Martindale-Avvo surveyed attorneys to gain insight into how they are managing during the COVID-19 pandemic. As states begin reopening, attorneys are adapting to the new reality, complete with safety protocols, shifting practice areas, and declining revenues. These are the main takeaways.
Revenues Are Down for Most
In the survey, we asked 210 of you about your practices, what you are doing differently, and how you are thinking about the future. Perhaps the most striking result: more than 80 percent of those surveyed said their practice had lost revenue.
Based on our survey results, only a small fraction of respondents are seeing increased or flat revenues (2.9 and 14.9 %, respectively). A third (33.2%) of respondents said revenue was down by 30 percent or less, while another third (34.2%) saw declines of 31 to 75 percent. Unfortunately, there were also some significant losses; in our survey, 14 percent of lawyers reported revenues plummeting by 75 percent or more.
Adapting by Cutting Costs
Results revealed that firms are cutting expenses in response to declining revenue. While 17.8 percent said they laid off or furloughed employees, others nibbled at the edges of their expenses with cuts to marketing (25%) and negotiating with vendors or asking for a grace period (14.9%rcent).
Some of you have zeroed in on employee costs, with reductions in employee pay (13.9%) or benefits (4.8%) a source of savings. Of the few who said they were increasing spending, marketing was the recipient mentioned by 5.3 percent of the total respondents.
Adapting by Adding Practice Areas
Many of the attorneys we surveyed (41.8%) are considering adding a new area of law to their practice. Perhaps predictably, bankruptcy is a popular area of interest, with 11.5 percent of you listing it as a possibility.
Other areas of practice under consideration included family law (8.7%), employment (5.8%) and real estate (4.8%). Despite the pandemic’s constant reminders of our mortality, only 2.4 percent of you mentioned estate planning/probate as a potential addition.
Twenty-one percent of respondents have already added a new area to their practice, including 3.4 percent who responded that they added family law. Although many firms are thinking about a potential expansion into bankruptcy law, only 2.4 percent have actually added it to their practice.
Using Technology to Cope With New Challenges
More than 67 percent of respondents said court closings were a challenge to practicing law, while a lack of face time with clients was selected by 38 percent. After court closings, a drop-in business was mentioned most often (48%) followed by attracting new clients (40.4%).
Perhaps out of necessity or ingenuity, many of you are trying out new technology to make current conditions conducive to practicing law. Like so many professionals now working from home, nearly 81 percent of respondents have started using video conferencing, 19 percent responded they were using electronic signing programs such as Docusign and Esign, and 18 percent have started using text messaging as part of their law practice.
About half (48%) said you were using new technology for internal purposes and to communicate with clients, while roughly 22 percent have added new tech to communicate with clients only.
Client Communications and Data Security
As practices increasingly move to online document review and electronic signatures, client data and communications present a new security risk. In response, 36.5 percent of you reported using secure cloud-based solutions to improve client communications security. Another 31.7 percent of you said you were using secure or encrypted email to ensure safe communications with clients.
Getting Back to the Office? Maybe not
We asked our survey respondents whether they expected to return to the office after COVID-19. Only 49 percent responded they are planning to return to an office full time. A third of you reported plans to continue to work remotely part-time, and another 6 percent responded you would only work remotely after the pandemic ( 11 percent of respondents were working from home pre-pandemic).
Looking Ahead: Signs of Hope and Recovery
Given the unprecedented economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, attorneys seem remarkably hopeful. Considering that the vast majority of survey respondents saw a decline in revenue, it is an encouraging sign that more than half of you expect your revenue to return to normal within the next 6 months. About a fifth of you see that happening in six to 12 months, and 14 percent feel it will take more than a year.
Considering the health and economic crisis that the country has been dealing with these last few months, any signs of hope are positive signs for everyone because it shows that your colleagues are still talking to prospects and clients and seeing some pent up demand. No one knows what the next few months hold, but we will continue to follow how law practices pick up the pieces and find new ways to help clients and support their employees during this strange time.
Looking for more COVID-19 research? Check out our research report and the 7 best practices attorneys can use to adapt.