Strengthening Client Relationships During COVID-19

Client needs are evolving. Has your service model kept pace?
Learn how to innovate and adapt to build better, sustainable relationships.

This program will focus on:

Identifying changing client needs
Becoming more client-centric
Advancing client service through technology
Adapting your communication style
Maximizing social media and website content to reassure clients
Developing flexible fee arrangements and billing practices
Improving client retention and renewing relationships

Date/Time/Location

Wednesday, December 2, 2020 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Pacific Time.  This is a live, online webinar. 

Register Now!

Registration is open for Strengthening Client Relationships During COVID-19.

Who Should Attend?

Lawyers, legal staff, conflict managers, or office administrators – anyone interested in improving client relationships during challenging times.

Group Discounts

Discounts available to firms who wish to register 5 or more attendees. Contact organizer to arrange a discount code before registering: beverly@oregonlawpracticemanagement.org.

Does the Program Include Written Materials?

Yes. Written materials will be distributed electronically to attendees.

Questions, Live Polling, and MCLE

Questions are welcome during the live event.  Attendees are also encouraged to participate in live, anonymous polling. OSB MCLE credit pending.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

Best Practices for Virtual Meetings

 

Virtual meetings are here to stay for the foreseeable future. How can you get the most out of these remote conversations? Are there etiquette rules? Here are some pointers curated from around the Web.

Learn the technology beforehand

Nothing is worse than being on an audio or video conference call and hearing background interruptions or the sound of someone keyboarding, eating, or talking to someone in the room.

Before the meeting begins, learn how to (a) mute and unmute yourself; (b) test your camera; (c) test your microphone; (d) frame your video; (e) Enable a virtual background if offered by your video conferencing app; and (f) avoid using a mobile device. Go with a laptop or desktop computer instead.

As NW Sidebar points out, if your phone isn’t on a stable surface, the sound of it sliding around will be annoying. So are your alarms and notifications – although that may happen on your laptop or desktop too.

I would add: (g) mute or apply DND (do not disturb) to anything and everything you can – landline, mobile phone, tablet, etc. (h) treat the conference call as you would treat an in-person client meeting. Don’t permit interruptions and give the conversation your undivided attention. (i) Consider investing in a headset for comfort, convenience, and improved sound quality.

Give video calls a break

As many have suggested, not all meetings need to be face-to-face video. Simply picking up the phone works well for most clients. Don’t feel pressured to Zoom just because the Internet went wild over it. (More below.) A telephone call is convenient, cost-effective, and hassle free.

Message privately

During a group video conference call it can be challenging to have a side conversation with one person. Private messaging is the solution. Obviously, this feature needs to be available in your video conferencing app. In addition, you should choose an app with appropriate security if you are discussing client matters.

Use networking platforms

If you’re seeking to connect to other professionals, don’t forget about LinkedIn. If you are on social media, use the tool of your choice to reach out. If you belong to an OSB listserv, remember that listserv conversations are public record. When you see an interesting thread, keep your communication private by sending a direct email to that individual. In the right situation, it could make sense to launch a conversation with a group of listserv members – just remember to do it outside the listserv itself by sending separate messages. As noted above, the phone is also your friend. Use it to catch up with an old acquaintance or contact someone new.

Best practice tips on video client meetings

From the Law Society of BC:

  1. Advise the client not to share the links with anyone else;
  2. Access the links through a secured Wi-Fi network;
  3. Confirm the client’s consent to proceed in this manner;
  4. Ask that all individuals in the remote location introduce themselves;
  5. Ensure no one else is at the remote location who may be improperly influencing the client;
  6. Make sure that audio and video feeds are stable and that you can hear and see all parties;
  7. Do not allow clients to screen share by default. As the host you should be able to manage the screen sharing;
  8. Do lock the meeting once the client or clients have joined the call;
  9. Where identification is produced to support verification of identity, ensure that a copy of the document (front and back) is sent to you in advance of the online meeting (consider requesting high resolution) and that when it is produced during the meeting the entire document is visible and legible;
  10. Determine how to provide the client with copies of the document executed remotely;
  11. Confirm your client’s understanding about the documents they are executing and provide adequate opportunity for them to ask questions during the video conference; and
  12. Maintain detailed records including: date, start and end time, method of communication, identity of all present, and minutes of content of meeting. Read more here.

