How SRVH is navigating the coronavirus from home
By Donna McFarlin, Legal Administrator
Our firm had long been preparing for an event that might disrupt our normal operations, but we never thought — or at least we hoped— that we would actually have to implement our plan. Little did we know the impact this virus would have on the world and of course, our firm.
We thought we had anticipated every conceivable disaster…but we did not conceive a pandemic such as the one the world is currently facing.
In 2002, primarily in response to the 9/11 attacks, the firm crafted its business continuity plan. We involved all the necessary staff and management members, including our IT administrator, attorneys and myself, the legal administrator. We thought we had anticipated every conceivable disaster: fire, flood, explosion, tornado and hazardous materials — but we did not conceive a pandemic such as the one the world is currently facing.
On March 10, when we saw the potential for this pandemic to reach epic proportions, the decision was made to implement our plan for all of our 68 staff and attorneys to work remotely. A task force was formed, which included three partners, the firm’s IT administrator, network engineer, human resources, accounting manager and legal administrator. We immediately met and went to work.
People may think this simply meant that the attorneys would stay home and write briefs and draft contracts. However, the plan included not only working from home, but also for everything from our legal assistants preparing for closings and filing motions remotely to our accounting staff processing client payments and sending out bills remotely. The plan impacted literally everyone on our staff and allowed for each to continue to perform her or his job.
All of our attorneys, and most of the firm’s management staff, were already prepared to work remotely from their home offices and had the necessary tools to do so. We were fortunate to have the necessary infrastructure in place so that we could “easily” (we use that term loosely) transition into a work-from-home mode.
One hurdle we faced, however, was that a good number of our support staff had inadequate technology at home. We were able to address the needs for all the support and administrative staff to successfully support all office processes by quickly taking inventory of the necessary hardware, software and bandwidth that was lacking to determine what still needed to be done. We also announced the plan to staff and attorneys and had legal assistants speak with each attorney in the firm to ensure that each had a cohesive plan for working remotely.
We had several desktop computers in our training room that we were able to load up and send home with staff. We also had several extra laptops that we distributed, along with printers, scanners, etc. If we didn’t have it, we had the items shipped to the employee’s home.
Three days later, March 13, all the necessary equipment and connections were in place and nearly everyone was situated in their remote location. Our IT professionals made sure it was all operational. By Monday, March 16, all Sherrard Roe Voigt & Harbison staff and attorneys were working in their remote offices.
Our attorneys and staff have become accustomed to having everything they need at their fingertips. Our clients have come to expect the same. Our main goal was to disrupt this flow as little as possible, and so far it appears we have been successful.
Of course, not everything was perfect. On the 16th, when everyone came online and started working remotely, we had some connection issues. Although we had tested the remote connection software, no test was able to replicate having everyone fully operational remotely. After our initial experience our network engineer worked most of the night giving the network “extra juice” and we’ve had minimal issues since. Technology is amazing.
I have to give great credit to our support staff and, especially, to our in-house IT department. They stayed calm and focused, working through the night on those first days and over the weekend as necessary. They are still working many late nights, but they made this happen. The speed with which the accounting staff developed processes to continue our banking, billing and payroll functions was also phenomenal.
We have a Skype phone system, and all of our mobile phones are connected, so that when someone’s office phone rings, so does their mobile phone. We are using Zoom for internal meetings to maintain face time connectivity.
Our goal was minimal business interruption for us, and seamless conversion to remote operations for our clients.
Currently we are working to mitigate any feelings of isolation among our team members, given that we don’t know how long the #safedistancing and #saferathome last. We are constantly asking ourselves and each other:
- How are our clients doing?
- How are our attorneys doing?
- How is our staff doing?
- Is there anything more that you need?
Our collegial culture at SRVH is something we all place incredible value on. We didn’t want to lose our sense of connection during this time. In turn, we have implemented wellness checks for our firms’ attorneys and staff: The firm’s management committee members personally reach out and phone the attorneys on a regular basis; the management committee makes sure the attorneys are holding up and have what they need; two of the firm’s partners are connecting with staff members with encouragement and expressions of gratitude; our female attorneys organized a virtual happy hour after the first week of working from home; and recently the firm’s attorneys had breakfast together via Zoom. The firm has also established a Zoom Room for the staff and provided pizza delivery and invited anyone wanting to join their discussion to do so.
Our corporate and litigation teams have been in constant communication to make sure our clients are prepared in this crisis as well. In addition to fielding questions from our clients, we’ve been sending out proactive communications regarding, for example, the Mayor’s executive orders, the new federal employment legislation, and guidance from the Department of Education and other state and federal agencies. Our full-service legal services have not missed a beat during this time period.
As the days go on, we will no doubt discover many other things we need to do but, for now, we are pleased with the success we have encountered up to this point.
This process is definitely a journey. The goal of our business continuity plan has been to continue providing excellent service to our clients and to provide our attorneys and staff with the tools to make that happen, and we are constantly working to meet that goal.
(How a Nashville law firm is navigating the coronavirus from home, Published March 31, 2020 by nashvillebusinessjournal.com)