Sometimes, things happen in life that were totally unforeseen. Your job seems to be going well and it looks like there is lots of security. Then, before you know it, you’re thrown off course and your world is turned upside down. Suddenly, everything is in jeopardy - how you go about daily life has changed dramatically.
We have been experiencing a candidate tight market in the past couple of years. Anytime the unemployment rate falls below 4%, there are more jobs than candidates. Future employees have not only had their pick of jobs, once in, it felt like you could stay forever. You probably felt secure in your job (unless you’re at a certain age and salary level, as there’s always worry and angst about age discrimination). Then, out of the blue, things changed - and not for the good.
Enter the Coronavirus. Fear has spread worldwide, and rightly so. The outbreak started growing worse, but still we felt immune—literally and figuratively. It wouldn't dare come to the U.S. China is just a vague concept to those of us in the states. It's far away and foreign to our culture. Rapidly, cases started to hit the U.S. and reality set in. It was time to take cover.
Where is business headed?
The Coronavirus has undoubtedly affected a myriad of businesses:
- Travel: airlines have taken a huge hit and cut the number of planes available; Internet booking such as Kayak, Hotwire and other companies' businesses appear down;
- Hospitality industry: hotels, theme parks, restaurants, cruise lines, lodging and more, are all losing business
- Hollywood: movies and entertainment- empty theaters abound. Even the new James Bond movie was pushed from a release in April to November;
- Events and sports: stadiums are empty; concerts go unattended or are cancelled;
- Event planning and all related businesses: not going to happen today;
- Toy industry: many toys are manufactured in China;
- Stock market has plunged to the lowest since the recession in 2009;
- Automobile industry: cars manufactured in China; unable to get parts;
- All businesses relying on China including manufacturers;
- Tech industry: Smartphone and personal-computer makers: manufacturing could slow; weaker demand and supply-chain disruptions could weigh on sales;
- Quarantines, travel bans and widespread business closures—could weigh on consumer and business spending;
- Banks doing business in Europe and Asia;
- Retail: shortage of goods;
- Shipping: few goods shipped;
- Tourism and related businesses - destination places severely hit;
- Energy: weakened global demand for oil and gas;
- Global trade;
- Schools closing;
- Manufacturing: disrupted supply chains;
- And much, much more.
And, who do each and every one of these industries need? Lawyers. Just like the deep recession of 2008, law firms are bound to be affected. For now, things may still seem like they always were. However, the Coronavirus can change everything. The effect on law firms at this writing is unclear.
"The firm may be asking, "Do we want to hire?" "
One report says that the virus is expected to peak in March. A vaccine will not become available for another year or year-and-a-half, so we really don't know what this will bring or how widespread it will become. Corporations and law firms might start cutting back. They will halt any new business initiatives, as they’d rather wait for better future clarity. Hiring will cease. Management won’t want to bring on new people—unless it's an incredibly important need—as they become fearful of the future. They will ask, "Do we really want to bring on a number of new employees given this unknown rocky road ahead? There is no need to add new employees when business conditions are deteriorating", they’ll say.
Many corporate executives and firms will contemplate large layoffs. They’ll figure that it's cost effective to lighten the load and save costs by off-loading people. The firm may be asking: "Do we want to hire?" Sure, it's cold-hearted but managing partners need to protect the interests of the firm and their shareholders.
Impact to your job
How severely can this affect the legal field? Truthfully, we don't know as yet. However, as the virus spreads throughout the country, changes are surely to take place. Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Google and other companies have already asked their employees to work remotely for at least a month. What this does to productivity remains to be seen.
What should you be doing? I sure hate to hear that you are doing nothing but in a way, we may all be victims of this horrible epidemic. First and foremost, follow the health safety procedures for prevention of the virus. Re-think where you are going, if at all, for vacation. Recently, my husband and I had booked a cruise (the first real vacation in years) to the Caribbean. When we heard that one of the ships was not allowed to dock at any of the islands and in fact, the only port that would take them in was Cozumel, Mexico, we worried. What if that were us? What if we were quarantined? What if we appeared sick or had a pre-existing condition and got accused of being sick? Holy, moly.
If you haven't already, start socking away as many dollars as you can in your 401k or savings. Get your resume ready. (You should always have it ready, anyway.) Start scouting out in-house legal departments or firms that possibly may not be affected. Get those billable hours up so that you are not on the short-list to be laid off, should the time arise. Make sure you are the go-to person in the firm and make yourself indispensable - although we all know, everyone is dispensable. However, a go-to person is less likely to be targeted.
Constantly communicate with your supervisors as they should be in the know about the firm's outlook. Be ready and alert. Follow the numbers to see if there is a decline in billable hours, loss of clients or fewer cases coming in over the transom. Are there secret meetings taking place? Always a sign that something is going on that the firm does not want you to know about. (If you have ever been through a merger, you know what I am talking about.)
Hopefully, we will be o.k. However, it's the great unknown out there. I would rather see people prepared (like preparing for an earthquake) and not need to implement their preparations, than get caught by surprise like many of us did in the wake of the recession.
Fasten your seat belts! This may be a bumpy ride. The situation may be very scary for awhile and longer than we want to think about. However, we have demonstrated time after time in this industry that we can overcome adversity and prevail. This situation may last a few weeks, several months or longer, it's really an overwhelming mystery.
History has shown that Americans are smart, industrious and inventive when our backs are against the wall. We’ve always managed to find a way to combat deadly diseases, outbreaks and epidemics. It may not happen overnight but we will find the right vaccines and prevention methods and life and work will turn around and we will get back to normal. Hopefully, no further lives will be lost in the process. In the meantime, keep washing your hands, stay calm, stay strong and most of all, stay positive.
Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top staffing organization in California. She is also the President of the Organization of Legal Professionals and the Paralegal Knowledge Institute. Chere has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and has been written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek and others. Chere is a recipient of the Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award and an Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award. She is a former administrator in an AmLaw 100 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion company. She can be reached on Sundays from 3am-5am. Reach out at: firstname.lastname@example.org.