The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every aspect of our personal lives, and the economic uncertainty created by this crisis will surely impact every facet of our economy as well.The legal industry will be no exception.
Many in our profession are asking:Which practice areas will flourish and even expand? Which practice areas will be the hardest hit? What does this mean for the individual practitioner? What can law firm lawyers do to ensure that they weather this storm as best as possible?
Asking these questions now is a task worth pursuing. Identifying steps that you can take today to best prepare moving forward is key to ensuring ongoing marketability.
- What practice areas will thrive during this crisis?
Healthcare: All areas of the healthcare industry will be busier than ever trying to end the pandemic. Providers, pharmaceutical companies and medical device companies (to name a few) are already working around the clock to help find a solution to the coronavirus pandemic, and they will need advice from lawyers to help fast track coronavirus-related medications, vaccines and medical devices; advise providers on the waivers and other regulatory modifications from relevant government agencies; and generally, manage the ever-changing compliance and regulatory framework.
Labor and Employment: Lawyers practicing employment law will be in demand to help clients navigate the economic slowdown and manage their employees, particularly in light of the rapidly changing regulations on essential and non-essential workers at the state and local level, and the impact of the various coronavirus stimulus bills. Additionally, many employees who feel that they were treated unfairly by their employers will seek to take legal action.
Bankruptcy and Restructuring: A severe recession will see a large uptick in bankruptcy filings and companies looking to restructure. Companies in distress will first seek to reach an agreement with their creditors through out-of-court restructuring or corporate reorganization. Other companies will need to file for bankruptcy. Bankruptcy and restructuring are rather complex practices not easily learned by those who have not been specializing in it. This crisis will make existing practitioners even more valuable.
Litigation: While we all hope for a swift resolution to this global crisis, we also note that historically, litigation and investigation practices often see a significant uptick as private parties seek restitution in the aftermath and government agencies investigate fraud and abuse associated with the crisis. In fact, coronavirus related lawsuits have already begun – accusations of insider trading, price-gouging, business disruption, and insurance and employment claims have been filed all across the country.
- What practice areas will suffer most by the economic slowdown caused by coronavirus?
Typically, during economic slowdowns, law firms see a significant reduction of work in their corporate practices because of economic uncertainty, depreciated asset prices, reduced risk tolerance and less available funding for deals. Additionally, while litigation and government investigations practice groups may become busy in the long-term from the crisis fallout, in the short term those practice groups may suffer as all travel has been suspended and courts have closed.
That being said, if a solution is found to the pandemic and an end date comes into view, the economy might rebound more quickly than it has from previous downturns and corporate practice groups might get back on track. Additionally, with government investments aimed to end the pandemic and stimulate the economy, project finance lawyers may find themselves busy during this time.
- What does this mean for the individual practitioner? What can law firm lawyers do to ensure that they weather this storm as best as possible?
As you can see, attorneys within the same law firm may wind up being impacted by the coronavirus pandemic in dramatically different ways. That, in part, is why many law firms are putting together cross-functional teams to help clients address the legal implications related to the coronavirus crisis. If you practice in an area that can provide support to these response teams, it would be beneficial to get involved.
However, if the economic slowdown is negatively impacting your practice, there are steps you can take now to better position yourself for when the economy improves.
Network: While travel restrictions, shelter in place orders and social distancing has put a stop to in-person meetings, people are engaging in videoconferencing and phone calls more than ever. Use this opportunity to safely connect with clients and former colleagues who are now in-house, particularly those you have not spoken with in a while – how are they faring during these trying times? Everyone is stressed. Almost everyone is working remotely, and some are taking care of kids who are unexpectedly home from school. Some in-house lawyers will be inundated, while others might be less busy and worried about their own job security. Reach out to see how you can help. Also, take the time to network internally with other lawyers at your own firm, particularly colleagues you have not met or collaborated with. Internal referrals are often the best source for new work. Your colleagues might be busy and looking for help that you may be able to provide. Or, develop relationships with other lawyers in your firm who will look to you for help once things pick up again. Lastly, use this time to build a powerful LinkedIn presence. Join online groups or organizations. Making and building upon these connections is a great way to exchange ideas, grow your visibility and help others (they need you, too!).
- Publish: Write those articles that you have been thinking about but have not had time to do because you were too busy with actual client matters. Put together CLE presentations that you can give to clients or hand out at conferences. Articles and presentations are a great way to demonstrate your substantive skills while simultaneously offering exposure.
- Evaluate Your Skills: Do you maintain a broad practice or is your area of expertise narrowly defined? Is your firm website biography up to date, highlighting your areas of expertise and significant matters/representations? It is important to ensure that your “sells” are easily identified by potential clients. For example, if your ability to effectively cover multiple areas is a distinguishing factor, be sure this is clear in your marketing materials. On the other hand, identifying too many focus areas can be confusing and lead others to wonder whether you excel in any. Choosing to highlight one specific part of your practice (particularly one that is in high demand) may be a more effective approach. Marketable lawyers know their value and can explain it with a succinct statement that connects with a client’s wants and needs. Determine whether your skills and expertise are up-to-date given current market and cultural conditions. Identify any gaps that might need addressing to better position yourself as a valuable asset. For example, the legal implications of COVID-19 will likely be significant. Are you up to speed on force majeure clauses? Are you familiar with the employee benefits and pension issues that might transpire? Will regulatory and data privacy issues arise based on employees working from home? Being able to identify legal issues that may be outside of your area of expertise allows you to effectively refer clients with these issues to other lawyers in your firm who do possess the relevant expertise. Additionally, making an effort to continually learn demonstrates your commitment to improvement and increases your overall marketability.
- Analyze Your Platform and Strategy: Major, Lindsey & Africa’s Lateral Partner Compensation Survey identified lack of confidence in firm’s management and strategy as the most frequently cited reason for changing firms. Do you know what your firm’s management goals and strategies are? If so, are you confident that they will lead to success? How do they impact your particular practice? Do you have the platform necessary to achieve at the highest levels? Given the attendant economic downturn, these questions are more important now than ever.
Knowing what it takes to build and maintain a successful practice (and being able to effectively articulate it) makes you more marketable than most. Books of business can certainly speak for themselves; however, firms are drawn to candidates that understand the business of law, not just the practice of it.