner.

The Gale (1883) by Winslow Homer (American, 1836-1910)

An very important article published in 2014 by the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, reminds us that resilience has become a critical strategic asset, which enables businesses to respond successfully to rapid changes in their markets. The observations and commentary in Process Resilience Is Becoming a Business Imperative deliver solid advice for small and midsize law firms that are currently confronting the still largely unknown challenges of the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic. 

This World View post, updated from 2014, emphasizes that resilience is more than an overused management consulting slogan. It is hard work, but essential if a law firm wants not only to survive a crisis, such as the impacts of COVID-19, but emerge stronger than before.

Winslow Homer, After the Hurricane, Bahamas (1899)

The world-wide COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has forced many law firms -- especially smaller firms, which usually are most vulnerable -- to make business continuation decisions in what has become, in some law firms, a near-panic environment.

This updated version of a Walker Clark World View article from 2014 offers a basic checklist for law firms to review their planned responses.

The most important point is that even if your law firm has never had a plan to respond to the effects of an epidemic on your business operations and the ability of your firm to meet your clients' changing needs, it is not too late to make serious business continuation planning your firm's top priority.