Around the globe, COVID-19 is rapidly continuing to spread in some areas. The only effective measures against the virus have been shutdowns and stay-at-home orders.
Personal injury law firms need to prepare for the possibility that another shutdown may soon be required.
Continuing operations during a shutdown
Though many court systems remain closed or operating at limited capacity, law firms cannot close their business until the Covid-19 pandemic is over. Clients rely on the availability of law firms just as they did before the coronavirus changed the world.
There are steps that law firms can take now to mitigate the damage of another shutdown. Firms of all sizes are implementing strategies to:
- Allow employees to work remotely. Working from home for law firm employees means having access to the document management software and the capability for the firm’s phone system to work from another location.Employees also need a way to attend virtual meetings and coordinate on projects.
Many law firms already have a remote work option, so expanding the technology to everyone during a shutdown is not a difficult task. For firms that follow a traditional office environment, software, hardware, and cybersecurity issues should be addressed emergently in the event a shutdown is required. Providing the means for remote access can be an overwhelming process if the infrastructure does not already exist.
- Many firms have instituted a remote work policy to encourage employees to remain at home when they, or someone they care for, is ill. Strategies such as this encourage members of the firm to stay home when they don’t feel well, reducing the spread of infectious disease through the firm.
- Now is the best time for a technology check-up to make sure that you have all the necessary tools available, and ready to use,if it becomes necessary for the entire firm to work remotely.
- Research the best video conferencing technology, and institute a firm-wide policy over conducting video conferences with clients. Most firms have been doing this since the beginning of the outbreak to comply with stay-at-home orders, and to protect vulnerable clients.
- Establish a strict protocol to ensure client confidentiality while working remotely, and prepare a statement to your clients outlining the steps your firm is taking to protect their privacy during this time.
- Limit or completely restrict international business travel. The pandemic response is changing rapidly, and you do not want to risk partners or associates being stranded in another country because of the pandemic. Some countries are now restricting travel from the U.S., so the safest move is to halt all international travel.
- Identify staff that will not be able to work remotely, and decide how your firm wants to handle their layoff in the event of a shutdown. Will you furlough them to assure their jobs are waiting when normal business operations resume? Can the firm continue to pay valuable team members, even if they are unable to work? Dedicate a resource member to help at-risk staff understand and access their available options.
- Track legislative changes in various areas of law due to the pandemic. Numerous areas of law are seeing changes pass at breakneck speed thanks to the unforeseen impact of COVID-19. Attorneys should keep track of the changes in their practice niche.
Client services during a shutdown
Law firms around the country are finding new and creative ways to continue to serve clients amidst the chaos surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. The recent upward trend in technology in the legal field has made it easier for firms to keep functioning during a shutdown.
Firms should have a contingency plan in place in the event of a shutdown, and send a mass email to clients outlining the steps the firm has taken to ensure a continuity of service. Individual clients should receive a follow-up email outlining what is happening with their particular case.
If court systems completely shut down, clients with civil and criminal cases that will be impacted should receive detailed information about dates that are changed. State and Federal courts are postponing hearing arguments, and trials, in response to the pandemic. Law firms have an obligation to keep clients informed about court postponements, and should update clients regularly about any progress in the case.
Essential documents can still be notarized in some states, thanks to remote notarization methods. Remote notarization uses audiovisual technology instead of in-person attendance. Attorneys should stay abreast of all services in the legal sector that are providing remote options.
The most important preparations a firm can make for a potential shutdown is assuring its clients that the firm will continue to provide the same quality of service and attention to their legal issues. Clients have a right to be kept abreast of progress and deserve to know the truth about any impact a shutdown might have on their case.