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November/December 2020

Taking the Lead

Learning From the Pandemic

Linda Klein & John Hinton IV

Football is a game of adjustments. The coaches on both sides continually make changes to schemes and personnel to react to conditions on the field. Although most adjustments are made during the heat of the contest, both sides break at halftime to rest, reflect and adjust. The break is short, and then the game resumes. However, those halftime adjustments are critical to the team’s success. Post-game reflection only helps with future games.

Much like these coaches during the play of the game, this year has required everyone, including law firm leaders, to address unique and unforeseen challenges at a rapid pace. This likely will continue for some time. Just as the football coach, you need to take some time away from the pressure of your practice to reflect on recent months—what has worked, what needs to change and what needs to be reinforced. Halftime is short, and your time may be limited as well, but even an hour spent on this exercise could be important to continuing to thrive in this uncertain environment. Is it halftime with COVID-19? Maybe, but probably not. The end of the beginning? Perhaps. We are writing this column in early July, so the landscape may look very different by the time you read it. Nevertheless, here are three questions that are worth taking time to answer.

Are You Continuing to Look for Opportunities?

The unexpected challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic provided a reminder that some of the best opportunities arise in difficult times—personally and professionally. Firms that were quick to educate themselves on the legal issues arising from the economic fallout and to assist their clients stayed busy during the initial crises. Lawyers who came alongside their clients as they struggled with difficult decisions to keep their businesses afloat strengthened client relationships that will pay dividends in the future. Many firms also learned how to maintain operations in a period of severe disruption.

What are the opportunities for your firm as we enter the next phase of the pandemic? Perhaps there are innovative ways to ensure that your clients see you as remaining engaged in their struggles. Perhaps there are some expenses that were previously considered sacred cows that your colleagues have learned to live without during shelter in place. These opportunities will continue to present themselves if we remain vigilant to find them.

What Changes From the "New Normal" Need to Stick?

COVID-19 forced all of us to adjust and adapt—shelter in place, work from home, videoconferences, mask wearing, frequent handwashing. When the changes are required of us, they are easier to follow and maintain. But it is human nature that we revert to our normal tendencies when the rules are lifted, the emergency has passed or the pressure subsides. You know that handwashing remains the most important step that you can take to stop the spread of COVID-19. Do you still wash your hands every time for as long as it takes you to sing “Happy Birthday” to yourself twice? Most every time? Be honest.

What are the changes that you made during the initial stages of the pandemic that made a positive impact for your firm and you should have been doing all along, but that you are likely to let slide? Perhaps you were engaging your colleagues and staff in a manner that demonstrated genuine concern for their well-being. Perhaps you were regularly calling clients to check on them—off the clock. Perhaps you were getting the exercise that you had been neglecting. With a little effort, you can identify those changes and work to integrate them into your permanent way of managing your firm.

Whom Do You Need To Invest In Right Now?

Whether life settles into a true new normal, we resume shelter in place, or something in between, the upheaval from the pandemic will continue to impact your colleagues and staff for quite some time. We should all remember that times of pain and loss continue long after people around us have scattered. Are there people in your firm who are likely to fall through the cracks as the urgency of the pandemic recedes? Whom can you help? How can you encourage others to do the same?

Our circumstances may look very different when you read this column, but wherever we find ourselves, these three questions are worth giving some thought. Perhaps there are others that come to mind for you as well. Please spend some time reflecting and learning from the opening months of the pandemic and let us know what you learn. Good luck!

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Linda Klein

Senior Managing Shareholder

Linda Klein is a past president of the ABA and senior managing shareholder at Baker Donelson. She is a frequent speaker on law practice, construction and higher education law. [email protected]

John Hinton IV


John Hinton IV is a shareholder in Baker Donelson’s Atlanta office. His practice focuses on commercial litigation and construction law. [email protected]