Last week, Attorney Krekeler gave a presentation along with Lori Kannenberg Dorn of Stafford Rosenbaum LLP, Jeff Krause of Affinity Consulting Group, and Gia Pionek of Pionek Valle Law Group about Lessons Learned from the Pandemic. Here’s his recap of it:
“For the second year in a row, the State Bar of Wisconsin Solo and Small Firm Conference featured a presentation on lessons we have learned from the pandemic.
Lori Kannenberg Dorn, Office Administrator for Stafford and Rosenbaum, Gia Pionek, a lawyer who specializes in immigration and wellness, Jeffrey Krause, partner with Affinity Consulting, and I discussed how Wisconsin lawyers can cope with the seemingly endless pandemic problems. The discussion which ensued demonstrated that we have in fact coped, and in some respects, we have made some improvements over our pre-COVID lives.
- Client Relations – We try to make the client feel comfortable by respecting their COVID comfort level. Within the bounds of regulations and mandates, we let the client decide whether or not we wear masks, shake hands, and how far apart we sit. We also let the client decide if they’d rather meet in person, by Zoom, or by phone call.
- Employees — We have provided more flexibility to our employees, to meet their family needs. Home schooling and virtual learning have forced us to be even more flexible. We have been able to accommodate this, and probably better than many others, due to our history of flexibility.
- For a long time, we opposed remote work. Our client service model requires that we work as a team. Every client has an attorney or attorneys and a paralegal, which enables us to be more responsive to client needs and to delegate to the person who can do the work at the lowest cost to the client. Now, because of necessity, we are often working remotely. We even have employees who are entirely remote. Several of our employees work remotely about 50% of the time. We have hired lawyers who in the past we would not have, not because they were not qualified, but because we wanted an onsite presence. While remote work is still a challenge for us, we are learning all the time.
- When it comes to compensation, we’ve also increased our flexibility. At one point, all our employees were either hourly or salaried. Now, in order to provide more options to our lawyers, we offer compensation plans based on what is billed or what is collected. This enables those who want to earn a lot of money to do so, while at the same time allowing those who wish more family time that option.
- Both flexible hours and remote work are here to stay. So are variable compensation plans. These are improvements which will survive the pandemic.
- Jeff Krause has lawyers as his clients. He provides them with technology and technology expertise. Jeff sees law firms getting more technology training than ever before. Lawyers are trying to get more out of their existing technology, and Jeff helps them with that. His advice is to “embrace technology.”
- We agree, and now have a second person now learning our practice management and billing software.
- One of the best innovations we have from the pandemic is our Zoom Room. We took an unused office and equipped it to hold Zoom meetings. Courts are increasingly conducting conferences and meetings in this fashion. Creditor meetings in bankruptcy are held via Zoom as well.
- Our Zoom Room allows our clients to come and conduct these meetings here if they do not have other good access. It enables us to conduct conferences with multiple people. It allows our clients to be present with us, which many want, for those creditor meetings. Having your lawyer beside you is often a comfort.
- Lori Dorn has over 30 years’ experience in law firm management. Her advice is to “accept that remote work is here to stay.” She emphasizes that this acceptance allows the law firm to draw in talent from far and wide. Recognizing that COVID has provided a large surge in retirements, Lori has sought to view this time as an opportunity to hire good people.
- “Hire when you find, not when you need” has long been part of our approach at Krekeler Law. We have hired even when we did not have work for that employee, simply because we knew that this was a person we wanted on our team. We can then find the work.
- We have found that some of the people who are retiring, particularly lawyers, would consider continuing to work if they were permitted enough flexibility. Two of our last four hires were about to retire when we reached out to them. By allowing these lawyers to work as little or as much as they wish, combined with the ability to work remotely as they wish, we have been able to bring a wealth of experience into our firm. This experience benefits our clients and our younger lawyers.
- Lawyers should put things in writing. We deal with complex issues that are often unfamiliar to our clients. Our firm policy has been that following every significant event, whether a hearing, meeting, or the filing of some adverse action, we provide the client with a status report letter. That letter should have explained what has happened and how that will affect our goals. It should include any available options and timelines and budgets. And, of course, it should have our recommendations and the reasons for those recommendations.
- When our client meetings are over the phone, or even by Zoom, we lose much of our ability to make eye contact and to gauge body language. It is far more difficult to evaluate the level of understanding the client is getting. For these reasons we have re-doubled our efforts to provide status report letters.
- Attorney Gia Pionek stresses the importance of well-being. She observes that we “packed away” a lot of our standard or usual activities last year. She is leaving some of those actions packed away. For example, Attorney Pionek is now only doing consultations by Zoom, with no in-person meetings.
We agree that the pandemic has made us look at life differently, and that some of the things we did in the past will no longer be the norm. We always try to look at change as an opportunity. Change is inevitable. We can be dragged into the future. We can try to withdraw from change. But change is inevitable. I believe the best approach is to embrace change and try to profit and grow from it. This has been our approach since long before the pandemic, and it has served us very well.”