As the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the country, a combination of individuals facing layoffs and small businesses closing is reducing demand for legal services, a phenomenon you may be experiencing first hand.
One way to protect your firm during the COVID-19 shutdown is to shift resources to grow an existing area of practice—or even start a new one. Focusing on where client demand is heading can help small to medium-size law firms adjust during an economic contraction.
Is Your Area of Practice in Low Demand?
If client calls and billable hours have taken a dive over the last few weeks, think about why that is. Depending on your areas of practice, your firm may be particularly vulnerable. Much like patients putting off elective surgery and annual visits, clients may be delaying everything from divorce to medical malpractice suits.
The coronavirus, at least during its initial devastation, has also increased demand for certain legal services. Estate planning lawyers have seen an uptick in clients who want to update or create their trusts and wills. Meanwhile, the fallout from the crisis is leading many businesses to seek legal help in a variety of areas. Employers are turning to labor lawyers to seek help with unprecedented, knotty legal questions regarding safety and compliance with laws such as state paid sick leave and the Family and Medical Leave Act, not to mention safety in the workplace as the virus continues to spread. Businesses of all sizes are renegotiating contracts and looking for legal advice about whether the pandemic voids certain contractual obligations for canceled events and services due to mandated social distancing.
Ways to Retool Your Practice During a Downturn
If you don’t practice in an area of law that is in high demand as a result of COVID-19 and the economic landscape doesn’t appear to be shifting in your favor, consider focusing on areas of the law that will be in demand. You can start brainstorming by:
Every community has its own needs and challenges. A rural area with agriculture at its center or a small manufacturing town will have different legal needs than a densely populated city center. Are any local businesses shifting their retail sales to online sales? Maybe they need help to negotiate with landlords to reduce rent costs or reviewing contracts for new deals.
Devote some of your brainstorm to self-reflection. What did you do before you worked at your current practice? Were you working in a corporate legal department, in government or in a non-legal job? Do you have another area of expertise that you studied in college or graduate school, such as biology, computer science or accounting? Are you bilingual? Make a list of skills that perhaps you take for granted but don’t necessarily use in your current specialty. Consider what you enjoy most about your current area of practice and what you like least. Consider everyday tasks, the types of clients you encounter, time in court, amount and type of writing you have to do, etc.
Talk to other attorneys and read local and national legal news to see what’s keeping small, medium and large firms busy right now. Think about the immediate effects of the current downturn and imagine what demand could look like in six, 12 and 18 months from now. Bankruptcy, real estate, and estate planning lawyers may be experiencing higher demand over the next six months. Some predict that the divorce rate will increase once quarantine ends. If things are slow for you now, use your downtime to research trends and seek out online networking events or catch up on CLE courses. Reach out to colleagues and former classmates to see how others are coping. You can also lean on them to help generate r fresh ideas for your practice.
Once you have made your lists of skills, likes/dislikes and high-demand practice areas, a path forward—or at least options—will start to take shape. Every economic downturn creates new challenges and opens up fresh opportunities. You can use an initial slow period to determine the best way to position your practice and offer legal services to the people and organizations that need them most.