The COVID-19 pandemic is upending lives and businesses across the world. In response, law firms are quickly adapting their crisis management plans to handle the outbreak, while others are starting from scratch.
No one knows how the pandemic will play out and the long-term implications, but there are some important steps that your law firm can take now to help ensure you and your clients weather the storm.
Have an internal crisis management team
During these fluid and dynamic times, it’s critical that you establish a dedicated task force that meets regularly to evaluate business risk and ensure your firm is best positioned to serve your clients. The task force should continuously assess, monitor, and recommend steps to manage the impacts of COVID-19, including compliance with requirements and guidance of governing authorities.
Update your contingency/business continuity plan
Given the high contagion rate of the coronavirus, be prepared for unexpected interruptions to the practice, such as illness or the absence of key personnel. Review or update your business continuity plan to consider the functions of day-to-day operations – both internal and external, domestic and global – and the parties involved, including lawyers, office personnel, service providers, and clients.
Assess the potential impact if these parties were affected by the pandemic. Create what-if scenarios and have a plan in place to prevent any disruption of legal services to your clients if personnel become ill, are impacted by school closures, or need to care for afflicted family members.
Facilitate remote working
The concept of working from home has become a reality for millions of Americans as non-essential businesses close their physical doors due to the pandemic.
Ensure your law firm has the right technology in place to enable employees to perform their roles and remain engaged while working remotely. Now is also the time to confirm that business-critical information is accessible and up to date. Verify client, staff, and service provider contact information. Are client files easily accessible and current? What about bank account information and system passwords?
Find ways to facilitate effective collaboration between your team and with clients. Create channels for rapid, easy exchange of communication such as chat and instant messaging apps. Provide your attorneys with the tools they need to conduct telephone and video conferences from home.
Reach out to your clients to recommend that they have a similar remote work policy and infrastructure in place to ensure continuation of operations while their employees are at home.
Have an internal and external communication plan
The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented and there has never been a more important time for businesses to stay in touch with their employees and customers.
Keep everyone in the loop about important business changes. Are your lawyers and paralegals keeping different business hours? Are there alternative means of communication or delays to communication that your clients need to be aware of? What about other changes to your firms’ operations?
Communicate this information to your clients and staff promptly and keep them abreast of any future changes via email updates and notices on your website. Proactively getting in front of the situation and being open with employees and clients during this time of uncertainty when relationships are critical is essential.
Businesses, governments, and individuals are reporting a surge in cyberattacks during the current pandemic. Opportunistic cybercriminals are milking the coronavirus scare to play on people’s fears and uncertainty with scams and other malicious cyber activity.
To protect against phishing attacks and scams, urge employees to be extra vigilant with any communication they receive via email, text, or phone. Practice caution when visiting websites with content relating to the COVID-19 virus and don’t enter passwords or login credentials. To protect IT systems and networks, keep devices and software up to date by promptly installing patches and fixes.
Don’t forget your remote workforce. Home networks are more prone to vulnerabilities that bad actors could exploit to attack or breach upstream applications and systems on your corporate network. Review your cybersecurity procedures and educate employees on those policies.
The New York State Bar Association’s Technology and the Legal Profession Committee has issued useful tips to help attorneys and legal teams to work from home securely. Their tips include installing a virtual private network (VPN) and making sure employees know how to use it. Attorneys also need to know how to access office voicemail remotely and are warned against using public Wi-Fi or home Wi-Fi that lacks strong password protections. They also suggest law firms review their cybersecurity insurance policies to ensure they provide the appropriate coverage for incidents like cyber engineering (phishing campaigns and scams).
Stay on top of the fast-changing compliance landscape
Finally, keep an eye on shifting developments at the government level that directly affect your work such as filing documents and turnaround times. Many Secretary of State offices have eliminated expedited services, while others have eliminated or greatly restricted counter service. Keep abreast of Secretary of State availability and other impacts on our COVID-19 resources page.
If your clients are experiencing cash flow issues, they may seek to refinance loans to obtain operating capital. Be aware that government closures may impact UCC filings, so be sure you have the most current information to advise clients.
Having a remote workforce can also introduce new state compliance requirements that must be considered such as state payroll and income tax filing, or the need to register to do business in a new state.
There is no blueprint for crisis management during these dynamic and uncertain times, and law firms must plan and adapt as events unfold. In addition to developing and refining your response plan, use your position as a trusted advisor and encourage your clients to put a plan in place to prepare for the eventuality that their employees are exposed to, or diagnosed with, the coronavirus.
Even as your operations may be greatly impacted by COVID-19, a robust crisis management plan will ensure you can continue to assist your clients as they battle through this pandemic. Don’t wait, act now.