In today’s episode, I talk about a recent weather event that we experienced. Hurricane Ida ravaged New Orleans. Our thoughts and our prayers are with Louisiana and everyone that was affected in the South. But Hurricane Ida also made its way up to the East Coast.
As a result of massive change in our climate, we have seen a significant uptick in weather events across the country. When Hurricane Ida became Tropical Storm Ida and hit New Jersey, many people that I am personally connected to were adversely affected.
So, I wanted to record this episode to really talk about some of the higher-level strategic thoughts that a CEO of a law firm should really have in their mind for these types of events. Stay tuned for more!
In this episode we discuss:
- Higher-level strategic planning around natural disasters in your business.
- Developing the mindset of a law firm owner.
- Considering the care that your team members need during weather events.
- Checking in on everyone’s physical and emotional wellness.
- Knowing your business numbers and your business insurance policies in order to maintain your business and financial security.
- Having a recovery plan for potential decreased productivity and declining sales.
Allison Williams: [00:00:11] Hi, everybody, it’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor. Law Firm Mentor is a business coaching service for solo and small law firm attorneys. We help you grow your revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money.
Allison Williams: [00:00:25] Hi, everyone, it’s Allison Williams here, you’re a Law Firm Mentor and on this week’s episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast, I’m going to talk to you guys about a recent weather event that we had. Hurricane Ida and she ravaged New Orleans. Our thoughts and our prayers are with New Orleans and Louisiana and everyone that was affected on the East Coast or rather everyone that was affected in the South, I should say. But Hurricane Ida did become a weather event that made its way up to the East Coast. And for many of you, you know that I am in the lovely land of New Jersey, where we don’t see a whole lot of hurricane action. But as a result of massive change in our climate, really, over the last decade events, we have seen a significant uptick in weather events across the country. And one of those events is hurricanes or, or rather tropical storms. So Hurricane Ida became Tropical Storm Ida and hit New Jersey, and a lot of people that I am personally connected to were adversely affected. And so I wanted to record this episode to really talk about some of the higher-level strategic thoughts that a CEO of a law firm should really have in their mind for these types of events. Now, this is not a discussion about disaster preparedness, per se. You know, you all should have liability insurance, you should have coverage for, you should have coverage for your, your structure as a law firm.
Allison Williams: [00:01:58] And we are certainly going to have some professionals on probably over the next year or so to talk about what the right types of insurance are, what you need to be doing to make sure that you are giving yourself the fullest protection that you can afford yourself as a business owner. But today, instead of going into the nitty-gritty of all of the details of insurance coverage and that sort of thing, I really wanted to spend some time talking about the mindset that you need to develop as a law firm owner to be successful when life events like this happen. So first of all, before we dive into the substance, I do want to give a special shout-out and note that this episode is dedicated to one of my most amazing team members, Judith Miller. Judith is a salesperson here at Law Firm Mentor. A rather at my, at my law firm, Williams Law Group and Judith, actually she left me a beautiful plant to say thank you for giving her PTO, or rather I told her and every person that was affected in our law firm. If you had flood damage, just take the day. No PTO, just take the day. You know, we’ll pay you for the day, I want you to be home taking care of yourself, your property, your family, and your well-being. And she decided to leave me a plant to say thank you for that, which was such an amazing act of gratitude. I actually caught her when she was sneaking out of my office to leave me this as I came back from a trip recently. So shout out to do that for just being always filled with such gratitude. You’re always such an example for all of us as to how we can elevate our, our mental and emotional well-being and how we can live happier lives.
Allison Williams: [00:03:46] Now, having said that, there are three areas that I want to talk about today that all law firm ownership should really have in their minds or events like this. And this, this when I say events like this, I’m talking about any major weather event that has a potential and or a probability of creating some form of damage that you as a business owner, will have to respond to.
Allison Williams: [00:04:11] So the first thing I want to talk to you guys about are the people in your law firm, and I’m sure we all have had an experience like this before. I know some of our clients here at Law Firm Mentor, we’ve had some pretty devastating circumstances. I know one of my former clients actually went through the process of having to be relocated during Hurricane Katrina, and one of, one of my existing clients actually went through Hurricane Sandy and had to had lost basically her entire home and all of her property. She and her husband and child had to evacuate.