Alternatives to Zoom

The world seemed to go Zoom crazy during stay-at-home pandemic orders. I love Zoom – and p.s. – with its new privacy and security features meeting hacks no longer occur. However, if you’re looking for alternatives, check out this list from Business Today. Several of the options mentioned in the article are encrypted, a must-have for client confidentiality.

All Rights Reserved 2020 – Beverly Michaelis

On-Demand Office Space

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on Pexels.com

There are many options when it comes to on-demand office space. You can rent a conference room or a private office to limit access from other people. Or you can work in a row with other remote employees. Attorney Yuriy Moshes offers a few things to consider when choosing flexible office space.

On-Demand Office Environments for Legal Business — NWSidebar

 

In his NWSidebar post, Moshes gives four solid reasons to consider flex or co-working space: privacy, safety, convenient working conditions, and most importantly: big savings. When evaluating your options, Moshes suggests focusing on location and networking potential. Private space is key, both for client confidentiality and proper social distancing. Read the full post here.

Flex Space in Oregon

I last wrote about flex space three years ago. As I mentioned then, there are free and low-cost options statewide and in the Portland Metro Area. COVID-19 has affected some, but not all meeting sites.

Closed

The Oregon Lawyers’ Conference Room in downtown Portland is a free meeting space courtesy of the PLF and Oregon Attorney Assistance Program. Due to COVID-19, it is currently closed, as are the OSB Center meeting rooms.

Open

Alternatively, the MBA Conference Room is open for MBA members. Contact the MBA for details and availability at 503.222.3275 or mba@mbabar.org. Remember to download and submit the MBA Conference Room Use Form as part of your reservation.

Outside PDX

The PLF historically maintained a list of  “Oregon Meeting Rooms” on its website. When the Oregon Lawyers’ Conference Room was up and operating, this resource was on the same page, under the heading “Other Options for Meeting Space – Metro Area | Statewide.”  With the joint PLF/OAAP closure notice, the link to the list is no longer there. If you’re looking for free or inexpensive meeting space outside the Portland metro area, contact the PLF practice management advisors or other PLF Risk Management employees and request a PDF of this resource. It will be critical to call in advance as not all meeting rooms may be open.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

COVID and Law Firms

Consider these headlines from the ABA Journal:

May 2020 – Law firm revenue takes nosedive during COVID-19, new survey data shows

  • Roughly 81% of law firms have seen their revenues drop during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • 27% of firms experiencing loss of revenues saw business decline by more than half
  • Nearly 20% of firms have been forced to shrink their staffs
  • More than 60% said they believe it will take from four months to a year for their firms to revert back to their financial positions before COVID-19

June 2020 – Top law firms fared surprisingly well during COVID-19 pandemic, survey says

  • Demand for the first five months of the year was down only 1.4%
  • Cash collections were up more than 3% through May
  • Expenses were essentially flat as law firms reduced discretionary spending
  • 54% of the law firms reported increases in client requests for discounts in May, compared to the previous month
  • 52% reported more requests for extensions the same month
  • Lawyer layoffs have been modest
  • Layoffs of nonlegal staff members have been concentrated in jobs that don’t lend themselves to remote work
  • Transactional practices, such as corporate and real estate, were most affected by the slowdown
  • Practices have been active in bankruptcy, banking, labor, and employment
  • Liquidity is good, with almost 90% of law firms having the ability to cover at least three months of monthly expenses, excluding partner draws
  • More than 50% of the surveyed law firms cut or delayed partner contributions, which gave them more cash on hand

So… which is it?

Good question! There’s a difference between a nosedive and faring surprisingly well, although the devil is in the details.

The top law firm data is based on a survey of 52 of the nation’s top 100 grossing law firms and 20 midsized and regional law firms. Such a list would include very few, if any, offices with a presence in Oregon.

Additionally, the data was gathered four to five months ago. Measured in COVID time, which eerily resembles dog years, the survey feels outdated. Notice too that the firms judged to be “doing well” nonetheless laid off staff and reduced spending. Half received requests from clients asking for discounts and extensions, which were no doubt granted.

Either way we know our truth. Oregon is a state largely comprised of small firms and solo practitioners – lawyers who make a living but aren’t among the nation’s top money-wise.

So as we work to restore our livelihoods and practices, what should we keep in mind?

Five thoughts to keep in your head

  • We can and will bounce back.
  • Continue following COVID guidelines and don’t let your guard down. Staying healthy ensures that your practice remains open.
  • Deal in facts. Know the economic indicators for your firm.
  • If you have been neglecting marketing, you absolutely, positively must get going.
  • Make a plan and take action. Now might be the time to consider other practice areas.

