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 Measured in COVID time, which eerily resembles dog years, the survey feels outdated.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

Procrastination in the Time of COVID

procrastination31

Do you find yourself avoiding work? Feeling anxious or stressed? Dreading what you might read in emails or hear in voicemails?

You are experiencing procrastination. And possibly depression. With the upheaval COVID has brought to our lives, getting up in the morning may feel challenging.

Understanding and addressing procrastination is difficult. One of the better explanations appeared in a post on The Productive Mindset:

  • Procrastination is not a time-management problem.
  • Procrastinators often have anxiety or doubts about their abilities, or about the perception others have of their abilities.
  • Many procrastinators would prefer others think they lack drive instead of providing the opportunity for others to question their capabilities.
  • Underlying fear of failure or fear of success is common among procrastinators.
  • Depression and procrastination go hand-in-hand.

Fear, Anxiety, and Doubt

While the original Mindset post is no longer available, Googling “the psychology and behaviors of procrastination” reinforces that fear, anxiety, and doubt are major players here. Factor in a major life change – like a pandemic – and the stress ratchets up threefold.

Does This Sound Like You?

  1. Do you put off taking care of important things to the point of jeopardizing relationships, career, finances, or health?
  2. Do you put off doing what you need to do until a crisis develops?
  3. Do you put off doing tasks unless you can do them perfectly or until you can find the perfect time to do them?
  4. Do you hesitate taking necessary action because you fear change?
  5. Do you think about things you’d like to do but rarely get around to doing them?
  6. Do you believe that projects or tasks will somehow take care of themselves?
  7. Do you overcommit yourself?
  8. Do you tend to do only what you want to do instead of what you should do?
  9. Do you tend to do only what you think you should do instead of what you want to do?

Adapted from It’s About Time, by Dr. Linda Sapadin with Jack Maguire [Procrastination Self Test.]

Ending the Paralysis and Self Sabotage

We all procrastinate occasionally. But if putting things off is affecting your practice, home life, health, or finances – don’t struggle alone. Oregon lawyers are encouraged to contact an Attorney Counselor at the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP) any time for help with this issue. The OAAP is free and confidential. They are an excellent resource if you are experiencing depression, which is often the real story behind procrastination.

You can read more about the paralysis of procrastination here.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

More about Stress and COVID-19: Connect, Talk, and Take Control

If you are feeling anxious or stressed, you are in good company. The coronavirus is a triple threat of worry. We are concerned for our health, the safety of family and friends, and the viability of our practices. What can we do?

Don’t Brush it Off

Before you tune out … Are you having difficulty concentrating? Been making small mistakes? Is doing work the last thing you want to deal with right now? Do you sense staff or colleagues might be having some of these reactions?

Please read this post. Even if you’re powering through this like a champ, someone else may not be.

Make Safe Social Connections

Make regular phone calls – to colleagues, clients, friends, and family. Send texts, email, video conference. Do more than conduct business when reaching out for work. Offer support. You’ll get it back in return. It’s not just a saying – we really are in this together.

Once you start the habit of connecting, keep it up. Use your calendar to schedule time for daily calls and contacts.

Get Up and Out

Get out of the house. Take advantage of the uplifting benefits of going on walks with household family members or pets. If the situation dictates, walk alone. Give a friendly wave or exchange a few words at a distance with others who are out and about.

Take Care of Yourself

Walking will help. So will turning off the news and putting down devices. Keep a regular sleep schedule. Eat healthy.

Dodge the Myths, Rumors, and Hype

Rely on official sources for information, including your county health department, Oregon Health Authority, and Centers for Disease Control. Check out the World Health Organization myth busters page.

Ask a Lawyer Who Knows

If you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or just want to talk to someone who can relate to you, call the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program. The OAAP is open for business. Call or schedule a video conference with an attorney counselor today.

OAAP services are free and confidential. Each OAAP attorney counselor is both a lawyer and a counselor. They’ve been there, they are there, and they understand what you’re facing.

