Managing a family law firm during Covid-19. Part two: Beyond Covid

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In my first blog of this series I explored some of the decision areas and points of difference for Family Law Partners that have enabled us to ‘pivot’ successfully as a team to ensure the ongoing support of our clients and our people. Read the earlier piece here.

In this part I dare to look forward, to a time ‘post pandemic’ (if such a time can be pinpointed), which may be weeks or months, but:

Get ready for the rush

I recently read about family lawyers commenting on how they are going to get really busy in the coming months. For family lawyers, the likely significant debt people will experience means relational tension and fracture lines. We must never forget that the consequence of a new instruction is often the end of a relationship and all the pain and hurt that brings. It’s even more important for those clients to have the emotional support they need.

I have heard lawyers in the past commenting about how their experience allows them to deal with these things. We are paid to deal with legal issues. I feel strongly that we should signpost clients to a counsellor or similar support as early as possible to help them manage the emotional fallout. Unless we have a dual qualification, we simply don’t have the training however experienced you may be to offer the client what they may really need to navigate the process they are in.

Technology

Isn’t the real question not whether or not we should use technology, but how can we effectively use technology to improve what we do and to add value for the client. Through our lawtech start-up Family Law Lab, we are hearing more and more from lawyers that Covid-19 has meant they have had to – in some case with a degree of reluctance – start exploring and using the tools out there. We will have all seen that to a degree as we have all become regular Zoom/Teams users ourselves. We can do it. But it requires a degree of insight and a willingness to change (often stepping out of clearly defined comfort zones).

For a start, we really don’t need to input data for clients. We need to find efficient ways of capturing data for clients. That’s what our spin off Family Law Lab has created. We need to take out the heavy lifting so that we do what we are trained to do rather than spending hours capturing information and recording the information in a note, reflecting that information back to the client and then charging them for the ‘privilege’. Let’s use our skills to add the high-level strategic advice and guidance and strip out all that lower level work that we can use technology for. In doing so we can free up time for other things, both work-wise and personal.

My colleague, Alan Larkin, was released from his ‘day job’ of being an experienced specialist family law solicitor (with years of litigation and DR experience) a few years ago to build technology, to look at ways in which we could use data efficiently, to look at ways in which we could trap our referral networks in a more efficient and user-friendly way. We liberated his time. I can remember a high-profile lawyer who visited us marvelling at how we had invested in technology (unlike at their own City firm). It’s not just Alan, but also us having embedded a data science engineer, Sam Paul, within the team to help Alan and to help us – as family lawyers – do a better job for clients. We need to improve and we will only improve if we embrace technology that helps us work more efficiently, more effectively and more in the clients’ interests. Clients first, always. That’s what we live by. It’s one of values which appears on everyone’s home screen.

The right people on the right seats on the bus!

Making tough decisions about who we work with is never easy. The culture of the firm is all about the people and if one person is in the wrong seat or heaven forbid, on the wrong bus, you owe it to yourself, your co-owners and your team to take the decision to bring the relationship to an end. We are not all going to be drivers or the conductors. Some want a front seat, others are happy sitting anonymously in the middle, others might be the noisy group in the back seats, but everyone has their place. People can move, but the move has to be right. It has to fit in with the culture of the firm. It has to be for the greater good. If not, they need to start their own journey. It can be seen as brutal but as we may all have experienced, one tiny red sock in your white laundry, will have an impact.

Listen to the team

Our vision and values were created after we asked the team to run a strategy day. It was an enlightening day with fantastic contributions from everybody (and I mean everybody: they all felt they had an equally respected voice), but what we were able to do (or rather they were) at the end of the process was to distil what made us tick, what our vision was all about and why we are who we are. It was not the ‘partners’ delivering the strategy to a team yawning and confused by the new direction of travel. Get the buy in from the team. Give them a say. Give them permission to challenge you. If you think you know better then make sure you leave some time in the day to polish your ego! Whatever position you have in the firm learn from those around you. Learn from the direct experiences that they have. Let them teach you what works best. They tend to know because they’re the ones who are doing it day in day out. By all means make the final decision but consult, engage and embrace all the grey matter that they have.

Working 9-to-5!

I think that is going to be a thing of the past. It should be. We should be working more towards output, rather than input. We need to be more prepared as employers to adapt the way we think about work to retain our teams. Why can’t we be kinder and recognise we may all function better at different times?

How many times have firms rejected requests for flexible working hours because it does not ‘meet the business needs’. Really? Provided the team member is delivering what they need to deliver, why does it matter what hours they are working. And why would any of us as responsible employers want members of our team to be crammed on a commuter train, tube or bus to get into work (or run the gauntlet of crazy rush-hour traffic on a bicycle). Let’s think about how we can make sure the clients get the cover they need, when they need it and in a way that fits in with everyone’s lives. Let’s be imaginative.

Opportunities

I started this piece by acknowledging the possibility of an upturn in family work. Regardless of what happens in terms of workloads, the lessons we have learnt (and are still learning!) at Family Law Partners lead me to a number of opportunities to adapt what we do and how we do it.

What do these look like?

  • Looking at the hours people work, and where they work from;
  • Embracing technology to increase efficiencies for you as lawyers and/or for your clients. This might be through investing in new technology to help with a case, or recognising that your teams need to have the equipment to be able to work from wherever they work most efficiently (and by equipment I mean the same as, not inferior, to the ‘partners’);
  • Thinking about your culture, vision and values and get the team to help shape and define these;
  • Reviewing your decision-making processes to increase efficiency;
  • Entering an award to benchmark your performance and boost morale in the team (we won the Law Society Medium Law Firm of the Year last autumn);
  • Improving communication in your teams (applications like Slack with add-ons like Office Vibe are great for internal comms and getting honest feedback);
  • Thinking about growth through providing a safe, supportive and engaging environment through refining how you operate for those who presently work in firms who simply can’t provide these things or don’t want to provide them;
  • Ensuring your team get emotional support and the supervision they need (and make sure your clients get it too);
  • Identifying, engaging and starting to trust third-party advisers rather than thinking that everything has to be done in-house. It’s refreshing, enlightening and great for the bottom line;
  • Killing ’em (i.e. your internal customers: your team!) with kindness and behave to others how you would expect and hope they would behave towards you. Having your team’s back and see how that is then rewarded;
  • Encouraging and developing a climate of open communication and transparency when the team are given permission to share ideas and challenge you with constructive comments. And listen to what they have to say;
  • Trust your team to come up with great ideas and thank them when they do;
  • Taking time to think and plan.

Finally, let’s all covenant with ourselves and our colleagues to use our experiences to breathe fresh life into our firms.

If you would like to talk to me in confidence about your personal experience at this time I’d be very happy to hear from you and arrange a time to speak or Zoom: robert@familylawpartners.co.uk

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