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30 March 2020

It’s gonna be okay. The communication of law firms during the emergency times of COVID-19

Marianna Valletta |
Valletta Relazioni Pubbliche

In these times of uncertainty and concern, closed offices, postponed meetings and emergencies to resolve, it is hard to maintain a fluid dialogue with the firm's clients.

Yet, more than ever before, companies need to be supported and guided by their trusted professionals to help them navigate the chaotic sea of uncertain regulations and announcements.

That's why, although in smart working mode, lawyers and accountants are co-operating with their corporate clients to ensure the continuity of our country's manufacturing operations.

In this context, communication plays a central role, capable of reassuring, supporting and helping companies in their battle for resilience and continuity of action.

Being present in the here and now

Lawyers are close to their clients in the here and now. They are dealing with something that has never happened before, that nobody has experience of and that is impacting dramatically from the very first days. How can I guarantee the safety of my employees? Which offices that are not indispensable to production will have to be suspended? How will I be able to cope with the huge economic losses we are facing? These and many other questions are being asked by entrepreneurs. These questions demand complex and unprecedented answers. And if large companies can count on structures with more agile work organization and greater financial flexibility, small and medium Italian companies really don't know where to hit the head. Communicating the here and now means facing an emergency that does not only concern the clients of the professional firm, but the very organization of the work of the firm and the way in which it provides consulting services. Already in recent days, many professionals have written to their clients to communicate the continuity of the service, have provided timely circulars and information on the news of the decrees. But this is not enough. In this phase it is necessary to implement a communication that is defined as "two-way symmetrical": symmetrical, because it puts all subjects on the same level and the achievement of the objectives of the communication itself depends on the mutual degree of satisfaction of both. Circulars can in actual fact be defined as merely informative tools where I (subject A) hold information and transmit it to the client (B). A two-way communication, on the other hand, responding to the real of the "here and now" needs of customers should initially include a moment of listening and gathering requests and, only afterwards, the preparation of a response that can be as useful as possible for the different message targets. It is therefore crucial to be able to transform one's "communicate to" to a more tiring but effective "communicate with". In this sense, communication itself becomes part of the professional's advice. It is no coincidence that newspapers and information portals ask our client firms to speak on current topics of hr management and company organisation, legal and tax issues with an exclusively practical approach and interpretation that includes case studies and scenario hypotheses. It is the application of regulations in the everyday life of a company that interests Clients and if it is true that normally it is in the one-to-one consultancy between the company and the professional that this process of customisation of the response is developed, the emergency and urgent situation in progress, already requires the preparation of the information to the multiplicity of the public, content capable of directing their actions, not only from a regulatory point of view or principles, but necessarily concrete. Only at an indicative level, a first simple solution may consist, for example, in creating a FAQ section on your website or other channels of the Firm.

Frequently Asked Questions, in fact, are very useful in cases of emergency. See how the Italian Government itself, the Regions and the media, use this expedient to offer a first guide to the main requests of citizens and to answer the simplest and most common questions. This solution avoids the dispersion of resources and energy in phone calls and emails on topics for which an in-depth study is not essential, dedicating time and space to the most complex requests and needs.

As already mentioned, lawyers, accountants, but also labour consultants and financial advisors, are at the forefront of this war to safeguard our system. Together with entrepreneurs, managers and also workers, professionals are called upon to support, thanks to their skills, ideas and strategies to get out of a crisis of which we are not aware. The ability to intercept every possible solution given by incentives, compensation and rules to support the economy, to protect know-how and competitiveness, will play a key role in the coming weeks and months for the stability of our companies. Fundamental will be the ability to effectively communicate provisions and regulations, interpreting them in a clear way so as to make them accessible to all interested potential customers.

A final consideration with respect of the Professional Firm to cope with this particular moment. Smart working, for those who do not normally use it, can initially generate some organizational problems, especially in terms of response times to clients and accessibility of partners. It must be considered that the way the service is used by the Firm's clients changes. The writer's suggestion is to be transparent from the outset: clearly communicate which services may be slowed down, how the availability of telephone calls and meetings is regulated through digital platforms, what these platforms are and how to access them. It is important to give your customers and suppliers all the information they need in order to ensure efficiency and continuity of service.

Finally, communicate your proximity to customers so that even in this condition of work and social isolation, they feel the presence and concrete support of their trusted professionals.

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