Practice Management Amid COVID-19

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Practice Management Amid COVID-19

Every practising lawyer must complete 12 hours of accredited Continuing Professional Development within a given year. At least two of those hours must pertain to any combination of professional responsibility, ethics, and practice management.

When we think of practice management, various facets of our work come to mind: form of practice; financing; office space and equipment; Internet presence; delineation of roles and division of duties; legal information resources; filing, timekeeping, and accounting systems; client relations; and insurance coverages, to name a few. Managing one’s legal practice effectively is a component of competence, as set out in our Code of Professional Conduct at R. 3.1-1(i). Interestingly, however, law school does not teach us how to be effective managers — or managers at all, for that matter.

Our current Professional Legal Training Course in British Columbia includes a chapter entitled, “Professionalism: Practice Management.” Further, completion of our Law Society’s Practice Management Course is mandatory for lawyers practising in a small firm setting (not more than four lawyers) and, since 2018, for all articled students. But what about those of us who do not practice in small firms and who articled prior to 2018? The majority of lawyers in British Columbia arguably have no formal management training and many of us are managing the business operations of our firms.

Enter COVID-19. How many of us had a pandemic preparedness plan at our disposal? COVID-19 added yet another layer to the complicated, practice management matrix. Novel challenges for lawyers and law firms, with the paramount goal being staff and client safety, warranted increased flexibility in the delivery of legal services. Entrenched legal and court procedure suddenly became nimble and seemingly ever changing. Lawyers and legal professionals who previously had resisted technological advancements and flexible work arrangements, were forced to rapidly adapt their practices while remaining abreast of the evolving legal landscape or be faced with irrelevance. The pandemic response has touched nearly every aspect of practice management, including a conversion to remote work practices.

Working remotely has pros and cons on both personal and professional levels. Personally, for some, the lack of a daily commute means more time to spend with family, and the ability to make healthier lifestyle choices, including exercising and cooking more. For others, the isolation of working remotely is devastating, or the inability to separate work and family life means working through the middle of the night as young children sleep. Professionally, remote operations have the potential to decrease office overhead and increase efficiencies, and the resultant opportunity to pass these costs-savings along to clients increasing access to legal services. Conversely, virtual hearings are inherently less formal and more prone to interruptions and miscommunications than their in-person counterparts are, and remote practices expose us to increased phishing attempts and client confidentiality risks. Further, important emotional interactions and mentorship opportunities are lost in remote work environments unless we make deliberate efforts to ensure they continue.

As you work tirelessly to transition the delivery of legal services and keep abreast of the evolving legal landscape, reflect upon the following practice management considerations:

  • Lead with empathy — it has been a long road and the end seems at times to be an elusive mirage;
  • Stay connected with your staff through regular virtual events to convey important information, celebrate achievements, keep your finger on the pulse of wellbeing, and raise camaraderie and morale; and
  • Regularly review the CBABC COVID-19 Resource Hub for legal industry updates, business support resources, wellness resources, advocacy updates, and practice management resources.

And, of course, check in with your professional association — the CBA — to stay connected and apprised of practice management risks and opportunities. We are here for you!