As the COVID-19 Virus begins to impact law firms and the legal profession, you might be wondering what to do next.
Lawyers From Two New York Law Firms Have Tested Positive For COVID-19
As of Sunday night, March 8, there have been reports of lawyers at two firms who have tested positive for the Coronavirus, COVID-19.
First, Lawrence Garbuz, partner with Lewis and Garbuz, tested positive. Per ABC7 in New York, his family and one of his neighbors are also infected. In the ABC7 article, his wife, Adina Garbuz, who is also a partner at the firm, indicated everyone at their firm has now been quarantined and is working remotely.
Also, an unnamed Quinn Emanuel partner has tested positive. The firm announced his illness Sunday and plans to close its New York office this week. Law.com reports that all lawyers and staff in the New York office of Quinn Emanuel are reported to be working remotely for the time being.
When a situation like the Coronavirus and COVID-19 are looming, you must ask two questions:
- Should you plan for an upheaval in your and your clients’ businesses?
- Should you sit back and wait for it to pass?
Coronavirus COVID-19 Is Unlike Any Other Crisis You’ve Experienced
It might make it easier to decide whether to follow #1 or #2 above by asking yourself these simple yet critical questions:
- What is the worst possible thing that can happen if I choose #1? What about #2?
- What are the advantages of choosing #1? How about #2?
I always advise my clients that proactively getting out in front of a situation by planning ahead for a potential crisis is the best approach.
At the very best, things will pass and you won’t need the solutions and messages you develop if you plan for this crisis. No harm done, right?
At the very worst, among other things, you are:
- Caught off-guard with staff, clients, and media not knowing which direction to turn
- Unsure how to continue business as usual
- Unprepared to help minimize health risks, and
- Confronted with inadequate resources that can help your lawyers, business professionals, and clients understand how to deal with the anxiety, fear, and panic they might experience.
Here’s Where You Should Start
Allow me to provide a starting point for you and your firm so that you are better prepared for what appears to have already begun, which is the spread of a global disease that, at this time, has no vaccine.
Once testing for the virus ramps up, you might find you already have the virus at your firm.
Scenario planning is always the best precursor to effective community and public relations.
Here are some steps for you to follow:
- Create a list of all of the what-if scenarios.
- Who are all of the parties that we need to be worried about?
- What if one of our lawyers tests positive?
- What if one of our business professionals tests positive?
- What if somebody in one of our global offices in a country that has been hit particularly hard tests positive?
- What if any of our service providers test positive?
- What if one of our clients tests positive?
- What if one of our infected lawyers gives the virus to one of our clients before s/he was tested?
- What if anyone in our firm feels s/he has symptoms?
- What if any of our people are so concerned that they want to begin working remotely before we have officially rolled out our work-from-home policy?
- Once you know all of the parties that you need and want to address communication to, which is the second bullet above, then sit down, whether in a war room with Post-it paper all over the walls, using one or more pages for each scenario and target audience, or on your computer at your desk, and brainstorm every message you would want each party to know. I would also make a list of the most expedient ways to communicate with each of these audiences. They will be different.
- Not only do you need to define how to communicate, but you need to decide what you will do if any of the what-ifs happens.
- I would also bring people from every part of your firm, let’s call it a task force, into a conversation right away to decide what it will take to most effectively work remotely. Ask them for every tool and every benefit that would make it necessary to continue to work as usual.
- I would then create a plan for securing all of the supplies needed, including logistics and suppliers, so that you can act at a moment’s notice when you decide it is time to send someone home to work.
Keep Everyone In The Loop Starting Now
In the middle of all of this, if not before, I would message everyone in your firm to let them know this is the kind of planning and conversation you are having because their health is your number one priority. Include media in your markets because it is best to be open, honest, and inclusive. These are the times when those relationships become even more critical. I’ve prepared several details for you to include in that communication here in this post, “How Should You Communicate When Someone In Your Firm Tests Positive For Coronavirus (COVID-19?”
- Invite everyone in your firm to respond or come talk to you or anyone else in a position of authority with suggestions and concerns.
- Create channels to facilitate rapid and easy exchange of conversations like these.
- I would also take into consideration that there is a lot of fear out there, so you might also think about making counselors available if people are feeling particularly anxious, vulnerable, and afraid about what is going on.
- At this beginning stage, you might consider stocking your offices with gloves and hand sanitizer to help everyone do their part to keep this mysterious virus at arm’s length.
Don’t Forget Using Social and Digital Media To Discuss COVID-19 and Coronavirus
As part of the scenario planning discussed above, make sure you add external communication to your list of responsibilities. If you don’t, someone else might step up and tell your story, which you never want as you have no idea how it will come across, or if you will have to step up and protect those impacted. Awareness is heightened, so people will be watching you to see what you are doing.
I shouldn’t even have to talk about this because it is sad and unacceptable, but you need to be aware there are people in this world who are taking out the Coronavirus on Asians as if it is their fault.
Just tonight, I was incredulous as I watched a report of discrimination toward Asians in the US.
Reports such as this from KTVU2 in San Mateo County:
“We are seeing a global rise in anti Asian-American discrimination because of the virus,” said San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa. KTVU reports “California Asian Americans have experienced 75 instances of documented hate, racism and discrimination.”
KATU2 in Portland, Oregon reports that the Multnomah County Health Department is warning people about discrimination, saying “It tells KATU News it received a number of calls from people concerned that people of Asian heritage could pass on the virus even if they aren’t sick. The health department stresses that this isn’t true, but Asian restaurants say they are feeling the impacts.”
I could link to story after story, including bullying of Asian children in school, but I think the point has been made.
Be aware that you might have people in your firm who are the objects of this type of heinous behavior and discrimination. Make sure you have conversations to address this early and often as it will not go away until every last Coronavirus germ is eradicated, and probably not even then as there are people in this world who seem to feed off of misinformation and hatred. Do whatever you can to protect your people.
There Is No Blueprint For Times Like These
Times like these amplify just about everything. Concerns are completely valid when it comes to our health, family, and lives.
Nothing is normal.
Nothing is tried and true.
There is no black and white blueprint, so furthering the discussion is critical.
The most important message I want you to glean from this post is to start now. Don’t wait.
You will find you are much better prepared for what comes your way, both now with this unpredictable Coronavirus, COVID-19, and also for every other crisis in your firm’s future.
Please let me know if you have any thoughts or questions.
Nancy Myrland is a Marketing, Business Development, Content, Social & Digital Media Speaker, Trainer & Advisor, helping lawyers and legal marketers grow by integrating all marketing disciplines in order to maximize business development efforts to grow their practices. Known as the LinkedIn Coach For Lawyers, she is a frequent LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook for Business trainer, as well as a content marketing specialist. She helps lawyers, law firms, and legal marketers learn and implement marketing and business development efforts that are more relevant to their current and potential clients. As an early and constant adopter of social and digital media and technology, she also helps firms with blogging, podcasts, video marketing, voice marketing, flash briefings, and livestreaming. She also helps lead law firms through their online social media strategy when dealing with high-stakes, visible cases.
If you would like to reserve an hour of Nancy’s time to begin talking strategy or think through an issue you are having, you can do that here.