During these times of adversity and uncertainty, solo attorneys and managing partners must adapt their leadership skills to address the challenges posed by office closures, working remotely, and managing staff and attorneys who may be suffering emotionally and financially. Those of you in positions of leadership can steer your law firms successfully through this crisis even though you are communicating virtually.
Set a calm tone within your firm.
Staying composed, moderating your own anxiety, and focusing on new and creative ways to stay productive will create a sense of stability at your firm and encourage your employees to carry on with as much normalcy as possible despite their difficulties. Assure them that work can get done and hours billed despite the change in work conditions.
Employees look to their managers for cues on how to respond to crises. Daniel Goleman, an expert on emotional intelligence, calls this the “trickle-down” effect. Good leaders acknowledge the serious effects of the pandemic but exude an inner calm that quells anxiety.
You have no control over the disaster but you can meticulously manage your crisis response.
Create a strategic plan including infrastructure changes, cyber-protection, and accessibility from a variety of platforms and locations for intra-firm and client communications. Highlight the firm’s preparedness. Then take decisive action.
Acknowledge uncertainty without pessimism.
In times of crisis, lawyers want their leaders to be honest and transparent about the economic and logistical challenges the firm is facing without sugarcoating or hiding the realities of how the firm is being impacted. Display realistic optimism to your people despite the severity of the situation. Show them a path forward and outline the steps you will take to keep the firm afloat.
Communicate clearly and often.
Be a trusted source of information about the status of the virus outbreak and changes in firm policies and procedures. Take the time to connect personally with attorneys and staff through Skype, Zoom, or other video meetings and activate regular, clear reporting channels for the dissemination of updated information. Make sure everyone feels informed—not just those at higher levels.
Inspire your people.
If you show confidence and competency as a leader, your employees will trust your decision-making and be comforted by your steady hand. Give your people a sense of heightened purpose. Remind them how important their services are to the firm and to your clients. When they realize their value to others, they will be motivated to carry on and get work done despite the difficulties they are facing.
Voice your confidence that by working collaboratively you will overcome the current challenges. Be creative about team-building activities that raise morale and when appropriate, use a little humor to lighten their spirits.
Lead with empathy.
Effective crisis management focuses on people as well as reasoning and data. Let your attorneys and staff members know that you recognize the emotional and psychological toll the crisis is having on them and their families. Allow them to vent but move swiftly to solution-talk. Ask open-ended questions to discover their problems and get their feedback. Most importantly, listen compassionately.
Take one day at a time.
As Judson Brewer wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “Do what needs to get done today, and then take care of tomorrow, when it comes: tomorrow…the closer to now you stay, the more clearly you will be able to think.” This is advice worth passing on to those you lead!
Martha M. Newman is a former oil and gas litigator and owner of Top Lawyer Coach. She specializes in lawyer coaching and consulting in the areas of law firm management, business development, leadership, time management, presentation skills, career advancement, and job interviewing. Newman has been awarded the Professional Certified Coach, or PCC, credential by the International Coach Federation in recognition of her coaching excellence. For more information, go to toplawyercoach.com.