Strategies for Managing Your Remote Law Firm Workforce: Preparing for Disruptions

As we wrote about last week, COVID-19 probably isn’t going away in the next few months. Beyond adjusting your firm’s workflow to a fully or partially remote system, there are other facets of the pandemic which should be considered in your management decisions right now.

In today’s post, we’re bringing attention to a huge potential for disruptions that the current situation carries with it. Your employees or their family members may themselves get sick with the virus. Others will suffer from stress and anxiety related to fulfilling their work responsibilities while caring full-time for young children. Some will feel the effects of depression more severely as their worlds are turned upside-down.  We have already seen law firms with attorneys who have come down with COVID-19 and, weeks later, reported that they still couldn’t focus or pay attention normally.

There is a myriad of reasons for which people on your staff may not be able to continue working as expected, but the implication for management remains the same. Firms should be preparing now for those possibilities.

We recommend three basic strategies for setting your firm up to handle these types of personnel disruptions.

First, increase training to create some overlap between multiple team members in their knowledge and skills. Then, if one has to take time off or reduce hours, you have redundancy built in to smooth the transition of their tasks.

Second, identify people and scenarios where the risk of failure would have far-reaching consequences. This is a standard risk-management exercise and includes scenarios such as the temporary loss of key performers. This is where key person insurance would be beneficial except that insurance companies are largely balking at covering business interruption claims or other claims related to COVID-19. So that makes finding back-up personnel a high priority. Specifically, identify lawyers such as solo practitioners and litigation paralegals who could step in should your essential people become unavailable.

Third, rigorously document systems and standard operating procedures. Too many law firms operate on the assumption that the person who has some knowledge trapped between their ears will always be available to share that information. Whether that’s the password to your online banking account, a list of your twenty most important clients and their contact information, the procedure for an administrative assistant to open up new matters in your billing and document management systems, or the process for getting client checks deposited when the mail is taking eight days to deliver letters that used to arrive in two, put this information in writing. And just as importantly, have at least two people who can access that information in the event something happens.

When COVID-19 started, it may have felt like a series of major, rolling earthquakes. Six months later, we have lost the right to be surprised by the fact that pandemics are disruptive.