One Year After the World Shut Down, Where Are We Now?
By Gina Rubel
Who could have predicted that Dec. 31, 2019 would be the start of such a long and unpredictable journey? Who could have predicted that the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission, China, would report a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, Hubei Province, which would lead to a global pandemic?
Less than two weeks later, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued technical guidance online to all countries on how to detect, test and manage potential cases. Just a day later, China shared the genetic sequence of COVID-19. The following day, there was a confirmed case in Thailand. By Jan. 20, 2020, the WHO issued a situation report noting 7,818 confirmed cases worldwide, with the majority in China and 82 cases reported in 18 other countries.
On Mar. 11, 2020, the virus had spread globally and the WHO defined COVID-19 as a pandemic. That was one year ago today.
Closing Offices in a Pandemic
As all of this was happening, our clients in Washington State, Oregon and California were dealing with news of outbreaks. As early as January, scientists traced Coronavirus from China to Seattle and the first death in the U.S. was reported on Feb. 29, 2020. We had advised clients along the Pacific Coast to close their offices immediately. We began to advise our clients in other states across the U.S. to plan for closures by mid-March.
A question on everyone’s mind was, “How do we communicate office and business closures?” Here are some of the relevant resources then which may become important again if there is a continued need for office closures.
We also participated in a webinar about leading through crisis and strategies for communications, management and cultivating resilience.
Another resource is tips to lead through conflict and crisis. The take-aways from this program are as relevant today as they were in 2020.
Learning New Lingo, Coveted Products and New Ways to Work
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives dramatically. It has changed everything from the way we work and live to our everyday language. Who would have guessed that we’d spend so much time talking about toilet paper, paper towels, and the lack of both? I can’t help but wonder how many now stockpile paper goods, hand sanitizer, PPEs, disinfectants and bleach?
New words and phrases have been coined and existing words that once were used only in certain industries and niches are now part of our daily mainstream conversations. During the first few months of the pandemic, our public relations strategists and crisis communications experts addressed:
Managing Crisis and Other Issues
Since January 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic, civil unrest, natural disasters, and the 2020 presidential election forced business leaders to pivot into often-unknown territory: accepting vulnerability and embracing resilience to manage their teams successfully. Leading through conflict and crisis presents unique challenges, particularly when one must communicate uncertainty while maintaining their own wellbeing.
If your company hasn’t already drafted a crisis response plan, now is the time. There are six elements in a crisis management plan. They include:
- Identify your crisis response team.
- Develop scenarios and incident management checklists.
- Develop/update relevant policies.
- Implement monitoring tools for all media and social media sites.
- Train all members of the crisis response team.
- Conduct mock crisis drills, also known as table-top exercises.
At all stages of a crisis, it is essential to remember that communicating with key internal and/or external audiences is critical.
In addition, here are eight things you can do to lead through conflict and crisis effectively.
- Know the facts.
- Don’t add to the vitriol.
- Mind your mouth.
- Give people a platform.
- Admit uncertainty.
- Set clear boundaries.
- Lead by example
- Have compassion.
Now is a great time to look back and conduct a post-mortem review of how your company handled the crisis. Ask:
- How well did we operate during the first 12 months of the pandemic?
- What practices/services experienced increased work, which suffered losses, what was added and what are the opportunities moving forward?
- What types of questions did clients ask, how did we respond and what are the outcomes?
- How has remote work impacted our workforce? Where are we going from here?
- How did we continue to collaborate? How well did that work?
- How did we help clients anticipate what was ahead? What should we be anticipating now?
- How well did we communicate internally and externally and what have we learned from it?
- How has our firm culture changed because of the pandemic?
- What did you communicate about and what did you stay quiet about?
- What did we do well? What could we have done differently? What have we learned as a result?
Returning to the Workplace
Sometime in the fall of 2020, many businesses looked to bring their staff back to the office. Others made public statements that their companies would remain virtual for the remainder of 2020 and others announced that they would permanently be a work from home company. Some of those companies include global leaders like Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and Slack.
Where are law firms now and where do you think they’re going?
