How Our Law Firm Accidentally Prepared for the COVID-19 Outbreak

Several of our clients and friends have recommended that we publish an announcement that our firm is “open for business” and that we’re “ready and available” to serve our clients.  It never occurred to us to do that. I am writing this article to explain why, because it illustrates one of our core values so well.

CLARK.LAW Core Value #2: Embrace Technology

As many of you know, we have worked hard in recent years to execute our unique vision for a new type of law firm.  Our team, most of whom have worked at large law firms in the past, has always believed the future of legal practice isn’t found on the top floor of skyscrapers or around 20-foot mahogany conference tables.  Law firms that will thrive in the future embrace technology and efficiency in order to better serve their clients.

Ever since I founded this firm in 2016, we have been routinely using videoconferencing, instant messaging, digital signatures for documents, and secure cloud-based file sharing and storage.  We were a paperless business from day one. We have physical office space in two locations for in-person client meetings, hosting events, and team meetings; however, we deliberately built internal workflows that are location-agnostic.  In other words, every member of our team can fully perform their role whether they are sitting in one of our offices, a coffee shop, their kitchen table, a rooftop in Italy (where my legal assistant can often be found), or a lounge chair on the beach.  In many industries this “workforce of the future” arrived many years ago, but unfortunately too many law firms remain stuck in the past. 

There are lots of reasons that a technology-centric geographically distributed workforce is good for client service. The one that stands out as we navigate the current COVID-19 crisis is that our firm’s model drastically reduces the unnecessary forms of overhead that plague big law firms.  Breathtaking views from the conference room window and a full-time chef on staff are nice perks, but at what price? Unfortunately, the way some of the nation’s largest law firms are dealing with the coronavirus outbreak offers a regrettable answer to that question.

As of April 2, 2020, at least 30 of the country’s biggest law firms (and countless mid-sized and small firms) have either fired or cut salaries for lawyers, paralegals, and staff.  One such firm is reporting it let go 2/3 of its non-lawyer staff. For those fortunate enough to still have jobs, salaries have been cut by as much as 50 percent and partner distributions have been reduced by as much as 90 percent.  This I fear is merely the tip of the iceberg.  In my view this proves what I have been saying for years – the biglaw business model isn’t sustainable.  (By the way, our law firm is hiring.)  I’m not suggesting coronavirus means the end of bloated, high-overhead law firms, but I predict with confidence that permanent changes are being made (similar to the protocols our firm adopted years ago) and they will never be the same again.

Lots of businesses and industries and entrepreneurs and business owners and families have been significantly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.  To all of them, on behalf of our law firm please accept our deepest sympathy and well wishes. We’re acutely aware that it’s not practical or possible for some businesses to corona-proof themselves the way ours did.  We’re fortunate that in our mission to build the law firm of the future, we accidentally prepared ourselves for a pandemic. So yes, we’re “open for business” just like we were before, and eager to hear from our current, former, and future clients and friends.