When we think of a crisis, what usually comes to our mind is an unexpected, negative event, with a limited duration.
The classic approach to managing a crisis is focused on:
- Crisis assessment;
- Clear roles and responsibilities;
- Fast response;
- Transparency towards all stakeholders;
- Message clarity;
- Clarifications and/or taking corrective measures;
- Continuous monitoring;
- Lessons learned.
In most cases, unless you have a “this can’t happen to me” approach, and have a crisis prevention plan in place, things shouldn’t be rocket science and you may very well keep your firm’s stellar reputation and client portfolio intact.
But how about the current crisis, with an unanticipated magnitude and implications that are here to stay longer than we were expecting?
When I think of the unpredictability that most firms face in the context of the pandemic, I remember the theory of the complex adaptive systems (CAS), which states that leaders can be more effective if they can embrace uncertainty and even become comfortable with a certain degree of chaos and uncertainty.
You might wonder: How can this model be applied to the current context what’s the connection with a clear strategy and continuity plan?
Well, these days might be just the perfect “storm” to effectively ride the waves of the uncertain, by cultivating clear directions in the fundamental strategic areas. From this perspective, I have identified eight long-term crisis response elements that might help your firm, not only navigate the grey waters of post-pandemic times but possibly emerge stronger than before.
1. Adapt or even question your way of doing business.
Whether in a growth or mature stage in the firm’s lifecycle, a thorough analysis or reanalysis of your team’s adaptive mechanisms, leadership style, and firm’s politics in key areas – business development and client relations, human resources policies, financial and fee structure, operations, and internal processes – will make the difference between merely surviving the crisis and becoming future market leaders.
2. Deal with uncertainty realistically.
It is essential that you contextualize all the firm’s operations, establish clear strategic directions for the next five years, and a coherent continuity plan that should focus on the opportunities, vulnerabilities, available resources – human, financial, time – and prevention plans for future similar contexts.
3. Keep the right mindset.
From my experience, lawyers’ constant curiosity, adaptability in complex situations, and ability to deliver outstanding results when working under pressure should be some good indicators that these capabilities may well be transposed in a context of prolonged crisis dominated by uncertainty and guide their peers towards capitalizing existing opportunities.
4. Never underestimate the impact of efficiency.
It is a time for re-evaluation. You should focus on finding the right positioning in the market and finding the group or individual mechanisms to manage workflow and prioritization. You should establish the key strategic paths, from digitalization processes/CRMs to facilitate the operational areas, to cost-cutting through externalization of certain non-essential activities, to a (re-)evaluation of the firm’s human resources structures, etc.
5. Make empathy your new credo.
We know for a fact that empathic relations are the key to a successful business. Although apparently simple, when it comes to applying empathy in practice, it might seem a bit more challenging. But it is a key competence which, if properly cultivated, has always proven to be a factor for success – it will not only help you become a rainmaker in a business where emotional connection is essential but also nurture open and trustworthy approaches with clients and peers alike.
6. Work on team cohesion through internal communication.
Aligned, consistent messages to clients across all the firm’s levels reflect not only a strong organizational culture and shared principles, but also a highly motivated team of lawyers. Beyond know-how, the main difference between a good and a fantastic firm often lies in the authentic team spirit based on cohesion and empathy between its lawyers, which will indirectly transmit the confidence clients need from their consultants during these times.
7. Adapt your tone of voice in communication.
I’ve seen many excellent law firms “speak” too much in a technical language and lacking the ability to position themselves, as a group, in the elite category of those who use a normal, cliché-free language that sends the message “we’re here for you the way you need us to be.” This is no longer the “new normal,” we are actually living times that might have changed indefinitely – albeit for good – the way we think and live, the things we prioritize, and the way we do business. Relevant and empathetic messages adapted to the context are the norm now, with transparency, consistency, and clarity no longer being optional – neither when speaking to clients, nor when addressing to media. Along with community involvement, these are strong differentiators that support an effective positioning strategy that can differentiate both legal and individual brands.
8. Embrace digitalization
This is a must for every firm to consider in its continuity plans on the medium- and long-term. The communication space has become rather overcrowded with similar messages of “how to.” Consequently, smart, direct, and clear delivery of such messages, along with keeping them relevant and context-/audience-adapted, might be the key to making your voice heard during these times and in the long-run.
These eight response strategies have probably been at the top of law firms’ priorities during the pandemic and in their recovery/continuity plans. Many of them are being implemented one step at a time. It is critical to remain open to uncertainty by constantly exploring and rethinking concepts and ideas about the opportunities this uncertainty might bring. Such an openness might make all the difference and even (re)shape the legal markets across the continent.
By Irina Melecciu-Vitelaru, Strategist & Growth Marketer, IMV Consulting
Irina is an empathic business development and corporate communications entrepreneur, with 15 years of experience in professional services/business law, the hospitality industry, and the technology sector. One of the most appreciated consultants on the Romanian legal market, she regularly advises local and regional law firms, start-ups, and professional services providers on aspects such as brand strategy, digital and traditional public relations, client relationship management, legal marketing. Irina is a curious explorer who likes to work on turning vulnerabilities into strengths, to emphasize what is unique about each client, while keeping things straightforward and meaningful. With an MBA from the University of Sheffield, Irina also specializes in crisis management. She is NNDKP’s former head of marketing, where she designed and implemented, for over ten years, cutting-edge communication and BD campaigns.