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COVID-19 Impacts for Solo and Small Firm Lawyers: Beyond Remote Work

Sage and sensible advice for small law practices.

By Roy S. Ginsburg

If you’re like me, you’re probably tired of getting email blasts about how to best work remotely. There is much more to this COVID-19 situation, from your law practice perspective, than remote work. If you practice in the solo and small firm world, here’s my take on a few other important things to consider in the pandemic age.

Impact on Clients

Individual Clients

Many individuals have lost their jobs, will soon lose their jobs or are nervous as hell they will lose their job because of COVID-19. You may need to be more flexible about how you get paid.

Consider implementing payment plans and start accepting credit cards if you don’t already do both. That said, do not provide low bono (i.e., do it for free or at a huge discount). Your services are just as valuable today — perhaps even more — as they were before the crisis. If all a client cares about is cost, they will eventually find someone charging less than you.

If you find yourself with extra time, then do pro bono. Contact a local agency that offers legal services for those who truly cannot afford a lawyer. Now is the time to give back if you were too busy to do so in the past. In this time of high anxiety, you will sleep better by helping others in need.

Small Businesses

Some small businesses have or will go out of business. Others have taken or will be taking a huge hit. You know that invoice you sent out a few weeks ago for work done in February? Don’t expect payment for months. For most businesses, lawyers are not high on the pecking order of who gets paid during a cash crunch.

Some of you will learn the hard way that your retainer policies were too lax. Although the horse has already left the barn, change your retainer agreements now. Shame on you if you are caught short again by a client, virus or no virus.

Impact on Marketing

Right now, of course, networking coffees or lunches are out of the question. As for newsletters and alerts, do your clients really want another COVID-19 update from you when there are so many other places to get that information?

Instead, here are two easy ideas to implement. First, pick up the phone, call your clients and ask one simple question: “How are you doing?” Here is your opportunity to show that you care about them as people and not only as a billable file.

Second, update your website. When was the last time you revised your bio? Does your content emphasize how you can help clients as opposed to why everyone should be impressed that you attended XYZ law school and have two “wonderful” children? (Hint: Clients don’t care.)

COVID 19’s Impact on Practice Areas

Lawyers are so used to analyzing precedent that I feel compelled to do just that. Think about the 2008 recession. What happened to your practice back then? Chances are pretty good that the same thing will happen. This economic crisis will likely have more similarities than differences to the Great Recession. If you weren’t practicing back then, ask senior colleagues.

Here’s my prediction for a few practice areas based on what happened in the past and some crystal ball gazing.

  • Family law. Many divorces were put on hold during the recession because some clients couldn’t afford to get divorced, especially those who owned homes that were underwater. It’s way too early to predict how the virus will affect real estate, but it clearly won’t be positive. In any event, I heard someone recently joke about how many couples found themselves in a local hospital delivering babies nine months after blizzards, blackouts and the like. Now, expect a surge of divorces by the summer from all the couples forced to work at home together.
  • Estate planning. This area should grow. The virus will be an excellent reminder to people that they need a will, a health directive and power of attorney. Further, the unexpected deaths from the virus will create probate work.
  • Criminal. The bad news is that the bars are closed. The good news is that liquor stores are considered an “essential” or “critical” business — for now. Overall, I’d guess criminal activities will decrease because of COVID-19 but, hopefully, there will be a crackdown on scammers taking advantage of the virus.
  • Employment. There are many new issues to sift through and figure out. The question is, will the smaller businesses be able to pay? For worker’s compensation, it’s not as bad as you may think. There will certainly be fewer injuries on the job. But after an unexpected layoff, some employees will feel that they have little to lose by now attempting to link their aching back to an incident at work.
  • Immigration. The 2020 presidential election will have far more impact than the virus when it comes to immigration.
  • Personal injury. Cases will be down. Have you seen rush-hour traffic lately?
  • Litigation. This will drop down, too. Many individuals and small businesses will not be able to afford it.

COVID 19’s Impact on the Profession

Someone (I don’t know who) once said, “We’re the only profession that hasn’t changed in the past  100 years and we’re proud of it!” Why is that so true? Because we’re the only profession that  always answers the question, “Why do we do things that way?” with “Because that’s the way we have always done it.”

A “silver lining” with COVID-19 is that it is forcing the profession to realize that we don’t always have to do it that way, especially when you can’t. Post-virus, more lawyers and staff will telecommute. We will have experimented with more streamlined processes with clients, courts and government agencies — and later permanently adopt some — because of the virus. That will all be for the better.

Everyone seems to agree that “this, too, shall pass.” (Beats the hell out of me when, but it will pass.) And when it does, people will still need lawyers. Stay well and stay healthy so you can be there when the time comes.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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More from Attorney at Work on dealing with the pandemic:

Free COVID-19 Webinars from Attorney at Work Authors:

“Working Remotely and Securely: What Lawyers Need to Know” is presented by Sharon Nelson and John Simek of Sensei Enterprises and covers the technology and security issues of working from home.

“Legal Marketing in the Midst of the COVID-19 Crisis,” with Jay Harrington and Stefanie Marrone, discusses the issues law firms, lawyers and legal marketers need to be thinking about during the COVID-19 crisis.

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Roy S. Ginsburg

Roy S. Ginsburg is an attorney coach and law firm consultant who has practiced law for more than 30 years. He works with individual lawyers and law firms nationwide in the areas of business development, practice management, career development, and strategic and succession planning. Learn more at www.royginsburg.com.

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