In my last post I provided a few tips to help firms prepare for the pandemic. Well, it’s here now, and while we figure out how to live through it we’re all getting bombarded by Covid 19 email messages ad nauseum. Most of the emails I’ve received have told me absolutely nothing except that the sender realizes we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and is worried about their employees and customers. Well, so are we all. But sending me messages that give me no helpful information and clog my computer is annoying. So here’s a primer on emergency communications and management.
1. Events like this are called emerging or developing stories. Every day could bring with it a major change and a need to communicate. Thus, communication during a developing story is not a one-time event…it’s probably ongoing. But it needs to be done well.
2. Before you decide what to say to whom, put an emergency team together. The team would be responsible for people, finances, communication, and logistics (including IT). They work as a team because often, issues and solutions span several of those areas. Have the team members meet regularly (by conference call or otherwise) to strategize.
3. Establish a quick response approval process for budget or permission to implement on a plan. This might be in the form of a daily meeting by the spokesperson of the team with the Managing Partner. This is not the time to run everything through a partnership. Have your partnership agree that leadership will take on the majority of decision-making during this challenging time.
4. Next, determine who your main communicator will be and stick with that person throughout the event. People will come to trust them, and see them as the voice of authority. And that’s important because when the world is falling down around us, we need to know who we can trust. For this reason, the main communicator is usually the Managing Partner as the sense is that they have that authority given to them by the partnership.
5. Now consider who your critical audiences are and the best way to communicate with each of them.
a. For clients with active and critical files, their lawyer should be speaking with them
personally. A bulk email won’t cut it.
b. For the general public and interested clients, place a bulletin on the front page of
your website with pertinent information on the firm. Are you open? If so, during what hours and what protocols do you have in place for keeping people safe? Update this as often as needed.
c. For lawyers, communicate regularly, even if there’s nothing new to add. Simply say there’s nothing new to add. Communication can be in the form of a group email.
d. For staff, send out periodic informational messages. They should contain updates on access to the firm (physically, electronically), employment conditions, resources available, logistics, etc. They should always include motivation language: thank you’s, encouragements, demonstrations that the firm cares. But they should be realistic and honest as well.
Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Ensure each external message has something of substance to say. Update the website or your employee message as frequently as needed so people can come to rely on those communication vehicles and don’t pester you in between with request for updates.
Meanwhile, emergency teams should be considering how to live with this new normal for 2-4 months if not more. It’s time for quick but considered decisions. It’s time to develop new policies and procedures to serve as guidelines. It’s time to get creative. Survival in the new normal will depend on your ability to be nimble, open-minded, and determined to succeed. It will NOT be business as usual, so don’t make the mistake of trying to operate as you have in the past – at least for now.
Heather Gray-Grant is a business strategist, marketing expert and executive coach for law firms and lawyers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org