As it has for large swaths of the economy, the novel coronavirus pandemic offered many U.S.-based law firms their first opportunity to truly put their business continuity plans to the test. Whether firm leadership relied on established, written-down plans or winged it with ad hoc fixes as problems arose, the sudden issuance of various varieties of stay-at-home/shelter-in-place orders (and the still-ongoing reopenings) has driven home the need for planning to continue operations under a variety of less-than-ideal or expected conditions.
In an effort to remain abreast of changing trends, we invited U.S. legal professionals to respond to a survey rating their firms’ preparedness for the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting stay-at-home orders. Despite the unscientific nature of the survey and in-no-way representative sample of responses we received, we nonetheless find the information revealing and insightful.
We started by asking respondents to rate their firms’ preparedness to continue serving clients during the pandemic based on twelve factors (see Figure 1) adapted from the Centers for Disease Control Pandemic Business Continuity Checklist. By adding these ratings together, we could produce a Pandemic Preparedness Score for each respondent. By averaging responses to each item, we are able to discern those areas in which respondents rated their firms as being well-prepared to respond to COVID-19 and the stay-at-home orders.
Overall, respondents reported their firms as being well-
prepared in identifying essential employees and providing them with access to the software and systems needed to communicate with and continue serving clients from home. Indeed, all but one respondent reported that their firm was able to recommence serving clients within five days of going to a work-from-home model (see Figure 2).
We also asked respondents to share any changes they had made in their technology purchasing or deployment in response to COVID-19. As might be expected, the majority of these open-ended responses referenced accelerating moving their firms to the cloud by implementing videoconferencing and other Web-based business operations (i.e., accounting, e-signature) solutions and infrastructure (i.e., VPN, SFTP, servers) upgrades to support remote access. Some firms also reported delaying the deployment of new phone and WiFi systems and stalling the upgrade of on-site systems while away from the office (Figure 3).
Finally, we asked respondents to share any surprises they experienced while moving to a work-from-home workstyle. Respondents reported being surprised to find the process less disruptive than expected and that (some) employees enjoy working from home. Others reported resistance by older staff members to technology-heavy remote work, problems obtaining hardware during the initial stages of the pandemic and difficulties ensuring all employees had the necessary services and hardware to work from home.
While our survey may not provide scientific-level data, it nonetheless allows us to draw insights into firms’ preparedness to continue serving clients during future natural and manmade disasters. More important, it provides visibility into areas where firms may need to focus their efforts to ensure business continuity in times of change and uncertainty.
Next week, we'll discuss the insights gleaned from our survey that can help law firms prepare for the future.