The previous post got published just before the start of the summer holiday season. At that point in time across Europe the most stringent limitations on movement and freedom had been lifted. Most of us were feeling fatigued and in need of an opportunity to unwind. Perhaps things would return to normal during summer.
Now September has arrived, we know these hopes are dashed. The virus did not take a brake and flared up in most countries. For the foreseeable future we will have to adjust to a new normal, which differs from the normal that used to be. By now the insight has grown that we cannot infinitely hide from the virus. There cannot be zero risk, unless we all stay at home and avoid all in-person contact with other individuals. That would destroy our mental health and destroy our economy.
We are social creatures.
In order to function and to flourish, humans need to interact. Throughout the centuries hermits have contributed little or nothing to any form of progress. In prisons, solitary confinement is used as a punishment for convicts that misbehave. Ideas and inspiration are born out of interactions. A sense of belonging, relationship, trust and corporate culture can also only be created through human-to-human encounters and interaction. This cannot be replaced by Zoom or Teams.
The other day I had a conversation with the CG of a large multi-national. Even though the legal team has always been spread over different locations and time zones, he told me that everyone working from home over the past 5 months has hampered the performance and effectiveness of Legal. Files and assignment could perfectly be handled while working from home. It was the lack of random encounters and watercooler/coffee machine moments that did the harm. “You know Jaap, we used to get much of our business out of accidental encounters: “now that I see you, could you help me with this or that”. Now we don’t have those anymore and we don’t get involved so much, or only when it is too late”.
Also in law firms people need face-to-face interaction. Young and inexperienced lawyers are increasingly struggling. They need guidance and mentorship to grow and develop. The barriers to ask for advice or discuss a matter are very low in an office environment. One can instantly gauge if someone is behind his/her desk and approachable or engaged. This becomes less spontaneous when remote. In order to thrive we must get back to the office. In order to grow our practice we need in-person meetings with clients and prospects.
Safety first, but not zero risk
In the 1980-ties Aids emerged as an incurable deadly disease that spread like wildfire among gay communities across the world. At first the general public was terrified and did not want to shake hands or be in the same room with and Aids patient. When it became clear that Aids was not limited to homosexuals, for a moment it looked like no-one would ever have sex again. Today, there still is no vaccine to protect from the HIV virus and since the start of the epidemic, an estimated 74.9 million people have become infected with HIV and 32 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses. As recent as 2018, 770,000 people still died of AIDS. Despite these grueling numbers, we have managed to establish a new normal and continue -cautiously- with our (sex)lives.
Now with the Covid-19 we will have to do the same. We have to establish a new normal and find a way to continue with our lives while mitigating most of the risk. By now it has been established that the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads through droplets and aerosols expelled predominantly through the respiratory system (and to some extend through stool) of an infected person. Social distancing is effective and very good ventilation indoors will further reduce the risks. Under the right conditions the risk of bringing people back to the office will be outweighed by damage done by everyone working from home. We at TGO Consulting have by now gathered a lot of best practices and creative solutions on how law firms can safely return to the office. Please do not hesitate to inquire.
A new normal requires a new strategy
As said before. We simply cannot hide inside forever to avoid any potential danger. We have to ask ourselves the question what sort of life that we want to live and what risks we are willing to accept for ourselves and for others in order to do so. With Covid-19 we have to find a new normal and have to accept that this will be different from the normal we were used to before. As we managed to get to grips with HIV, we have to get to grips with Sars-CoV-2 (and its successors)
Even as we find a way for life to continue, things will not be the same. Unprecedented harm has been inflicted on every economy around the world. For some sectors it will be very hard, if not impossible, to adapt and in those sectors many companies will go out of business, while in other areas new opportunities will be created.
For law firms this is the time to adapt and redefine the strategy. The past few months have taught us a number of things about the way we work, our support staff, office space, technology, internal organization and communication, our finances and profit distribution, just to name a few. We need to incorporate what we have learned. The new normal will also change the way in which we interact with clients, prospects and talent recruitment. Webinars have worked remarkably well, but everyone is tired of them now. Law firms will need to invent new ways to engage with clients and students.
For many companies that are the clients of law firms, because of the economic situation, the priorities have changed. This will create pressure on price in certain areas. Law firms need to be aware which areas these will be and how this will spread through their client portfolio in order to effectively mitigate the negative impact on revenue and future profitability. It might also be wise to prepare for a flood of pitches and panel reviews.
These are just some selected highlights of topics that need to be re-addressed by law firms right now. You might want to incorporate most of the new strategy when drafting the budget for 2021.
We at TGO Consulting have all the expertise you need to successfully navigate these challenging times. Please inquire how we could help your firm to make the best of it.