Future proofing your career in light of the Covid-19 crisis.

Future proofing your career in light of the Covid-19 crisis.

With many law firms cutting staff, reducing salaries, and requiring staff to work from home, employees are faced with a great deal of added anxiety on top of what is usually considered a high maintenance career. In years gone by, many have considered being a lawyer as one of the more secure employment choices. However, the fallout out from the Covid-19 crisis has shown us that no one is immune from the effects of this pandemic, even legal professionals.

This got me thinking, how secure is your position, really? And what can you do to prevent as little disruption to your career as possible during this time?

I don’t think there is a one size fits all approach to this question. If you are a junior practitioner, you might be first on the chopping block due to your lack of experience. If you are a more senior practitioner, you may be unaffordable for your firm at the present time. In some cases, there is no question with employers having already forced employees into unemployment.

So should you stay and weather the storm? That might involve taking the pay cut and adopting somewhat difficult conditions, in the hope that your position is still there at the end. Or should you go? Whether it be to start your own practice or to find alternate employment with a firm that is better equipped to deal with the change in conditions. Before deciding whether to stay with your firm or leave, it is prudent to reflect not only on your strengths and weaknesses as a lawyer, but also on how the Covid-19 crisis will affect your long term career goals having regard to those character traits.

If you are thinking of staying, consider ways to make yourself more attractive to your firm so that they see the value in you. These may include:

  1. Being positive and flexible with working arrangements.
  2. Ensuring you have adequate technological resources to facilitate online conferencing and appearances, and more importantly, knowing how to use these platforms.
  3. Have a strong work ethic. Do a little extra for your client where possible.
  4. Take the lead and show initiative.

For those who want to leave (whether it be by choice or otherwise), ultimately you need to choose between seeking alternate employment or starting your own business. Regardless of what you choose, you should start thinking about the direction of the legal profession in general and how you will fit into it. Will these online conferences and online appearances become the new norm? Will employers start to reduce physical office spaces and start to encourage more working from home?

There are many law firms who are well equipped to deal with this crisis, having implemented these types of measures for some time now. They already have technology in place to ensure compliance with social distancing measures. They already have a strong flexible working from home policy in place. Your time would be well spent considering how you can fit into and thrive in the new legal environment. Perhaps finish your accreditations or broaden your practice areas. Then there is your own presentation – how well do you present in an online forum. Can you hold the audience’s attention?

For those with a choice and considering starting their own practice, proceed with caution. These are uncertain times. We do not know how long this crisis will last or what the legal environment will look like at the end of it.

I have compiled a list of my top questions for starting out on your own in these times. So before handing in your resignation or opting for the redundancy package, consider these issues:

  1. Are you financially fit to successfully run a business on your own? What I mean is, are you on top of your household budget? Do you having sufficient savings set aside to pay usual expenses until profits are accrued? Do you have access to finance for start up costs?
  2. Do you know what is needed to start and maintain your own practice? What are the start up and ongoing costs in running a practice? What computer or practice management software will you need? What memberships, licenses and insurances are required?
  3. Where will you practice? Will you hire a space, share an office, or work from home? What security measures will you have in place to protect the integrity of the sensitive and personal information obtained from clients.
  4. Where will your clients come from? Will you be in breach of your current employment agreement by practising on your own?
  5. Courts are adjourning hearings with the effect that many advocates’ workloads are decreasing.
  6. Clients may be less inclined to commence proceedings particularly when the Courts are not so inclined to dispose of many matters in the foreseeable future.
  7. Apart from issues surrounding the enforceability of particular contracts and employment issues, many areas of practice might see reduced demand in the short term. Eg: In the real estate industry, severe restrictions on inspections have seen a reduced number of real estate transactions, which leads to less work for property lawyers.
  8. Despite many banks coming to the assistance of established businesses in providing short term debt relief, many are tightening their lending habits with the effect that many new businesses would not be eligible for finance.

There is no harm in using this time to start planning your business, finishing off studies and accreditations, or getting your financial affairs in place. That way, when the crisis is over you will have done the ground work that goes into starting your own practice or getting your legal career on track.

Even if it’s a new kind of normal, you can at least use this experience to try to future proof your business and way of practice.