By Catherine Iszard, associate business development and marketing coordinator at NERA Economic Consulting
No one planned for COVID-19 or the many tragedies it would bring. Faced with new and immediate challenges, entire countries and industries have been forced to adapt with little to no time to prepare. Within the legal industry, firms transitioned to remote work with little guidance and have developed new approaches to business development, client service, communications and the business of law.
The economy, businesses, individuals – and you – have all been affected by COVID-19 in an unsolicited way. As legal marketers, we have taken on more responsibilities, including balancing full-time work with full-time childcare or homeschooling. Some past marketing strategies are now irrelevant, and new strategies have been formed in record time. As states are starting to re-open, and we may be slowly going back to a different “normal life,” what will this new reality look like for the legal marketing industry? Perhaps there are silver linings in store for business development, law, client services, and communications in a post-coronavirus era.
American Bar Association President Judy Perry Martinez said, “As the pandemic spreads, thousands of Americans will need help – not just with medical issues, but also with legal issues including lost jobs, evictions, insurance claims, family emergencies and obtaining government benefits they need to survive,” (www.americanbar.org, 2020). The fact of the matter is the skillsets of our colleagues will be needed, and it is our job as legal marketers to ensure they are available, at the right time and the right place, to help and be of value during this time and post-COVID-19.
Business development may look different than prior to the pandemic. With conferences and events on pause for the foreseeable future, how do our lawyers network and build their books of business, and become trusted advisors? With increased electronic communication and a shift to more virtual events, digital business development has become a greater marketing priority. The benefits of virtual events and other remote business development strategies include:
- Reduced costs for both event hosts and attendees due to the elimination of travel, meals, hotels, staffing, venue, conference collateral (banners, schedules), etc.
- Event attendance is no longer limited to venue capacity or even time zones as virtual events are much easier to record and upload to the internet.
- Recorded events allow for broader promotion. For example, you can create a social media post about a past webinar by sharing a short video of the live webinar.
- Networking may be less intimidating online than in-person for many people.
Because of the severity and timing, COVID-19 was the reason for court systems to “go virtual.” While there have been hiccups (read Jenna Greene’s Law.com article for a painful and funny commentary), the technology we have today is able to support virtual courts. Not only does virtual court make it easier for the public to watch and listen to proceedings but exhibits written in fine print can now be easily read without a magnifying glass. But the downside to virtual courts is you lose critical features like body language and important cues from jurors and witnesses spurring pivotal moments for cases. While it is highly likely courts will reinstate in-person sessions, COVID-19’s lasting lessons for courts are yet to be seen. Could some cases be handled virtually? Will there be less paperwork?
After the 2008 recession, the legal industry changed. Power shifted from providers to consumers–creating client-centric marketing. New firms emerged, new marketing strategies were developed, and the rise of big data began. These changes happened gradually and may not be correlated directly to the 2008 crisis, however, the financial crisis set in motion a demand for change and new problem-solving strategies.
I believe the same will happen with COVID-19. New services have already emerged. For example, since the passing of the CARES Act, companies have retained counsel to assist in relevant areas of the law, such as labor and employment and securities and finance. Will a new pandemic insurance sector emerge? With more people working online and using video conferencing, will new privacy and cybersecurity laws and regulations emerge to address new challenges?
It’s important to understand your client needs and what services your lawyers can provide. As a marketer the best way to do this is by asking the right questions. Questions such as: What are your clients worried about right now? What differences have your clients noticed and how are they adapting? What are your clients spending the most time doing? As Deborah Farone put it, client services may look like client care after the pandemic (www.law.com, 2020).
How will business be conducted after COVID-19? The traditional office space may change due to COVID-19. Firms that successfully transitioned to remote working may reconfigure traditional office spaces when it is safe to return to them.
Client interactions through traditional meetings, dinners, and lunches are halted because of social distancing, however, firms have created new ways to stay connected and provide personal touches. Instead of meeting clients for lunch, consider delivering a meal to each person prior to a virtual meeting, so everyone can enjoy a meal during the meeting.
Whether you are a solo legal marketer or part of a larger team, working remotely has made communications a key topic of discussion. COVID-19 has shown we can create collateral and resource centers or handle public relations in record time. With more people on social networking sites, take advantage of posting to a larger audience, but be mindful that messages are more critical now than ever before (www.Econsultancy.com, 2020).
COVID-19 has become a topic of conversation to which we all can relate. Hard times often bring people together. Three months ago, you may not have had a reason to talk to a former client or colleague in a different office, however, because everyone is affected by COVID-19 in some way, new opportunities to reach out have emerged.
Internally, COVID-19 can lead to a more communicative team as colleagues make concerted efforts to stay connected. Maybe you have learned more about your colleagues’ pets and family as they have struggled to juggle home childcare and working remotely. Some firms are even conducting firm-wide ask-me-anything meetings to be as transparent as possible during this time. The need for connectedness and humanity is something to keep in mind even when offices reopen.
To that end, LMA members started a LMA Northeast COVID-19 Focus Group on Facebook “to share processes, policies, protocols, updates, and communications with regard to their organization’s COVID-19 response,” (Facebook Group Description). Participating LMA members have reached out personally and publicly to each other to lend a helping hand.
All in all, COVID-19 will force law firms and marketers to update their technology, business development, communications, and legal services, which may present long-term benefits for the legal industry.