When I asked legal industry experts their thoughts on where we are now and where they think we’re going, here’s what they had to say:
Timothy Corcoran, Principal, Corcoran Consulting Group, LLC
“The pandemic has accelerated the already fast pace of change taking place in the global legal marketplace. More precisely, the pandemic has opened the eyes of law firm partners everywhere that their approach to delivering legal services and operating a law firm is really just a series of choices rather than immutable laws of nature. The rallying cries of ‘It can’t be done that way!’ or ‘We’ve never done it another way’ are giving way to honest and frank discussions between law firm leaders, their partners, and their clients. They may not yet know how to fully adapt to a changing market, but they know with certainty that they’re pretty adaptable and resilient.”
Moses Ehlers, Marketing Manger, Fish & Richardson P.C.
“The possibilities for increased collaboration are endless. Working from home has forced us to find new ways to interact with our team members and has also allowed us to learn more about our at-home personalities. We have an opportunity as leaders to continue to embrace our team members’ work/life balance, meaning there is more to life than work, and the last year proved this. While our jobs keep the lights on, we must acknowledge that law firm professionals will continue to evolve. Our commitment to our team members’ career development and personal well-being should remain at the forefront.”
Deborah Farone, Principal, Farone Advisors LLC
“We are at an inflection point. As more people get vaccinated, law firm leaders are looking at what a return to normal looks like. Does it mean giving up some of their leased space and allowing some of their lawyers and support staff to work from home on a more permanent basis? We are now trying to see which of those experiments that we were forced to conduct should be retained in some form as we face the future.”
Tracy LaLonde, Managing Partner, Xaphes
“COVID has provided opportunities for lawyers to become true business partners to their clients by helping them weather, survive and thrive during these chaotic and uncertain times. Additionally, webmeeting technology has enabled lawyers to ‘see’ and be closer to their clients like never before. My hope is that we continue to deepen and innovate relationship building in the next normal.”
Shanon Lazarus, Esq., Director of Marketing and Business Development, Bressler, Amery & Ross, P.C.
“After nearly a year in a work-from-home environment, some changes brought about by the pandemic may positively affect law practice. There has been a deep-felt shift in mindset and a recognition that working from home is, in fact, actually working. In a profession that previously set a premium on extended hours at your desk, traditional face time, and overall rigidity, the new wave of adaptability concerning where and when legal work is performed is now the most motivating perk for a lawyer. This flexibility is especially true for young professionals, female attorneys, and women in the workplace overall. Because law firm leaders have witnessed first-hand the competing priorities that their employees juggle daily- work, childcare, senior care, overall family life- there is more appreciation for these personal riches and challenges. The industry has profoundly changed, and a hybrid workplace is, hopefully, the new normal.”
Kelly MacKinnon, Director of Business Development, Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP and President, Legal Marketing Association (LMA)
“This past year has shown us that the legal market can adapt to unforeseen circumstances. We have proven that we can be successful in meeting our clients’ needs when pushed to be creative and into a new unknown. As we come to a full year of remote work as a result of the pandemic, I think law firms have a great opportunity to re-assess the old way of doing things and adapt for the longer term. The ability to embrace change and remain nimble will be essential to thrive in this increasingly competitive market. I’m excited for what’s to come.”
Heather Morse, Chief Business Development Officer, McGlinchey
“We are simply not the same firm that we were when the pandemic began. We are stronger, more agile, and have even more resources to serve our clients. It’s crazy that we’ve been working from home for almost a year. From the beginning, we invoked a ‘silver-linings playbook’ mentality as we reimagined our processes. We were able to dig deeper and began to reimagine how we work. In fact, we rebranded, launched a new website, launched a podcast, and instituted a #McGlincheyForward program that looks at how we can grow and innovate to meet our clients where they are and where they will be. This is the future of legal services.”
Successes & Lessons Learned from Legal Marketers
In addition, the Philadelphia Local Group of LMA presented COVID-19-1 Year Later: Successes & Lessons Learned for Professionals at Every Level. Moderated by Alexis Madden, Director of Marketing and Business Development of Conrad O’Brien, here are some of the presenter takeaways:
Dineo Thompson, Esq., Chief Marketing Officer, Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP
“During the last year, I had to go on the offensive to defend the marketing budget. I requested a special budgeting meeting with leadership and identified key stakeholders and rainmakers in the firm who support and fully understand marketing. I engaged them in the marketing budget process and quantified the return on the marketing activities, focusing on KPIs, to prove value. This proved successful. Moving forward, we should celebrate our successes and capitalize on the new normal. Take the lessons learned and apply them as we move forward.”
