Law firm crisis can surface at any time. Its roots can be deep within the firm, or can be the outcome of unforeseen developments. However, or whenever it arises, the affected law firm must react promptly and strategically. A tardy reaction, or a misstep in action, can leave a firm in great danger and on the ropes.
For most law firm leaders, having to manage through crisis is a new thing. Their experience in guiding their firms in the good times is little preparation for the bad times. On being faced with the new challenge many managing partners start by asking the loaded question of “what do I do now?”
Law firm crisis is sui generis as no two law firm crises are alike. Sometimes the crisis emerges from financial stress, personnel issues like unanticipated departures, the untimely loss of a leader to death or incapacity, bad publicity, threatening litigation, or internal political unrest. Finding the right response will depend on the nature of the crisis and action most suitable to the threat the crisis creates. Despite each law firm crisis being unique, any law firm leader searching for a “to do” list should follow five tried and true steps to implementing a successful crisis response:
Show Calm and Resolve. As the walls of the firm may seem to be crashing all around, a firm leader must display a sense of calm and belief that a path to resolution is available. While demonstrating calm, the leader must show all that are watching that he or she is resolute and unbowed in tackling the mess.
Determine the Crisis and its Depth. A calm and resolute leader must do more. Immediately a leader must assess the nature and depth of the crisis. As much as it may be tempting to close the circle and hunker down in this assessment phase, it is better to get out among the firm and its people as the crisis is being measured. Getting out among the firm’s people as data, information and mood are judged will deliver the better intelligence.
Develop and Push a Stabilization Initiative. Leadership must move quickly to remove the latent uncertainty and quell unrest – it must stabilize the firm. The nature of the crisis will dictate the stabilization steps most likely to work. But unless stability is restored to some degree it will be difficult for the firm to compose itself for a resurgence.
Present a Path Forward. Not long after the crisis surfaces, the firm will look to leadership for a substantive solution. Leadership must demonstrate an understanding of the issue(s) and offer a solution. Without being able to do so, internal support within the firm will begin to slip away. If an understanding of the issues impacting the firm is not expressed along with a solution based response, any recovery strategy will lack credibility and the crisis may consume the firm.
Strive for Some Quick Victories. While short term solutions will not dispose of the bigger crisis, nothing breeds success like success. And successes build confidence and improve morale. For that reason, leadership should look for low hanging fruit and correct relevant unresolved issues that have been deferred for too long. Visible victories can build confidence and stop if not slow any downward slide. Boosting morale early in a crisis can be a lifesaver and early triumphs, of almost any size, help.
Crisis, being action of a bad kind, must be met by action of a good kind. These five steps won’t alone solve a firm’s crisis as crisis is always a complicated challenge. But addressing crisis by using these five steps delivers the foundation for a positive and comprehensive solution. What other leadership steps would you recommend?