Exactly 12 weeks from the UK formal ‘lockdown’ government announcement, the PRCA hosted a webinar. The event was chaired by Richard Gerrard, Chair of the PRCA Legal Group and Director of Business Development and Marketing at Carter-Ruck. The panellists included Daniela Conte, Head of European PR at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates, Ben Girdlestone, Head of Communications, Slaughter & May and DRD’s Co-Founding Partner, Claire Davidson.
Focusing on communications during Covid-19, speakers were prompted to share their thoughts on the various challenges they and their firms faced over the past three to five months, subject to their geographical locations, when engaging both with internal and external audiences.
Ben Girdlestone highlighted that Covid-19 has not presented a standalone ‘health crisis’ but instead is mixture of an everchanging and all-encompassing commercial, human resource, reputational and physical crisis. Leaders have and continue to face with the almost impossible task of communicating clearly, regularly and with the purpose of informing employees and clients about the steps that need to be taken so that they can effectively handle this unpredictable and entirely unforeseen situation. An interesting observation by Ben, shared by the other panellists, is how internal communications have come to the forefront of everyone’s agenda. Daniela Conte also made the point that internal communications were not internal anymore, especially for law firms. Multiple legal publications and on-line services have been closely following the policies that law firms have introduced. For instance, The Lawyer’s ‘Coronavirus Hub’ has a detailed and dated list of internal measures taken by law firms on handling Covid-19, leading to unprecedented scrutiny of law firms by the mainstream media.
In addition to being analysed for every move made, firms have to balance keeping themselves commercially viable, all the while making sure that their employees are safe, healthy, and able to work from their homes in a secure way. Claire Davidson highlighted that this balancing act makes communications and management decisions incredibly tough. Leadership has to listen to their employees and at the same time need to make sure that clients’ needs are met in the same way or even better than before the crisis.
The handling of this far-reaching crisis has required unprecedented effort and cohesion from leaders, some for almost half a year now. They have been forced to communicate a variety of information, sometimes devastating news, to their internal and external audiences – calmly, effectively and strategically. They must remain reassuring and understanding of the crisis, yet be efficient, concise and ‘human’ in their messages – recognising that we all have been collectively going through something profound, and we have not even reached the end of the overture, as the curtain now rises on the first act.
The management of the challenge that ‘going back to work’ will pose remains to be seen across firms in the UK. One piece of advice panellists would give to law firm leaders is that it is equally crucial to be empathetic of your team at the same time as being commercially strategic towards the business aims, and client needs. After all, future success will, once again, be all about balance.