Iris J. Jones, JD, Chief Business Development & Marketing Officer, McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC
“While we are serving and supporting the attorneys and other professionals in our firms, we also have to support our departments. We must ensure that our teams feel valued and know that they provide value. We identify what is important to the lawyers, use dashboards and accountability reports which show that the team is contributing and know their role. Make sure everyone on the marketing team understands how their role fits into the team strategy. Answer how marketing benefits each lawyer and their clients. In addition, support, teach and coach lawyers. Use video to equip them with the tools to communicate with clients. Most importantly, self-care is paramount so take care of you so you can take care of others and seek joy every day.”
Valerie F. Lyons, Chief Marketing Officer, Weber Gallagher
Valerie shared that she onboarded at Weber Gallagher in March 2020, just as Philadelphia went on lockdown. “It was a forced integration.” She had to get a lay of the land, do her research, understand the firm culture, and do that all from home. That meant “taking time to participate in virtual meetings with as many people as possible. It also meant being more personally transparent and allowing for time and space to have casual conversations with members of the marketing team. It’s important to understand what is going on in the lives of teammates to serve them better. Be yourself, embrace the awkward, show your personality, thank your team and give them credit for a job well done. And be sure to follow your own advice when it comes to networking.”
Maria S. Ockenhouse, Director of Marketing, Fox Rothschild LLP
“Be open-minded and try new things. This was an important lesson as we were cancelling in-person events and organizing virtual events for which we had to master the technologies. This also meant training the lawyers and other outside presenters on how to effectively use the webinar and virtual event technologies. The biggest win in all of this is that webinars were a tool to educate much larger audiences. Our reach in a normal year is 5,000 to 8,000. With virtual events, this year we reached more than 35,000 participants. We also found that practice groups typically quiet on events in the past were engaged in educational webinars and provided relevant, timely and valuable content. It also allowed us to reach more people internationally. Moving forward, we will need to evaluate which programs will remain virtual, which will be in-person, and which can support a hybrid approach. Perhaps in a year, we’ll be talking about the dos and don’ts of hybrid events. And always be sure to have a backup platform when hosting virtual events.”
Annie E. Rumm, Marketing & Business Development Coordinator, Morris James LLP
“Virtual events need to be approached differently than in-person events. As an example, one of the firm’s big events was a virtual pizza party where everyone gathered in the same room with the chef. During the second half of the event, there were various break-out rooms for more individual networking. This approach was appreciated by the attendees and resulted in higher engagement. As far as lessons learned, if you are shipping out items for a virtual event, be sure to add extra time for deliveries and late responses. Also, consider how you are going to provide training for younger attorneys, some of whom have not had the opportunity to network in person as lawyers. Their experience is much different from other more seasoned attorneys.”
Kara Darrah, Business Development Manager, Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP
“We hosted virtual round tables and small group meetings. They have proven to provide value to clients and to connect them with others in addition to our attorneys. As with anything, there were early adopters and others who needed to be educated about the strategic value. It means that legal marketers need to act as strategic advisors, teach lawyers how to capitalize on these opportunities and how to fine-tune the efforts moving forward. When it comes to teaching an old dog new tricks, step into an advisor role and be persistent.”
Coronavirus Statistics as of March 10, 2021
According to Google’s Coronavirus data, to date (March 10, 2021), there have been:
- More than 525 thousand deaths in U.S.
- Nearly 30 million reported cases in the U.S.
- More than 2.6 million deaths worldwide
- More than 117 million reported cases worldwide
- More than 70 million people have been fully vaccinated, less than 1% of the population
Random Thoughts About How Life Has Changed
In addition to this information, I find myself wondering about so many random things. For instance: How long will it take for women to gain equal footing since we’ve had such a setback? According to Fortune, “It took less than a year to erase more than three decades of progress for America’s working women. More than 2.3 million women have left the U.S. labor force since February 2020, sending us back to participation levels last seen in 1988.”
Other random questions include:
- Will toll booths ever have live toll-takers again?
- Will telemedicine become a more regular option for consultations?
- How will juries convene?
- Will we continue to wear masks in the long run?
- How will the lack of in-person education affect today’s students?
- Did 2020 really happen?
- Will teachers, school bus drivers, restaurant workers, supermarket workers and others get the respect they deserve moving forward?
There simply are so many unanswered questions – only time will tell.
What questions are on your mind and where do you believe we are going from here? We’d love to hear from you. Share your responses on Twitter and tag @FuriaRubel.