how to say no to law firm clients

These last 2-3 weeks here in the UK have been, frankly, surreal, scary and the nearest I will hopefully come to war time conditions in my life time. I have been hearing from many of my clients that their career plans have gone completely to awry. (Some of them used stronger language than this.) So in this post I wanted to share my thoughts on how to get your career back on track, and how to start thinking about career planning again, if the Coronavirus has turned everything on its head.

Career planning: Acknowledge what has changed or what have you lost

Before you can get back on the career progression bandwagon and start career planning you need to get your head into the right space. And this means taking yourself through the emotional cycle of change. We’ve had a decade worth of change forced on us in the last few weeks, and this needs a bit of time to process. As a business owner who was set up for amazing growth and opportunities in 2020, I’ve had to quickly mourn what will now not be, and start along a very different path… keeping the business we have got already. You may have heard of the emotional cycle of change from the work done by Kubler-Ross on how people reacted to the knowledge that there were going to die.

Emotional Cycle Of Change

Before you can start career planning again you need to get yourself to a place of acceptance. Not easy at the moment, particularly if you are scared stiff about your health or the health of loved ones or the health of the firm you are working for at the moment. One of the best ways of moving your mind forward is to journal down your thoughts and read them back. Based on what you have written where are you on the emotional cycle of change? If you are still very much in the pessimistic space, time to consider what opportunities there are for you right now. Or book a call with a career coach to discuss your situation. This is hopefully a temporary contraction in the global economy…

There are winners and losers right now

Anyone who works in private client, particularly wills and probate, is very busy right now. Sadly, anyone who specialises in the real estate sector is going to be struggling if they are in a country in lock down right now. Or whose government has not put in place significant measures to protect the economy. As someone who started their business as a result of the last global recession caused by the banking industry collapsing in 2008, I’ve been through a similar but not totally similar time. This time around the government has caused a temporary massive reduction in demand for much of the hospitality, leisure, tourism and non-essential retail sector. Which means when we are all allowed outside again, this demand should bounce back. (Or that’s the thinking of the UK government.) If what you do is running ‘hot’ right now, e.g. insolvency and turnaround specialists, then my advice to you is crack on. This is your feeding season and will help you build a business case to justify your admission to the partnership. But what if demand for your services has tanked? What can you do? Firstly, take a long hard look at the services you provide? Can you adjust your offering right now? For example, if you in real estate, can you offer your services to the private client team in your firm? Or could your insolvency team use your help right now to support with any real estate issues which crop up? Or can you look to the next 6-12 months and see what is going to rebound strongly? (I predict many companies may want to reduce their office space as they have now managed to figure out remote working for their employees.) This article on everything you wanted to know about choosing a profitable niche may help you if you are finding your workload is drying up.

Realise your firm will use this opportunity to cut costs and reduce promotions

Faced with a squeeze on turnover, most firms will look to cut costs right now and put a freeze on promotions. Prepare yourself that your firm may basically put all promotions on hold for a year. Particularly if they are looking at options to reduce their overall wage bill. This may not happen, but if the firm is struggling for profit right now the last thing they are going to do is admit a new partner and dilute their profit share right now. In the last global recession many firms offered to their staff the chance to reduce their hours on a temporary basis. This may be an opportunity for you to go a little more part time.

Get talking to partners about how they see this crisis panning out

There will be many people in your firm who have weathered many recessions and economic crises. You’ll probably know who these are because they are (a) not panicking and (b) have the lines on their face to prove they have been there. These are the people to talk to now. They will probably give you the wisest advice right now on what is going to happen in the short and medium term. You can then use their advice to think about where to focus your efforts to move your career forward in the short term.

Partners will be valuing the people who are proving to be strong leaders and adaptable right now

As the owner of a business who employs 3 people it’s a pretty scary time right now. So imagine if you are a partner of a firm who employs 100s or even 100,000s of people around the globe. The wage bill is looking pretty high at the moment if you are worried about large amounts of your client base going bust or asking for payment holidays. Couple this with the fact that many partners are adjusting to working permanently from home and some are hating it. (Yes, you did read that correctly…) So, if you can be seen to be a strong leader now, this is going to help your career massively when we get to the other side of this crisis. So what do I mean by being a strong leader?

  • Remaining positive and focused
  • Taking the initiative
  • Not moaning
  • Being prepared to share how they are feeling
  • Offering to help partners
  • Coming up with ideas to make things a little bit better for everyone
  • Being comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty

Start to look for opportunities to win work

It may sound strange given all the doom and gloom out there, but there is still business to be won. Many companies still have budgets and plans for when the storm is over. This means you need to be talking to your clients right now. Many clients will need their hand holding as the crisis takes hold. Don’t email, pick up the phone. You will be surprised how many people are bored at home and craving a conversation with another human being. But it is not just your current clients, there is new work to be won out there. Just as I said you need to dig in and find your inner leader right now, now is the time to look for new business opportunities. There is a health warning here… It depends on where your location and sector is right now. For example, the retail food sector is having a second christmas this year with the level of demand they are facing. They are going to be all hands to the pump and wouldn’t have time to talk. There are some geographic locations which are behind where your country is with the virus. If they are still in shock or denial, they probably are not ready to talk about the future. So, the advice here is to go carefully.  When you sense the collective mood of your clients and contacts is in acceptance, you can safely start talking about new business again. (Hence the recommendation to pick up the phone to people.) If you haven’t already invested in online networking such as using LinkedIn and Twitter, there is never a better opportunity to go all in. Until face-to-face events or opportunities resume, this is your best chance to get visible to the people who matter. When you are doing your career planning, online networking really needs to feature.

Find your own sounding board

It’s a pretty scary time at the moment. As an asthmatic I am very concerned about if I catch the virus. But probably more worried about my 75 and 76 year old parents with underlying health conditions which puts them both in the very vulnerable categories. In these times it is only natural to worry. Not just about your personal health, but your financial health as well. As the saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved. And when your brain is flooded with thoughts about worst possible scenarios, now more than ever is the time to get talking to someone you trust. Whether this is your mentor, or external coach. They can help you boost your optimism and start career planning with a renewed sense of purpose.

Start rethinking your career plan

The career plan, in particular your business development plan, that you were working towards before the crisis really hit is now worthless. Time to rethink and rebuild it. Of course, we can help you with this!  

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