Updated: Apr 19, 2020
Family lawyers seem to thrive on being busy. How often do you ask a colleague how they are doing and hear in response “I’m so busy”? Not only does our busy-ness ensure we can bring in necessary revenue to pay the bills but my sense is that for family lawyers, their busy-ness gives them an important sense of productivity and relevance that feeds into their identity. What happens for us when the busy-ness dissipates and the work goes quiet? How do we keep moving our practices forward?
A number of family lawyers, particularly those who undertake court appointed work or litigation, have spoken with me in the last week about how their work has dropped away since NZ entered level 4 lockdown. While initially there was the rush of getting set up to work remotely and the novelty of doing things differently, I am picking that in the next week or so, things will become quieter and more worrisome for a number of family lawyers. However, there are things you can be doing to keep things moving forward in your practice during this time -
Bill and Brace – the squeeze will be on cashflow so get ahead of it as much as possible by clearing out your work in progress, get invoices out the door and have your collection management processes focused and well oiled. Getting your invoices out promptly means a greater chance of being paid before your clients start experiencing the full financial ramifications of Covid or, if your clients are having problems meeting their bills, you will get an early signal of this (and well before you do a whole lot more work!).
Brace for the cashflow hit – if you haven't done your YE2020 review then drill into this; review your budgets; look into the wage subsidy for you and your team; identify where you can cut back; identify where you need to invest; examine your insurance policies and leases; and use this time to get your plans (A, B, C & D!) in place.
Get Ahead on Your CPD – If things are quiet for you, use the time to clock up your CPD points for the year ahead so that when the work flows again, you can concentrate on making hay rather than having to take time out for CPD. There are a wealth of online webinars popping up. Thinking broadly can help identify cost effective options – perhaps get team members creating in-house webinars or local colleagues coming together for Zoom CPD sessions together; work through your legal tsundoku pile in a targetted way or write an article.
Review your Tech and Systems – the silver lining of level 4 is that many practices have been able to identify how well equipped (or not) they were for working remotely. This is the ideal opportunity to take time to get your precedents updated, review your office procedures, get your technology and systems working for you so that you can work smartly no matter what is thrown at you. My hope is that family lawyers will never entirely work the same way again. The opportunities are exciting if we are open to them.
Review Your Services & Delivery Model - are you providing the right service mix for your clients? Will the services they need change? Are you delivering services in the ways your clients want them delivered? Are there some further services that you can provide in order to add value for your clients? Personally, are there services you offer or ways you work that don't serve your wellbeing and need to change?
Rethink every file - my view is that necessity will mean Court is going to be the Alternative Dispute Resolution method. I'm hoping that will stick. Even when court is running at capacity again, there will be a longer than ever backlog that will take considerable time to work through unless considerable innovation occurs in the way the courts operate.
Clients are going to be facing new stresses and problems. Those solutions that had been identified a few weeks ago with some of your clients may well no longer be workable. Use this time to learn more about your clients and their situations – what is keeping them awake at the moment, what challenges are they facing, how have their concerns and problems changed?
With these realities in mind, look at every one file from every angle. Consider all other approaches, even those that seem impossible at first blush. Even on those files that appear impossible to settle without Court, you will likely find clients have a clearer focus on finding solutions. How can you maintain progress for your clients and their families by using online mediation, round table meetings or collaborative practice? What creative solutions or options can be found to the new problems that are surfacing?
We're All in the Same Waka - I have said it numerous times now: distancing does not mean we need to feel distant from one another. I am personally enjoying taking time on zoom with colleagues to check in and have a good, old catch up. Amp up the communication. Invest time into relationships with colleagues. Work out what you can offer to help your colleagues out. Reach out to a colleague who is working alone.
Draw Breath & Cut Yourself Some Slack – when I started in my own practice, I used to panic every time things got a little quiet. I would convince myself my business was over and there was going to be no more work for me! A former employer of mine advised that I should make the most of the ebbs and enjoy them because things will always get busy again. This is a scarier ebb for many of us but his advice is still sound. Even those of us who were used to working from home have been unsettled by the current uncertainty and restrictions. None of us have been through a global pandemic before and none of us will get this perfect!
Cut yourself some slack - Its Ok not to be working at full steam at the moment. Its OK to be less productive and feel "out of sorts". Its OK to feel a sense of grief for what is happening. Its OK to need more support, more breaks, more rest. It's OK to enjoy a breather!
Any quiet patch will be just that – a patch. When the restrictions lift, family lawyers will be busy. Just look at what the experience of our Chinese colleagues has been. This means that the most important thing we can do, whether we have a quiet patch or are busier than ever, is to look after ourselves physically and mentally more than ever before so that we come through this strong and ready to face the work that will hit as the Court works to catch up, increased numbers of new clients surface and new problems requiring our most innovative problem solving come our way.
Want to keep in touch with colleagues and chew the fat about collaborative practice, practising well and life - check out The Law Lighthouse Group on Facebook and let us know what is working for you and your practice at the moment.