Allison Williams: [00:04:47] So, you know, I for all of the people that are going through something like that, I will be very candid with you. I have lived through over a dozen hurricanes in my life. I grew up on the Gulf Coast of Pensacola, Florida, so I am very familiar with storms and have lived through quite a few of them. But we have always been blessed that we have never had to be evacuated from our home and we’ve never had such flood damage that we, that we lost property or even lost the ability to occupy our residence as a result of the hurricane. But having lived through lots of those storms and always having experienced friends, family members, church members, community members that were ill-affected, I see what those types of events have done to people financially, psychologically, emotionally it is, it is a gut-wrenching experience. So my heart goes out to everyone that’s been affected by Hurricane Ida and any storm, really, because this is, this is kind of the stuff of life that all of us. I think we are sensitive to the fact that it’s possible, but we never think it’s going to happen to us. And then when it happens to us, our thought is, Oh my God, I can’t believe this happened to me and then you have your story that comes from that.
Allison Williams: [00:06:07] And the people, of course, are always the most precious property that can be damaged in, in a storm like this. But as a business owner, strategy number one is to really consider the care that people need during times like this. And so, as I noted earlier, my team member, Judith left me a beautiful plant to say thank you for giving her the day and just saying here, go take care of yourself, your family, your property, etcetera. That really was not about, it was about the fact that I care about my people and I want my people to be well. But it really wasn’t, it really wasn’t something that I would think would even warrant a thank you beyond just a passing comment if anything. Really, because I just, you know, as a value system, it very much aligns with my values that when people are in a suffering state, the first thing that you have to do is to offer assistance, whatever that assistance is, right? And this is not me proselytizing. So this is not to say that everyone should have this value system, but as a business owner, it is particularly important that you establish the value system of recognizing that people will need additional care during times like these. So and when I’m talking about people, I’m talking about your clients, but most, especially your employees. So I want you to just think about and we are all aware of this, how stressful it is to be a lawyer.
Allison Williams: [00:07:30] Right. We are hyper policed, we are expected, to know all, do all, be all to a host of people. When people encounter us, when they seek us out, they are in some form of distress. And typically there is a, a transference, if you will, of that stress from them on to you as you are both absorbing their emotional response to their problem, as well as having to analytically think your way through the solution and create an opportunity for them to have what they want or to minimize the damage of what they’re facing. So we are challenged as people, right? Our profession is one where we are inherently the recipients of toxic stress from others. In addition to having stress of our own and so it’s really critical that as a business owner, that you be mindful that life events that will affect an individual at any given point in time, will of course, have the ability to affect your business. So the more people you employ, the more opportunities there are for people to go through a divorce or have a miscarriage, or get into a major fight with a parent and have emotional distress associated with that. To lose a loved one, to, to have problems with their children, that cause them a lot of turmoil. So we know that that’s the human experience, right. So all of us are subject to being less than our best because we have the human experience.
Allison Williams: [00:08:57] But when you magnify that, when that becomes a collective experience that all of us are going through something, then there is a necessity for you as the leader to rise to the occasion of helping the people that are entrusted to your care, whether that be your employees, if you are leading a business or your clients, if you are the steward of your business, right, whomever you’re responsible, responsible to, you really have to think about the fact that if you don’t have a pragmatic approach to how you’re going to address a time when people are not likely to be their best and not likely to be able to function under the, the traditional rubric of their job, then you’re missing an opportunity to help be creative, find ways for them to be more effective or for them to have the relief that they need while someone else is being effective in their stead. You’re really shortchanging your business. And the other thing is that as we start to grow larger companies, leadership takes on a different meaning. So leadership is not just how am I treating every person by treating people with respect? Am I treating people the way that I would like to be treated? But you also have the implications of when I give a policy or an initiative or speak some edict into the business.
Allison Williams: [00:10:26] How is that going to land on different people based on their circumstances? Right? Because sometimes you’ll, you’ll make a rule that seems like the nicest, easiest non-issue in the world, but it affects one person very severely and another person not so much. So you really have to think about things such as whether or not when there are major life events, right? And, and I try hard not to land in the world of COVID because I know that we are in a state now where the pandemic is still ongoing and people are often talking about it in ways that are politically charged and frustrating from an analytical perspective. The whole vaccine debate is is much larger now than it has been in many years. And I think that a lot of times people when they hear one more thing about COVID, they kind of tune out so we’re not actually going on any time really talking about that. But that, of course, is the most recent example of where there is a communal, collective problematic life event that affects people differently. But that is affecting all of us in some way. So think about hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, major weather events in that same category. So you have to consider your, your people, right? And so of course, in this particular instance, when Hurricane Ida hit New Jersey, a lot of areas were devastated by floods.
Allison Williams: [00:11:52] So we, we experienced just it took me two hours to get to my office, I’m usually about twenty-five minutes or 30 minutes away from the office. My commute was quadrupled by virtue of the number of times I had to be detoured because of the roads being flooded. There were entire bridges that were collapsed. There were homes that because of the flooding, the flooding got into electrical circuits and homes blew up in the neighborhood of some of my employees. I experienced having employees, friends, and neighbors, neighbors in my adjoining neighborhood, not in my actual neighborhood, have so much water in their house that one entire floor was submerged underwater. Cars were completely submerged underwater. This was not a small event, right? And the instinctual thing that I knew to do was to give time off for recovery. I mean, if nothing else, right? So I want you to contemplate what would be your policy, right? If something were to happen, would you be able to give that time off? And when I say, would you be able to? I mean, can you afford it? Right? We’re going to talk about numbers in a little bit, but I want you to just have that frame in your mind. The next thing is checking in on everyone’s physical and emotional wellness. Now for a lot of you, you either never really left working in a brick and mortar office or you went home and quarantined when COVID first started. But now you’re back in an office, or maybe you have a hybrid.
Allison Williams: [00:13:24] But a lot of people have started to use digital and electronic forms of communication in order to maintain culture, whether you are working in the same office building with someone or not. So if you have something like Microsoft Teams or a Slack channel, you might very well check in with people that way. But if you don’t, maybe checking in by email or if you can get on the phone with people and simply ask, how did they handle it? Right? Did they have any damage? Because sometimes it doesn’t occur to us when we’re in our own experience to stop, pause and say my highest order responsibility is that of leader, so I need to check in to see how my people did, right? So the first thing that we did when we got to the office and I’m saying we collectively there were other people in my office that came to the office. Most people did not come to the office, thank God. But I came in early even with quadruple the commute, and the first thing I did was, all right, where is everybody at? Who had damage? Is everyone OK? And just getting a check-in to say that we’re all, all right physically? All right, I think it’s important because you never know. Then the emotional check-ins, right? So sometimes people feel very comfortable in a collective environment, depending on how your environment functions to say, Yeah, this is really stressful or Oh my god, I can’t believe my kid’s childhood pictures were washed away in the flood. I’m devastated.
Allison Williams: [00:14:52] Other times, people may need a private space to have that kind of conversation, in which case you want to make sure that you make yourself available for that or have a designee to be available for that. So that can be as simple as an office manager or your lead paralegal as a point person to go around and ask every person, one to one? How are things going? How are the kids? How is your spouse? How is your, how are your in-laws? Whomever you know that person to be close to so that you can create a certain level of safety in the person expressing that they’re not OK? Because again, as a leader, like as, as a person, of course, you want to know that they’re OK because you care about them as a person, but as a leader, you want to make sure that they are OK in order to ensure that, that they are really functioning the way that you want them to function, right? So this is not so that this is not a situation where someone is not expressing that they’re not OK. And then you’re thinking, OK, everything’s hunky-dory and we’re going to go back to business as usual and then that person really just can’t perform.
Allison Williams: [00:16:01] Another consideration about your people is how will people do their jobs right? Did they lose anything in the major weather event or did they lose property? Did the office computer float away? You know, do they have files at the, at their home? And what happens if the, if the files were physically destroyed? Right? All of these things will ultimately impair their ability to physically do the job, and you’re going to have to respond to that.
Allison Williams: [00:16:29] So the next strategic area that you as a leader have to be aware of when you have major events like this occur in life is you have to know your numbers. And knowing your numbers is not simply knowing how much money is in your bank account. In fact, I would say that the dollars and cents in your bank account is probably one of the least important, least significant numbers that we consult as business owners. However, it is our go-to or what do I have in this moment? And it’s often what lawyers start to think about when it’s time to evaluate finance. Right? So you don’t actually get to a place of saying, Hey, I don’t know how we’re doing overall, let me go check my bank account. That’s kind of the place where you go to say, OK, I feel like we’re doing OK. Let me go to check the bank account, oh, there’s money in the bank account, I was right. We’re OK. Or worse, Oh, I feel like the sky is falling and then you open up the bank account and you say, Oh my God, we only have five thousand dollars left to the bank account we’re, we’re drowning, right? You could be right based on your bank account balance but much more often than not, your bank account balance is a snapshot in time, it is not a reflection of dollars coming in and going out. So in other words, in order to have a full picture of how you are doing, you have to know what is our sales cycle? How many clients are we regularly bringing into the firm every month? What is the average revenue that those clients are generating? How much of that revenue is immediately available to me? In other words, am I in a state that requires that money to immediately go into trust and I can’t access it until I bill it? Or am I paid in full upon receipt? Money is earned upon receipt, and I’m entitled to all of it right now so I can really make plans based on what’s coming in, not when I have time to bill it. Then, of course, we have to think on what’s going out, right? What are the expenses? And on average, what are the expenses that are regular and recurring versus a composite? So if I have composite expenses, expenses that go up and down based on need such as my office supplies or perhaps my utilities, there may be things that I can do in order to reduce those expenses in the short term recognizing that at some point those expenses will go up again.
Allison Williams: [00:18:45] And of course, you have to be thinking about how to assess your nonproductive time and how much nonproductive time can you afford. And this really goes back to the topic about PTO or, you know, if you want to characterize it, is that time off. But ultimately, if you have people who are producing in your business and they’re not working, they’re not producing, right? So how much production can be done by someone else if only part of your team is out, if everyone is out? What is the cumulative effect of having nonproductive time in your business? You have to have a sense of that. In other words, how much on average is each person bringing in each week, each month? And then at some point, you’re going to get so granular as to go down to each day. So that you’ll be able to say this is how much money is regularly coming in and this is how much I expect not to be coming in while we’re dealing with the crisis. You, of course, also want to know about your insurances, and again, this is not a deep dive into insurance, but I would be remiss if I did not mention it that you need to know what your deductible is, right? And whether you have co-insurance and what those rates are and what is the impact of delayed payment by your clients.
Allison Williams: [00:20:04] So if you have clients that you have been servicing and or that you are in the process of servicing, you may or may not have the ability to discontinue representation based on the status of the case, depending on what your jurisdiction says about that and whether or not your billing based on certain types of fee agreements. But you really should be thinking about what happens if a third of my clients are completely wiped out in this economic and this weather event, right? This economic event that’s caused by the weather event? What am I going to do as a recovery plan, right? Saying just go sell more is a little too simplistic a way of looking at it. There is more complexity involved when you already have clients in tow to whom you may have ethical obligations, but from whom you cannot collect money. So those things, of course, have to also be considered, and in order to consider them, you have to have a real fundamental understanding of where money comes from, how money comes into your business, and how money goes out of your business so that you can expand and contract as you need to based on what your needs are for the business? All right.
Allison Williams: [00:21:16] And speaking of numbers and speaking of sales, our third and final area to discuss today in strategic planning around your disasters in business, are really declining sales, right? So when I say declining sales, I don’t mean up and down, right? So we, of course, all experience that from time to time, you’ll sell 20 clients one month in the next month you’re down 10 and you say, Oh my God, I had an awful month or I just had a great month, right? Most people in business recognize and get to a place where there’s some degree of variability from one to one. But if the variability is a wide sweep, right, you’re used to generating 20 or 30 clients a month, and now all of a sudden you’re down to two, in the next month, you’re down to three and next month you bounce, you’re down to two again, right? That can be a significant problem, and depending on how long that continues and what your cash reserves and your credit affords you, that can have some very serious immediate consequences. So it’s important for you to think about what you will do in the event of declining sales and I think the last year or 2020 has been a really powerful year in terms of lessons for business owners so that most of us, when quarantine happened, did not know about the idea of the federal government just cash injecting into the economy by virtue of the PPP created by the CARES Act.
Allison Williams: [00:22:45] But we knew about the idea of financial assistance being available in different government programs, and so that is certainly a resource. But it’s not the only resource, nor should it be your primary resource. Of course, there’s always things that you have to think about, such as what is the rate of decline? Is this, is this decline episodic meaning something happened, we had an immediate event and now it’s going to rebound? Or do we believe that this is a trend downward, in which case the elasticity of your practice area might need to change and or the services that you offer in your business might need to change in order that you go into an area that is less price-sensitive. There also could be a need to adjust psychological buying tricks I think that I have talked about this before on this podcast that at one point when quarantine first happened, we started to see a decline in sales. And I checked in with my team and said, Do we? From what you’re hearing on the phone is the problem that people have already lost jobs and are already in economic distress by the time they call us? Or is that something that they fear? And the answer, almost universally, is that this is something that they fear. They’re not actually in economic distress.