What to do next

Work on your mental mindset

You are more resilient than you think.

Consider the tough times you’ve lived through. Losing someone you loved, struggling over student loan debt, or ending a relationship. It felt bad at the time, and I am not minimizing how bad. However, you did survive. You are here. You moved forward.

Furthermore, I am willing to wager that you had help. Someone supported you. Said something or did something that made you feel better. Reach out to those people today. Reach out to the attorney counselors at the OAAP for free, confidential assistance.

Your physical health

If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to help others.

You know what to do to stay physically healthy, so you won’t see it repeated here. Mental health is another matter. If you are struggling, pick up the phone and call the OAAP. They can help.

Just the facts mam

What are your outstanding accounts receivable? How many clients are 60 or more days overdue? When did you last compare your actual income and expenses against budgeted projections? Do you have a budget?

Financial management may not be fun, but we have to deal in reality. You can’t guess who owes you what or how much, you’ve got to know. Start now.

Begin by adjusting or creating a budget for the remainder of 2020. Yes, I know we only have four months remaining in the current year, so this is a task you could easily procrastinate about. Don’t do it. Face the numbers now while time remains to make a plan and take action.

On the expense side, ask for no-penalty extensions, negotiate new rates, request discounts, and get tough on discretionary spending. You may need to collect retainers for litigation expenses you previously fronted.

On the income side, get on top of overdue accounts. I’ve said it before: the most effective thing you can do is pick up the phone and talk to your clients. Screw up your courage and do it. Accepting monthly payments or a discounted amount due is better than no money at all. Offer contactless payment through your website or Square account, accept Zelle or Venmo. Be flexible. Find out what works best for clients.

Marketing

I devoted the month of July to marketing tactics centered around the new normal of COVID-19. If you didn’t catch those posts, or need a refresher, access my blog archives from July. From the home page, locate the sidebar on the right portion of your screen. The archives are midway down the page.

Make a plan

You are in control. Make a written list of what you will do differently, starting today and in the future. Be specific and lay out next steps. For example:

  • Read up on COVID and marketing. Identify 5 or more ideas you want to pursue. Set timelines for each and execute your plan.
  • Prepare a budget-to-actual comparison. Identify what you need to adjust, and act accordingly.
  • Review accounts receivable. Decide on a strategy for each overdue client and begin making calls.

Commit by scheduling out each planned activity. Allow adequate time to get tasks done and don’t overcrowd your calendar.

Scheduling isn’t busy work. It protects your intentions to follow through on your plan and increases the likelihood you won’t brush tasks off.

If you really want to ensure success, find an accountability buddy. Another lawyer is nice, but not necessary. Anyone who is willing to partner with you in goal setting will work. The purpose is not to critique, but to incentivize you to follow through because you’re answering to someone other than yourself.

Once you have a buddy, schedule weekly phone appointments. You won’t be sharing confidential client information. This is a “how did you do this week?” type of conversation and it doesn’t have to be a major time suck. If you want the exchange to go a bit deeper, obviously it can. You can ask for feedback and offer suggestions. It’s up to you.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

Creative Legal Marketing Ideas – Part 4

Our final installment on marketing during COVID-19 comes courtesy of Nifty Marketing. Review these suggestions and choose three that appeal to you. Set aside times in your calendar to implement each idea. Copy and paste the details or link from the original post to refresh your memory when the appointment day arrives.

Commitment

Committing to a calendar date increases the chance you will actually follow through. This is critical because our first instinct in a crisis is to ignore marketing altogether. Unfortunately this isn’t a realistic long-term strategy. Eventually you will run out of work. Better to jump start the process now of reaching out to potential new clients.

Taking Action

Speaking of taking action – if you haven’t embraced specifics from any prior post this month, then schedule time to do so. Make time on your calendar to skim through the ideas again. Pick three that make sense for your practice and schedule out implementation dates.

Regaining Control

By committing to six marketing ideas – three from today’s post and three from prior posts – you are taking back the future of your practice. Action produces results. It spurs on more action, and we feel better for it.

Today’s Marketing Ideas

  • Figure out ways to give back
  • Serve when possible
  • Learn how to be a storyteller and share via videos
  • Utilize your Google posts feed
  • Localize your Google My Business (GMB) page
  • Update your GMB hours of operation
  • Help other attorneys
  • Create a Facebook ad

Read about the details here. Don’t forget to copy and paste the relevant text (or the link) into your calendar when you create an implementation appointment.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis