COVID-19 Crisis Office Closure Communication Best Practices For Lawyers
During this time of physical distancing, clear communication with your clients and potential clients is more important than ever. Previous assumptions about when and how attorneys are available are temporarily invalid. And while the world seems to have moved onto Zoom for business as well as book clubs, choir concerts and birthday parties, do not assume that your clients and potential clients will understand your availability unless you communicate it to them explicitly.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve seen some well-intentioned but ultimately self-destructive messaging. For example, I’ve seen some attorneys post messages that start with the kiss of business death:
“OUR OFFICE IS CLOSED”
(Never say this! Period!)
If you lead with this, it may not matter how well you subsequently explain that you are currently open for business and consultation via video chat or phone. When potential clients sees the “headline” and that headline is that the office is closed, they are unlikely to read or care what comes next. This is especially true if they are seeing that type of messaging as they land on your website for the first time.
The message “Our Office Is Closed” is likely to cause a significant number of both your clients and potential clients to assume either that:
- That your FIRM is closed temporarily and that you don’t want to or can’t be contacted; or
- That your FIRM is closed permanently.
Why? Because people outside of your firm equate the term “our office” to mean “our business,” as in we are closed for business right now. This is generally true for all law firms, and even more so for firms that use the words “Law Office” or “Law Offices” in the firm’s name.
I’ve also seen attorneys communicate about their physical availability with disempowering and very negative messaging. This is a mistake.
Avoid passive-aggressive messaging that you’ve been forced to close down. Don’t mention the governor, the mayor, Trump or any third party as the cause of you having to close your physical office.
Your clients and potential clients are looking to YOU to be in control. And even if you resent the shit out of being mandated to close your physical office, you still made the choice to do it. Period.
Consider the alternative. If you didn’t make the choice and you bitch about it to your clients, they will think to themselves “my lawyer had a legal problem that impacted his business, that he didn’t agree with, and that he didn’t even try to fight.” No matter what kind of law you practice, you do not want your clients and potential clients thinking that. Your potential clients will flee before ever contacting you, and your current clients will have a seed of doubt that can make managing the relationship and their expectations going forward more difficult.
What attorneys should say when communicating with clients and potential clients about COVID-19 related physical office closures
Here are the concepts that I believe every attorney should clearly communicate to their clients and potential clients about their availability during social isolation caused by the novel coronavirus.
1. OUR FIRM IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS: Please use the word “Firm” and not “Office.” Words matter here.
2. WE ARE AVAILABLE TO HELP YOU: This need to be made clear as the second thing that the reader sees. You’re open and you are ready to help.
3. TO OUR CURRENT CLIENTS: Address current clients first. Say something like “We are actively working for you, and we are here to answer questions and help you as needed, so don’t hesitate to reach out.”
4. WE ARE ACCEPTING NEW CLIENTS: Then address potential clients by saying something like “We are available to talk with you, to help you understand whether we are the right firm for you, right now. And if we are we can get started now or as soon as you are ready.”
5. WE ARE AVAILABLE FOR ZOOM MEETINGS AND PHONE CALLS: This tells them exactly how they will be able to interact with you. In talking about how they will meet with you first, before you talk about your physical office being closed, you are answering the question that’s on THEIR mind rather than focusing on something that’s out of your control. I mention Zoom specifically because suddenly everybody is using Zoom, and most people will feel comfortable with it. Zoom is the instant standard. It’s reliable and high quality, and if done right, will give your clients a sense of privacy and security. For that reason, even if you have a Skype account or use GoToMeeting regularly (also solid platforms, but getting their asses kicked by Zoom at the moment), I recommend leading with Zoom in your messaging and making that available for client meetings (more on Zoom best practices in a near future post).
6. WE ARE TEMPORARILY WORKING FROM HOME: You have to say this, but say it last. It’s the same thing as saying that your physical office is closed, but it is said in a positive and empowering way. I recommend saying something to the effect of “We made the decision to temporarily work from home instead of at the office. That decision was made to protect you and our staff, and to do our part to help flatten the curve and prevent community spread. And even though we’re working from home, we are operating at full capacity and we’re here to help you.” If you’re not able to work well from home, that’s your first project. You’ve got to fix that now. Get your shit together! The technology is there, so get it done or you’ll be left in the dust when the crisis is over.
7. HERE’S HOW YOU CAN EASILY CONTACT US: Describe the ways that your clients can contact you, and make it simple. Hopefully by now you have your firm’s phone system operating at 100% capacity so it’s as if you’re in the office. If not, read this post and get it done. In your message, make sure you clearly specify your hours.
It is important to craft a concise, clearly written message with the above points that everybody in your firm agrees to both in terms of the wording and message, and also in terms of a commitment to action and availability. It’s best to use the same message in ALL of your communications about your availability, because even subtle wording changes can create the perception of inconsistency and cause confusion and hesitation in your clients. The more you can be a voice of clarity for your clients and potential clients during this time, the more creditability and respect you’ll earn. And the converse is also true. So put yourself in your clients’ shoes as you craft your message.
Where should I communicate my law firm’s COVID-19 message?
Here are some ideas about where to communicate your message. This is not an exhaustive list, so if you have other platforms or means of communication, make sure you think them through and address them accordingly.
1. You law firm’s website: You should have your message posted conspicuously on your website. At a minimum it should go on you office location(s) page(s), your contact page(s), and in a blog post. Some firms also choose to add a popup banner at the bottom of the page that can be dismissed. We’ve seen some overkill messages in bright red at the top of every page that some legal marketing agencies are adding to their clients’ websites. Those are overkill because they get in the way of the client’s experience on the website, and can also mess up your search engine ranking. Your clients need to know that you’re open for business and how to contact you on every page, but they don’t need to read a huge statement at the top of every page. If you are a LawLytics customer and want help let us know and we can assist you with placement and best-practices so that you can get your message posted today.
2. A personalized email to your clients: You should definitely be communicating with all of your clients, active and inactive, during this time. If you don’t, you’re missing opportunities. If you have an email newsletter system in place, this will be easy. I recommend personalizing the message by adding a placeholder where the client’s first name is inserted in the greeting. Also, make sure you conclude the email with a personal invitation to chat. This will create a lot of goodwill.
3. In your email newsletters: If you do email newsletters, keep them coming during this time. If you’re do them monthly or quarterly in normal times, consider temporarily upping the cadence to weekly and sending your list useful information that is relevant to them regarding the current crisis (if can’t think of something relevant and you’re a LawLytics customer, let us know and we’ll identify some topics and present them at our next weekly Mastermind). Don’t make your availability message the focus of your newsletters, but do include it at the bottom of each newsletter as a reminder that you’re open and here to help.
4. In physical letters: If you normally communicate with your clients through the US mail, don’t stop now. Do a mail merge and let every client have a physical copy of your availability policy. And be sure to personally sign it. A signature from the attorney with whom the client has (or had) the relationship is better than a secretary or paralegal’s signature if possible, so, if an employee is preparing the letters for you from home make sure that they have a digital copy of your signature that they can add to the letter before running the mail merge and printing.
5. In auto-attendant greetings and voicemail greetings: Make sure that, when a client or potential client calls your office and gets an automated system, that system, in a friendly voice from somebody in your firm, tells them about your availability. Normally shorter is better for voice greetings, but in this case it’s better to err on the side of longer and include all relevant information. Your clients will understand.
6. In email footers: Add your message below the signature in your emails. While this might get lengthy along with any other disclaimers you typically include, again, during this time, your clients will understand.
7. Email autoresponders: Be super careful when it comes to autoresponders. Do not enable an auto-responder that says to be patient with you unless your time to read and respond to emails, is delayed more than usual. And if it is, be honest and include your general availability message along with setting clear expectations as to when they can respect a response to their email. If you are delayed, if possible, provide an alternative contact for urgent matters.
Conclusion: This is a marketing opportunity for your law firm
The message you send about your response to COVID-19 will drive your clients’ current impression of your firm. Take care in crafting and delivering your message, and turn this into a marketing opportunity rather than a logistical puzzle for your clients to solve. Avoid ambiguity, and give your clients and potential clients a crystal clear understanding of exactly how and when you are available.
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Attorney & LawLytics CEO