Allison Williams: [00:24:02] But, they don’t want to spend money right now because they fear they will be in economic distress if they lose their job or their spouse loses a job, etcetera. So in that scenario, there is psychological unease around sales that requires that we create some psychological certainty around sales and that oftentimes included altering our price points and altering our glide path from intake to sales, to legal teams. And having different kinds of conversations to get people comfortable with what changes we would need to make in order to allow them to become our clients in a way that we normally would not, right? In a way that we might say, I’m not willing to accept that lower retainer, or this person has to have more skin in the game to start their case in order that we would work with them. So all of these considerations, thinking about what your people need, thinking about your numbers, and then ultimately having a plan for declining sales is really just good business 101. This is nothing out of the ordinary, nothing cataclysmic, nothing surprising, I’m sure for most of you. But it’s really important that we stop and pause and use the circumstances of our lives, all of the things that we are collectively experiencing during what is an unprecedented and I’m sure we’ve all heard that word before unprecedented, but also quite, quite challenging time of our lives. And so when these life events happen, I want you to get into the habit of asking, how is this going to serve me? And for purposes of Hurricane Ida, the ways are there when you see them. So when you’re looking, you can identify, Yeah, people need a little extra care right now I have to be cognizant of that. You can see, yes, I need to know my numbers so I can be making financial plans and having financial security around these life events.
Allison Williams: [00:26:02] And then finally, the last area, my sales, right? What’s happening as my sales decline? How am I going to create a plan? And oftentimes having that plan before you dive in and have the problem and experience the problem allows you to have a lot more freedom in terms of being able to execute that plan quickly and get yourself and keep yourself going as your business is going through that life event alongside you.
Allison Williams: [00:26:28] All right, everyone. Thank you so much. We have been here for another episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. And before you go, I want to let you know that we’re going to be celebrating our one hundredth podcast episode on September 24th. We’re so excited about this milestone, and I just want to thank you for being with us on this amazing journey. And as a special way to celebrate with you all, we’re going to be raffling off three Law Firm Mentor beach towels. Now these are big, plush, beautiful beach towels that we gave out to our members for the Legal Sales For Attorneys and Non-Attorneys business retreat that recently passed and we have extras. And so we wanted to make sure that we did not have those go the waste. We wanted to share them with our wonderful community of listeners, those of you that have been with us from day one, as well as those of you that have recently joined us on the journey of talking about crushing chaos in law firms. So all you have to do is leave us an honest review on your listening app of choice. We’re on everyone. We’re on Apple, we’re on Stitcher, Spotify, Castbox, Google, right? You can find us all over the place, but you leave us a review and you then are going to text a screenshot of your review with the word ANNIVERSARY to our number, which is nine oh eight, two nine two, three five two four. Again, our text number is nine zero eight, two nine two, three five two four. Text that screenshot with the word ANNIVERSARY and you’ll be entered to win. And we’re going to pick three winners random and announce them on our one-hundredth episode on September 24th. So you don’t want to miss it. I’m Allison Williams. You’re Law Firm Mentor, and I will see you on our next show.
Allison Williams: [00:28:25] Thank you for tuning in to the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast to learn more about today’s guests and take advantage of the resources, check out our show notes. And if you own a solo or small law firm and are looking for guidance, advice, or simply support on your journey to create a law firm that runs without you, join us in the Law Firm Mentor Movement Free Facebook group. There you can access our free trainings on improving collections in law firms, meeting billable hours, enjoying the movement of thousands of law firm owners across the country who want to crush chaos in their law firm and make more money. I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. Have a great day!
Allison C. Williams, Esq., is Founder and Owner of the Williams Law Group, LLC, with offices in Short Hills and Freehold, New Jersey. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney and is the first attorney in New Jersey to become Board-Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in the field of Family Law.
Ms. Williams is an accomplished businesswoman. In 2017, the Williams Law Group won the LawFirm500 award, ranking 14th of the fastest growing law firms in the nation, as Ms. Williams grew the firm 581% in three years. Ms. Williams won the Silver Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017. In 2018, Ms. Williams was voted as NJBIZ’s Top 50 Women in Business and was designated one of the Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs and Business Owners. In 2019, Ms. Williams won the Seminole 100 Award for founding one of the fastest growing companies among graduates of Florida State University.
In 2018, Ms. Williams created Law Firm Mentor, a business coaching service for lawyers. She helps solo and small law firm attorneys grow their business revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money. Through multi-day intensive business retreats, group and one-to-one coaching, and strategic planning sessions, Ms. Williams advises lawyers on all aspects of creating, sustaining and scaling a law firm business – and specifically, she teaches them the core foundational principles of marketing, sales, personnel management, communications and money management in law firms.
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00: 15: 25 (34 Seconds)
Because again, as a leader, like as, as a person, of course, you want to know that they’re OK because you care about them as a person, but as a leader, you want to make sure that they are OK to ensure that, that they are really functioning the way that you want them to function, right? So this is not so that this is not a situation where someone is not expressing that they’re not OK. And then you’re thinking, OK, everything’s hunky-dory and we’re going to go back to business as usual and then that person just can’t perform.