Now is not the time to panic. Panic can take several forms in today’s economic climate; most notably in the firing of lawyers and staff, hounding clients for payment (not smart marketing for the long term), and cutting costs excessively. That is part of the message garnered by LawPRO magazine from a panel of knowledgeable folks and reported in an article entitled “Surviving the slide: what firms should (and shouldn’t) do to ride out the economic storm.”

The panel, consisting of Ed Flitton, Karen McKay, Gerry Riskin, and Merrilyn Tarlton, provided insight on such topics as: Leadership; Human capital; Employee relations, engagement & morale; Client relationships; Marketing; Finances; Firm compensation; Operations: costs, expenses, budget; and Technology. All of the topics are obviously important and the panelists’ comments on each are worthy of a read.

For my purposes, a few of their comments specifically on marketing and client relationships warrant a mention here. Among other things it is very important to get close to your existing clients. It is vital that you know what they are going through, and determine if you can be more efficient and economical in serving them.

One interesting idea put forth by Tarlton involves putting associates in client offices for training (getting to know the client’s business better) and relationship building purposes. Also, developing creative fee structures, and conducting joint recession planning sessions with clients are additional ways to help each other get through the tough times.

Riskin advises firms to

“…do more marketing, but you (should) focus more on existing clients. Firms generally are reluctant to talk to clients in bad times… Get over that and call… It’s a time to get close to these people.”

One way to do that according to McKay is to

“[c]hange your focus to one-on-one. Pick up the phone and call your clients, go and visit them on your way into the office … but make sure they know that the visit is off the timesheet."

Again, there is a lot of good advice that the panel shares with law firms on how to survive the current downturn, and every firm will pick up valuable nuggets by reading this article.

P.S. Thanks to Mark Beese over on Leadership for Lawyers blog for the heads up on this panel and other resources contained in his post “Advice on Weathering the Storm.”