Q: In the last two months, our firm has been experiencing changes stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, including staff downsizing and workload shifts. How can I keep my legal team motivated and maintain their morale in these uncertain times?
A: Legal professionals understand change better than most since court decisions, regulatory reforms and new legislation require being vigilant in keeping abreast of legal developments, yet the impact of COVID-19 has been unprecedented. In these times, the most valued leaders are those who navigate business challenges themselves and help their legal teams do the same.
Change can present itself in many forms and most employees experience some degree of stress during a major transition. Legal managers can help to keep the work environment positive by helping their teams understand the changes and make the necessary adjustments. Here are six suggestions to ease times of transition, and maintain morale and productivity:
- Communicate effectively.
- Set a positive example.
- Help find solutions.
- Define new roles.
- Emphasize core values.
- Staff strategically.
When it comes to helping individuals cope with changes to the status quo, there is no such thing as too much information. If employees are uncertain as to what direction the organization is going, they may decide to postpone decisions or interactions until more is revealed about what lies ahead, which can impact productivity. Be forthcoming about new developments and why they are necessary. Similarly, leadership can bolster employee confidence by showing that there is a solid plan for navigating the challenges down the road.
To reduce miscommunication, plans should be shared with legal staff as a group, using discretion when it comes to proprietary information or sensitive personnel matters. Don’t limit communication to official meetings; inviting employees to ask questions and maintaining openness will help smooth a transition.
Even if legal managers don’t have all the answers, they should be forthcoming about what they do know so that changes affecting the firm do not cause doubts to arise and undermine morale. Answering questions about potential impact is necessary but emphasis should be to acknowledge that while parts of the transition may be tough, the intended outcome is a better situation for all.
If the nature of the work will change, equip employees with the tools they need to assume new responsibilities sooner rather than later. Managers should be sensitive to the concerns of employees and willing to discuss potential challenges, such as adjusting to working remotely full-time or heavier workloads due to staff downsizing.
Clarify what will be expected of legal teams in the new environment, spelling out new procedures and responsibilities. In the case of unanticipated changes, of course, there will be no choice but to respond as the situation evolves. However, legal managers can prepare for such eventualities by regularly refining a list of responsibilities that can be re-prioritized or delegated as needed. Cross-training staff within the department also is a good idea and can be a lifeline in an emergency.
When an organization is in a period of transition, it may seem that everything is changing. This is a good opportunity to emphasize those things that are not, such as the firm’s core values. Emphasizing corporate culture, including service philosophy, ethics and values, can serve as a solid and reassuring anchor for legal teams when many other aspects seem to be in flux.
Legal teams in high-demand practice areas are facing escalating workloads. While these changes represent opportunities, they also can place considerable strain on legal staff. Legal managers can decrease stress levels by meeting regularly with team members to evaluate workloads, set priorities and reconfigure responsibilities. Legal managers also can tap the services of a specialized staffing firm to hire highly skilled legal professionals on a project or consulting basis. In addition to helping lighten the load of full-time teams, these attorneys and paralegals can provide practice area expertise for specific legal projects or take on more intensive projects that might otherwise divert internal teams from core initiatives.
By clearly communicating, defining roles, emphasizing the organization’s core values and staffing strategically, legal managers can help their teams not only survive times of change but also prepare for future growth and new opportunities.
Robert Half Legal is a premier legal staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major North American and global markets and offers a full suite of legal staffing and consulting solutions.