Lockdown diary part one: What I’ve learned

Andrew King
Andrew KingLennons Solicitors

In the first of a special three-part series about running a small law firm during lockdown, Andrew King, solicitor and director at Lennons Solicitors, talks about some of the lessons he’s learned over the past few months. Plus, two Small Firms Division committee members share their thoughts and experiences.

I bought into Lennons Solicitors back in April 2016, a firm I had qualified as a solicitor with in 2008. In the process, I became a 50% owner.

I always had the ambition of owning and running my own law firm, and the excitement of achieving this milestone was immeasurable. There is clear reward that comes with running a business, particularly when things are going well, but when challenges arise, owners and partners feel the brunt of this first, and possibly heaviest.

The COVID-19 pandemic is without question the biggest challenge I have faced in my four years of ownership. I suspect this is the case for more seasoned partners, too.

As we moved into mid-March and coronavirus started to take hold, we were already taking steps towards increased home-working and staff self-isolating. We reviewed and rewrote our business continuity plan regularly, planning for different scenarios that might arise. What has stood us in great stead is the amount of planning we put into the worst-case scenario – a complete lockdown – and how different functions of the business would continue in that environment. We also ran several dummy tests so we could identify any issues that could emerge.

This planning was key, and has enabled Lennons continue trading as we did before the pandemic, with all staff members set up and able to work remotely from home.

The pandemic has evidenced the power to all law firm managers of a well thought-out, and tested, business continuity plan. Given the potential risks to your business, whether in relation to premises, IT or global pandemics, the benefits are clearer than they have ever been.

Upon entering lockdown, we concentrated on four things:

increased and regular communication as a management team

ensuring continued planning

increased focus on financial management, including daily cashflow forecasting and budget planning

a commitment to communicating openly and transparently with staff throughout as to the business’ operations and sharing our thoughts and plans.

This has been central to Lennons’ strength and resolve during this period. We have always had a firm grip of financial matters, but the uncertainty of lockdown has tightened it multiple times. We will continue our regular cashflow forecasting and budget planning, which will fortify us as we move into the “new normal”. Having such in-depth knowledge of your firm’s finances will assist not only with planning and acting during times of crisis, but also create a platform for future planning and growth.

As we come out of lockdown and, hopefully, life and business return to normal, we will continue to review and plan on a far more regular basis. I feel I know more about my business because of this pandemic; this will make a big difference as we go forward with our continued plans for growth.

In the next article in this series, I discuss the new ways of working COVID-19 has engendered in my firm.

My legal lockdown: Linda Felton, solicitor, owner and director, Fortune Green Legal Practice

If there has been a positive result to the coronavirus outbreak, it has been the real-time stress test of business continuity plans – only positive if the test shows that the plan can succeed. In my own case, the necessity to work at home instead of at the office has shown that scaling back can simplify the daily routines. Crucially, paper files really are redundant. That is a revelation (albeit belated) – and an encouragement to make the paperless office come true. Second-hand filing cabinet, anyone.

The other new focus has been on the welfare of clients, suppliers and other business contacts. My first action has been to reach out to clients and ex-clients to check on their health. This has meant a change in the approach, becoming proactive and perhaps less remote (Eg. hiding behind that filing cabinet). Solicitors are service providers and now is a good time to provide legal services as part of society – not just against billable hours.

Moving forward, there will be plenty of challenges. Shifting the focus of the business towards emphasising content, alongside client care, could be one strategy. I think it’s still too early to set in stone what the way forward could be, but while we still find ourselves in these intervening weeks when the initial shock has passed, but the re-opening up of society has yet to fully happen, there is still some time to think fast, act fast and experiment with new ways of giving value.

My legal lockdown: Kate Mahon, managing director, Davidson Mahon Solicitors

There are two things I am grateful for during this lockdown: one is that I run a small firm, and the second is that we specialise in private client matters. I will explain why below.

I set up my firm in 2015 because I wanted the flexibility to work when and where I wanted; being a private client solicitor, I am often seeing clients in their own homes and I really did not see the need to be in the office 9-5, which only served to reassure the head of department that I was actually doing some work.

When I was selecting my case management and telephone systems and working out how the firm would operate, I looked at cloud and VOIP technology and set things up so all employees and consultants could work from anywhere in the world, as long as they had internet access. This enabled us to deal with the pandemic seamlessly and, because we are small, we were able to adapt to the new changes that were being introduced by the government quickly and efficiently.

As the main office is run from a serviced office, we were able to scale down our large office and set up a smaller office as an “administration hub”. This has reduced overheads, which has benefitted cash flow, unlike many companies which are paying rents / mortgages on premises they aren’t able to use.

We have experienced some practical issues with the signing of wills and other documents, but as we have been classed as key workers, we have still been able to continue with our work and have been creative in how we deal with these issues. We are thankful the weather has been good, as many will signings have taken place in gardens and front driveways!

Coming out the other side of this pandemic, I don’t think a lot will change for my firm, as we already had an agile workforce. However, I can see some firms with large premises perhaps re-thinking whether they need these going forward. Perhaps the pandemic will finally help those running law firms to see that their fee-earners can be trusted to work from home after all.