We’re eager to return to practicing family law from our offices – and the strategies we’ve implemented during this COVID-19 crisis have prepared us to hit the ground running.
By Alison M. Carr, Family Lawyer
There is no doubt that COVID-19 has turned the business world upside down. While our physical office location is closed, advance preparation means that our firm remained fully operational and has adapted to the closures of the court systems.
Preparation: the Key to Practicing Family Law During COVID-19
Prior to the pandemic, our firm was already in the process of transitioning to a cloud-based server which would allow all team members remote access. When the news of statewide closures broke, we moved the installation up a week in order to accommodate a work from home environment for our team. The installation process was quick, and our tech team immediately set up all team members with access to the server, allowing us to continue working with minimal downtime.
Additionally, we already had several team members accustomed to working remotely prior to the virus outbreak. These attorneys and other team members working with these attorneys were already well versed in remote business operation, which further made the transition to our current working environment a smooth one.
Our Preparation Let Us Quickly Establish a Successful Work-from-Home Environment
All of our team members are currently working from home. We all have simple and easy access to firm case files via our cloud-based server. Our team communicates regularly via email, telephone calls, and Zoom video conferences. As an associate attorney, the team leader and I have a regular weekly Zoom meeting to review and discuss our caseload, which ensures we are staying on top of any issues that may arise and are moving cases forward to the best of our abilities. Our team continues to exchange documents that require review or signature with clients and other attorneys via email.
Although the courts are closed to the public, we can still submit filings via the court’s electronic filing system. Many of these procedures, including telephone conferences, document exchange via email, and online filing with the court, were already used in our firm’s daily operation prior to Covid-19, which led to a seamless transition in continuing those practices from home. While our team has done an excellent job at adapting to a work from home environment, there are many added distractions at home that make staying focused on work a difficult task. Therefore, we do not see this as an ideal long-term business strategy.
Communication with Current and Potential Clients Continues
Communication is key in the legal industry and is a crucial part of our day to day business. Our team continues to communicate with current clients and potential clients, albeit in a slightly altered manner. We contact current clients regularly via email and phone calls, as we did prior to COVID-19, but we have also incorporated Zoom conferences into our practice in lieu of in-person meetings. While in-person meetings are preferred, Zoom conferences allow us to still see clients face to face and review any necessary documents together. Having a face to face interaction with a client is important in this industry and promotes a good connection and working relationship with that individual.
While our communication with current clients has been relatively the same, our consultations with new clients have changed. Typically, initial consultations are held in person in our office conference room. Since in-person consults are not currently possible, we are conducting initial consultations via telephone or Zoom. While this is less than ideal, we can still gather all information from the potential client and can view any relevant documents via email in advance of a telephone call, or through screen sharing via Zoom.
We recognize that one of the most important aspects of communication with current and potential clients is the availability of our team members. Given the changes in daily life that our business and the public are currently experiencing, our team members are not only available during our standard hours but are also implementing flexible hours so as to allow current and potential clients to contact us when their schedule permits.
We Have Seen a Temporary Reduction in Business, but Our Outlook Remains Positive
Since COVID-19 and the nearly complete shutdown of the court systems, we have seen about a 50% reduction in our workload. Our legal practice is centered on face-to-face interactions, including frequent court appearances, and oftentimes a case cannot advance to the next step without first attending a hearing before the court. Therefore, many of our cases have come to a standstill while awaiting an audience with the court.
Additionally, we have received notably fewer inquiries for new divorce cases, but we anticipate an increase in cases by the end of the summer. However, we have had several clients that came for initial consultations prior to the pandemic decide that they are now ready to move forward and have retained our services. One specific client advised us that she was motivated to retain us after being stuck at home with her spouse. We anticipate that more COVID-19 circumstances such as this will prompt individuals to seek out our services.
Although our support cases are relatively quiet right now, we anticipate an uptick in cases of support modification in the near future due to the significant job loss and unemployment many are experiencing throughout the country. We have received very few inquiries for new custody cases; however, we have noticed an increase in communication with our current clients due to their concerns about managing custody during the virus. We have addressed these concerns individually with each client and have written and shared articles with tips for handling custody during COVID-19 and general custody advice on our firm website.
Instead of Worrying, Focus on Looking for Opportunities
With a reduction in workload, we have shifted our focus to business marketing. We are working with our marketing team to ensure our website is in top shape given that internet traffic has increased drastically during this time when most people are staying home. We are continuing to keep our clients informed by writing and sharing blog articles on our firm’s website that address COVID-19 concerns and provide general guidance for all types of family law issues.
We are also continuing our networking efforts and maintaining contact with referral partners through our attendance at weekly online BNI (Business Network International) meetings. In addition to the regular BNI meetings, we also participate in a weekly “BNI mastermind” meeting which is focused on developing and sharing new strategies that local businesses are implementing during the COVID-19 crisis.
All of the above practices allow us to continue to promote our business and remain open to any opportunities that may arise which will help our business bounce back once the world returns to normal again. The tools we have employed while working from home, including the cloud-based server and the Zoom platform, push our business into a technologically advanced future to which our clients have positively responded. These technologies are and will continue to be a valuable asset to our firm and will aid in a smooth transition back to business as usual. These will also be especially useful if remote business operation becomes an issue again in the future.
We are eager to get back to practicing family law from our offices, and the strategies we’ve implemented during this COVID-19 crisis have prepared our team to hit the ground running.
Alison M. Carr (f/k/a Alison M. Reigh) is a litigator at Cooley & Handy who focuses her practice in all aspects of Pennsylvania family law, including divorce, equitable distribution, alimony, child custody, and child support. www.cooleyhandy.com
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