Call the OAAP at 503.226.1057 or 800.321.6227 (toll-free), email one of the attorney counselors, or visit the OAAP website. You can also reach out to your county health authority’s COVID-19 hotline.

Take Control

Even when some things are out of our control, there are always things that we as individuals and communities can control.

Wise words from Deschutes County Public Health Authority.

  • Follow physical health recommendations made by the experts.
  • Read tomorrow’s post on suggestions for how to work remotely.
  • Schedule phone calls and other social and professional connections as noted above.
  • Review and prioritize work to do on specific files. Make a to-do list, then transfer the to-dos to your calendar by scheduling appointments with files to get the work done.
  • Remember to make time on your calendar to do admin tasks like billing. Set aside dates/times to get statements out. Feeling guilty about billing clients right now? Offer payment plans. You have a family to support as well.
  • Address concerns about getting new clients by revisiting your marketing plan. People still need legal advice, perhaps more so now. Be creative. Change up how you meet, interview, and collect documents. Use technology whenever you can. When you can’t, seek out alternatives. They may not be ideal, but if they work, so what? For example, sending a non-tech potential client a postage-paid manila envelope to obtain papers. (Remind clients to let mail sit without physical contact to protect their health, then take your own advice. The virus survives on surfaces for varying amounts of time. See tomorrow’s post on working remotely.)
  • Most trials and hearings are postponed until June 1, 2020. Statutes of limitation and rule-based deadlines are likely to be suspended. Our Chief Justice is seeking legislative authority to do this now. Video and phone appearances are likely to be the norm in the near future.

Tips for Parents from DCPHA*

Remain calm and reassuring. If true, emphasize to your children that they and your family are fine.

Make yourself available. Let your children talk and give them plenty of time and attention.

Talk to children in language they can understand. The CDC suggests telling children that, from what doctors have seen so far, most kids aren’t getting very sick. In fact, most people who have gotten COVID-19 haven’t gotten very sick. Only a small group have had serious problems. Keep the conversation going. Make time to check in regularly as the situation develops. Take cues from your child if they become afraid or overwhelmed offer comfort. If you need help, seek professional health.

Avoid language that stigmatizes or assigns blame. Remind children that viruses can make anyone sick, regardless of a person’s race, ethnicity or national origin. Monitor television viewing and social media. Try to limit children’s exposure to media and talk about what they are seeing. Use only reliable sources of information.

Teach strategies to prevent infection. Remind children to wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (or the length of two “Happy Birthday” songs) when they come in from outside, before they eat, and after blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing, or using the bathroom. Find more information, visit this resource.

Maintain healthy behaviors and household routines. Serve nutritious meals, encourage adequate sleep and exercise, and maintain household routines to the extent possible.

When to Seek Help

Seek help if you’re struggling with persistent inability to sleep, increasing drug or alcohol use, an overwhelming sense of depression or panic, urges to harm yourself or others, or an inability to take care of yourself or those who depend on you.

Find help in your area

Find online help or crisis services here.

Reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1.800.273.TALK (8255) (available 24/7).

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis with enormous appreciation to *Deschutes County Public Health Authority for their helpful words, suggestions for parents, and inspiration to write this post.

The Stress of COVID-19

The Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP) provides confidential and free counseling assistance to lawyers, judges, and law students.

If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed, the OAAP is here for you.

The OAAP remains open and attorney counselors are available for individual appointments by telephone or video conference. Set up an appointment today.

Meet the New Oregon Attorney Assistance Program

Well, not exactly. But meet the new OAAP website! Find events that meet your needs or speak to your interests, explore OAAP services, or learn more about the OAAP attorney counselors.

The OAAP can help with:

  • Well-being and stress
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Problem substance use
  • Compulsive and challenging behaviors
  • Career and lifestyle
  • Relationships
  • Challenging times
  • Planning for retirement

OAAP services are confidential and attorney counselors are on-call for urgent matters.

Help for yourself. Help for someone you care about.

If you are concerned about your well-being, or the well-being of another, the OAAP can help with short-term individual counseling, referral to other resources when appropriate, support groups, workshops, CLEs, and educational programs.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis