(March 26, 2020, 1:21 PM EDT) -- COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on the legal profession in the past few weeks. Courts in many jurisdictions have shut down. Many lawyers and support staff are working from home. Clients are confused. And there is no end in sight. Coping strategies are the key to getting through this difficult time.
Social distancing is the new norm for the foreseeable future. That’s a tough scenario. Especially for sole practitioners, who need to network to generate new business and meet with clients to maintain business relationships. Litigators are in an even more challenging situation as courts across the country have either shut down or have limited access.
Needless to say, it is quite easy to go into panic mode, especially for younger lawyers just starting out. Please don’t. The key to getting through this is to not let fear and anxiety become a pandemic as well. Both can lead to isolation and prevent us from acting with clarity. The last thing a client needs right now is to sense that their lawyer is falling apart. So “keep calm and carry on.”
Establish clear communications
While it’s not business as usual, clients still need reassurance that you are available to them and have a plan in place. Start by sending out an e-mail to your clients explaining how you will be working on their matters — likely remotely — and explain the communication protocols you will have in place. For example, you may choose to have meetings via Skype or Zoom videoconferencing. Let clients know the turnaround time for return phone calls and document review.
As well, help clients with the technology. Don’t assume they are familiar with how to set up a Skype meeting or what Dropbox is. Have instruction setup links ready to send out so they understand what to do with the technology at their end.
Develop work at home skills
Not everyone is used to working from home. While some lawyers have home offices, many don’t and pride themselves on keeping work and home separate. Times have changed drastically. If you are not accustomed to working from home, it will likely be difficult at first, especially if you now have young children staying at home during extended school closures.
Establish a location in your home that will be as distraction free as possible. Needless to say, the coffee table near your big screen TV is not a good idea. If necessary, purchase noise-cancelling headphones while you are working to eliminate background noise.
Try to set a schedule for yourself and follow it, if you don’t already have a day of work and meetings planned. Structure can help keep you on task in this different working space, especially if it’s where you usually relax and enjoy time with your family. Also, communicate your new work schedule to those around you so that expectations are clear and everyone works together co-operatively.
Most importantly, remember your client development skills. It’s a difficult time. Try to connect with your clients through telephone conversations, not just e-mail. If possible, encourage quick video chats. Interaction through video technology will reassure your clients that you are well and have set up remotely to deal with their matters effectively.
Also take the time to check in with your clients to see how they are coping. Listen genuinely to what they are saying. Again, nurturing strong connections will only improve your client relationships and demonstrate that you are able to look after them during adverse times.
Self-careSocial distancing is not as easy as it sounds. While you might be fine for a few days, it can become
extremely difficult as the situation drags on. Let’s face it, many lawyers are extroverts — we are extremely social creatures. The professional isolation may start to take its toll. It will become increasingly important to maintain regular contact with colleagues and those with whom you regularly network.
Do not hide behind text messages or e-mails. Many of my clients are already taking the lead by establishing virtual networking circles who have agreed to meet weekly to exchange tips and referrals. Such novel approaches will greatly help reduce the stress of isolation.
The opposite of connecting also matters. Try to disconnect from your digital world, whether it’s social media or your favourite news source, especially if you notice yourself getting stressed out. The recent news has not been particularly positive and in this digital world it is non-stop.
Take a break from it and give yourself permission to focus on yourself — catch up on the books you haven’t had time to read for example or prepare that recipe that you’ve always wanted to try out. Now, more than ever, creating balance in your personal and professional life will be important to help you cope in the upcoming months.
Michael Bury, executive coach at Blue Pond Coaching in Toronto, provides coaching services for lawyers and paralegal professionals.
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This article was originally published by The Lawyer’s Daily (www.thelawyersdaily.ca), part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.
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