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Black Letter Communications Blog

Expert pr advice for the legal sector

Covid-19: Internal communications remain all important for law firms

With the lockdown continuing into a second month, we are all getting more used to the new set up, working from home, juggling childcare and isolating ourselves from those outside our household. At the same time, the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis is really starting to bite for the legal profession with reports that the larger law firms are reducing partner drawings, asking staff to take pay cuts, furloughing and in some cases making redundancies.

Roll on Friday gave us the inside track, explaining the very different approaches being taken by firms. While some are expecting staff to carry on working for five days a week with the same billing targets, despite taking pay reductions of 10-20%, others are bringing in commensurate reductions in working hours and targets.

These measures, whether they are happening in your own workplace or you are reading about them in the legal press, are making an already anxious time even tougher for employees worried about their financial position and job security. This is particularly hard when we have no clear idea about when the lockdown will end and what the long-term prospects will be.

In my last blog on internal communications, written as the lockdown began, I talked about the importance of good internal communications. At the beginning of the crisis, the situation was changing daily and businesses needed to act to support their workforces as they began working in a way that was totally new to many.  The situation may have now stabilised on that front, but with firms expecting their employers to take some of the financial pain of the crisis, the disparate workforce and the continuing uncertainty, internal communications remain all important.

Grim economic news means employees will be keen to understand the impact on their firms, which will vary a great deal depending on the markets they operate in. Whilst areas such as M&A, property and commercial litigation are clearly suffering, there are areas such as wills and probate and insurance where practices continue to be very busy.

If employees are having to accept reduced hours and pay cuts, make sure you explain the rationale behind them and are clear that the pain is being shared. For firms that routinely pay out six figure sums to equity partners, it’s not going to be well received if junior staff are taking big cuts.

The Roll on Friday piece demonstrates the unease felt by those working for usually very profitable firms that are making large cuts with minimal transparency on the figures behind them or employees of firms that are furloughing staff who had not seen any fall in work coming across their desks.

The longer we remain at home, the more cut off and isolated we feel so your internal communications will need to work even harder for you than usual. With no face to face contact and employees perhaps less comfortable or able to ask questions of their managers, keeping them updated regularly and providing open channels of communication is important.

Furloughed employees are likely to feel particularly isolated so your internal communications strategy should include ways to keep in regular contact. You will want them back in the business and motivated when normal life returns.

Listen to what employees are saying, ask managers to give you feedback on what they are hearing. In times of rapid change, don’t be afraid to react and modify both the content of your communications and the methods they are communicated by if the feedback you are getting suggests things aren’t working.

None of us know what is going to happen on the other side of this but don’t assume those who work with you will stick with the firm if they feel it has acted or communicated poorly during this crisis. You need to take your staff with you through this, keep morale up, keep everyone motivated and ensure loyalties and your reputation remain intact.

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