Law firm crisis can pop up at anytime during the year, but if it had a “season” it would be early on in the calendar. As I wrote in Like Divorce, Law Firm Crisis is More Likely as the New Year Starts, the beginning of each year is when key lawyers cut and run, disappointed partners complain loudly about a lousy year, optimism and morale plummet, pressure from the firm’s bank mounts, or a challenge to leadership consumes great attention. Crisis can take on other characteristics, as in many respects no two law firm crises are the alike.
When crisis occurs, it is absolutely vital that its presence be recognized immediately. Crisis can slide into disaster if leadership is slow to notice it and fails to take prompt action. If crisis is something your law firm is experiencing, there are five things to know and remember as crisis is tackled. They are:
Added Vulnerability Goes with Crisis. Whatever sparks the crisis in the first place may represent only the beginning. A child with a cold is susceptible to add illness-a law firm in crisis is vulnerable to added and unexpected problems. Because of this vulnerability, leadership must be aware that the other problems may arise and a game of “whack-a-mole” may ensure. There is no substitute to being aware and vigilant when crisis hits.
Control is Compromised. When a law firm is in distress, its ability to implement initiatives at a time of its choosing becomes limited. If a law firm is in crisis, leadership’s ability to control the firm’s destiny is compromised. Getting ahead of the crisis is critical because trouble at the firm will grow in severity the longer a solution is wanting. The risk of losing control grows with each passing day.
Time is Not on Your Side. Closely related to the potential loss of control is the issue of time. Any law firm leader that has faced crisis will tell you that solutions need to be found quickly. That does not mean that speed justifies “shooting from the hip,” but time is of the essence when solving crisis.
Getting it Right the First Time. In law firm crisis, there is little chance to experiment or launch trial balloons. Leadership’s solution to crisis needs to be right the first time. Don’t count on a do-over.
Rumors Can Undermine the Best Plans. When law firm leadership faces trouble, lawyers and staff not really “in-the-know” will think they are. They will sense that something is wrong and will talk about it, speculate and worry. Get ahead of the rumors by communicating clearly and precisely about the firm’s issues and your plan of action. Good communication skills can calm the troops and establish credibility. Keeping quiet or hunkering down in your bunker can kill your chance for success.Crisis at a law firm can be a watershed development that can threaten a firm’s future.
Crisis puts in motion at least five moving parts any law firm leader must know and remember. If your firm were in crisis, how would you handle them?