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Oct 21, 2020


Law Firm Effective Communications – During and Post COVID-19

Question: 

I am the firm administrator of a sixteen attorney firm in Kansas City, Missouri. We, like many other firms, have done our best to face up to the challenges presented by COVID-19. For several months attorneys and staff worked remotely from home office using the internet, telephone, and video conferencing as the primary means of communications with clients and the office. To our surprise it worked fairly well but most of the attorneys were glad when they were able to return to the office. We have been having discussions as to the long-term impact of COVID-19 both in the short-term while we continue our fight against COVID-19 and in the long-term after COVID-19 has been defeated. I would be interested in your thoughts.

Response: 

For years law firms have held the attitude that employees – attorney and staff alike must been seen, observed, and on premises in order to be productive.  Law firms that have had and continue to have their attorneys and staff working remotely during COVID-19 have disproved this premise. They have found that not only have their attorneys and staff been able to remain productive but in many cases even more productive then when they worked face to face in the office. However, communications has been a challenge for many firms.

Below is what I refer to as the scale of communication media and richness of each:

1. Face to face
2. Video Conferencing
3. Telephone
4. Email and text

Face to face is the richest form of communication and should be used for sensitive communications such as performance reviews and other such discussions concerning performance, praise, training and mentoring, etc. It should still be used when ever possible in these situations.

Video conferencing using platforms such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, Team, etc. in the second richest form of communication and should be used when face to face would normally be used but is not possible.

Telephone is the third richest form of communications and should be used for less sensitive communications or for face to face situations discussed above when a face to face meeting is physically not possible.

Email, text, and other written communications should be used for routine communications such as assignment of projects and tasks, work instructions, etc.

Sensitive and difficult communications should be communicated through a rich medium such as face-to-face meetings or video conferencing and routine communications through a lean medium such as a memo.

Media richness is determined by the speed the media provides, the variety of communications channels on which it works, the extent of personal interactions allowed, and the richness of language it accommodates. As tasks become more ambiguous, you should increase the richness of the
media that you use.

Our law firm clients have advised us that after awhile they missed the face to face interaction and found that the major problem with working remotely was that the communication with other members of their work team took much longer than walking over to the next office or desk and was frustrating. While I don’t believe that traditional offices will completely disappear, I believe that law firms have learned lessons from COVID-19 and we may see the following changes in the future:

  1. One lessen that was learned was that law firms could trust their lawyers and staff to work and be productive without being on premises and being seen.
  2. More work and related processes will be reengineered. Law firms have identified work and processes that simply don’t need to be done or need to be done in different ways.
  3. More law firms will implement cloud-based practice management and telephone systems.
  4. Video conferencing is an effective communication medium replacement for certain face to face communications and will be use more frequently for team and client meetings as well as initial new client intake meetings.
  5. Law firms will be more willing to institute remote work programs.
  6.  Law firms will reexamine how they use office space and will consider alternative office space arrangements.
  7. Lawyer to secretary ratios will increase.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC


Posted at 08:45 AM in COVID-19, Human Resources

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