I know I’m not alone in saying April was a long month. Like you, I’m watching and waiting to see when (and how) the stay-at-home orders in my state will be relaxed.
During this crisis, our normal cadence of working has skipped a beat; and from what I see and hear, there’s a good deal more self-assessment going on. When the apple cart gets upset, it can bring professionals to a crossroads. Even lawyers. Tough questions bubble up to the surface: Is my job secure? How are my clients affected? Is my firm prepared? Could working arrangements shift permanently?
And this one: As this crisis goes on… if it cycles in waves… am I in the right position for my family and my career?
In times of uncertainty, there’s a premium on security. I take some assurance in having a good book of business and in working for a firm with very little overhead. At Practus, the model is resilient in times of a downturn. All partners work separately out of their own offices or homes, so when you get down to it, we’re not digging deep to pay for office space that’s not even in use.
“My working rhythms stayed pretty much constant. When the crisis hit, I was already fully set up to service my clients out of my workspace. So, on day one of the shelter order nothing changed for me. My clients benefitted because there was no interruption— no delay for me to get set up. I wasn’t in the camp of firms hustling to reproduce their office productivity at home or remotely.”
—John Grady, Partner
It’s no surprise a lot of firms are taking a close look at if they have the right balance of overhead to workers. Some financial firms are now implementing office hoteling, and bucking the convention of one office to one employee. Individuals are soul searching, too. Is it better to remain, and keep servicing clients from a firm that has considerable overhead and debt? Would it be more secure to be a smaller, independent practice with less external pressures?
If you’ve been mulling the merits of taking your practice out on your own, you’re likely arriving at questions like these:
- Would I prefer the arrangement?
- Will my clients follow?
As for the first question, that’s very individual. Give yourself plenty of time to consider it at home or on one of your countless dog walks. As to whether clients would follow, I’d say it comes down to what motivates them in the first place.
Clients, we can agree, are inherently self-serving and that’s a good thing. Like drivers in rush hour traffic, you can count on them to follow their own best interest, as they should. They’re going to go where their needs are met; so, if that’s with you, then they’ll probably stick with you.
Investment Management is often a specialty practice inside a larger law firm, so what clients are really looking for are the people experienced in that specialty. Having a bigger team isn’t always relevant. Provided I was meeting all of their legal needs, it never much mattered where and how I got the work done. The big firm was never the selling point.
Service cannot suffer.
Clients won’t make accommodations for you to work at home, so you have to have your setup ready. To them, it needs to be business as usual. Be prepared right out of the gate to provide responsive communications, efficient work, ownership of the meetings and coordination of a virtual team. Essentially, you have to be a law firm unto yourself, which is interesting because, all of a sudden, that’s the model thrust upon all of us.
Be flexible and nimble to accommodate them.
Working from home can actually be a boon to client service. I have clients around the globe in different time zones. To them, my location doesn’t even factor. What does matter is that I no longer have down time for a morning/evening commute. I’m not a stickler for sticking to traditional business hours. Some of my global clients have business hours the inverse of mine. As a solo practice, it helps that I can connect with clients from home any time. I can pick up an early morning or late evening meeting. The office is always right there.
Be the enabler—for your client in crisis.
Clients are on their own learning curves. Take the initiative and use what you’ve learned about remote working to support your clients on the administrative side.
“Once we have the techniques down pat, we should be the ones owning the meeting. Bring them into the video conference that you host. Coordinate all attendees, so your client doesn’t have to. Share pointers if you see your contacts struggling with meeting platforms, collaboration software or digital signatures. Take it on yourself to scan documents for them. Recognize and shift to their preferred communication channels. Disruptions are keeping your clients up at night. The more you can smooth the way for them, the more they’ll look to you in the future.”
—John Grady, Partner
Adopting the model.
There could be significant upsides to running with this virtual firm model long-term. Our clients are often working in various locations and time zones themselves, so they are not opposed to accessing their legal advisers the same way they do their colleagues – via phone, via email and via video conference sessions.
I feel more secure operating within a firm that isn’t saddled with high overhead. I can work productively out of my home or nearby work space, and leverage the support services and technology of my firm. I’m running my business in ways I see fit and serving my clients in ways they appreciate. They don’t care if I’m practicing out of a downtown high-rise or my own office. They just want their matters managed properly and cost-effectively.
That said, this isn’t a fit for everyone. You have to come at it with the right mindset. But, you can port your clients over to a virtual law model. In my experience, investment management clients work well in the virtual model — the emphasis is on knowledge, experience and accessibility, not necessarily on large teams sharing office space. I also know that this model works for so many other practice areas: general corporate, litigation, insurance, intellectual property, employment, real estate, technology and much more.
So, then it’s back to the question of would you like the arrangement better? Time for that dog walk.
Managing Partner and Founder
Practus is an innovative law firm that is disrupting the outdated ways of practicing law. By leveraging mobile technology, cloud-based solutions, and an agile infrastructure to deliver legal services, both clients and attorneys benefit from this visionary model.