I spent September 11, 2001, and many, many long hours afterward, working in the newsroom at the Chicago Sun-Times.
I’ve had many occasions, since then, to think about the work my incredible colleagues did there, and in similar newsrooms across the country, during those extraordinary times. Much of what I know about communication and leadership was shaped by that early experience of navigating the awesome responsibility of helping people make sense of a world that changed in an instant.
Today, I’m privileged to lead a team of great communicators and to serve some truly brilliant law firm leaders and marketing professionals as we all face a similar challenge: moving forward through uncertainty to keep the business of law running and play our part in preserving the rule of the law and protecting vital rights and freedoms.
None of us knows exactly what we’ll face in the days to come, but I am confident that we will emerge from this stronger, smarter and even more committed to the importance of the work we do.
In the meanwhile, I wanted to offer some brief thoughts on how law firms can communicate effectively through the current crisis.
Scrap the titles and siloes as you assemble your communication team.
Your firm needs a designated point person or small team to handle all your communication about the coronavirus outbreak and its impacts. Consider the skills, knowledge and temperament necessary to do this well, and select people accordingly, regardless of where they formally sit in your organizational structure.
Put employees first.
Administrative staff and other front-line team members, including associates and paralegals, are the people who keep your firm running day to day. They’re the voices most often heard by your clients. Right now, those folks are anxious, confused and, very likely, struggling to be productive as they manage child care needs, financial worries and logistical challenges. They need your guidance. Let them know what resources are available to them and what the firm’s commitments are around paid leave and remote work flexibility over the extended term. Help them prioritize their work tasks and find ways to add value.
Reach clients where they are.
Some business clients are hyperfocused on continuing to work through this period of uncertainty while others are putting most initiatives on hold. Clients in the health care industry are marshalling every available resource toward delivering patient care and setting aside other operational plans. The manufacturing sector is managing unprecedented supply chain disruption while the service sector faces stark questions about their labor force. Apart from a general note laying out any changes to availability or contact information, there’s no single message, no single change in service that will be helpful to all your clients. Relationship partners or client teams must decide how and what to communicate to each client based on their particular circumstances.
Overcommunicate and underpromise.
If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that we don’t know everything that’s coming. Keep the lines of communication open with your employees and clients: be transparent about what you know and what your goals are. But don’t make commitments on things that are beyond your control.
Ask for help.
Let us know what you need. We’re here to support you in communicating vital information to your clients, helping you enhance digital marketing efforts and promoting your expertise on key subjects to the media.