The novel coronavirus is causing economic disruption unseen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The unemployment figures in the US are an order of magnitude worse than they were during the recession of 2007-2008.
Some businesses are actually thriving despite COVID-19 (Amazon, grocery stores). Other businesses are shuttered (restaurants, live music venues). But almost every business is impacted in one way or another, even ones that normally think of themselves as “recession proof.”
IP research firm Patexia estimates that the global economic slowdown could result in 2-4% fewer patent filings in 2020 and 2021.
So, how patent lawyers can survive this pandemic?
This is what we’re going to discuss today.
Maintaining good customer relations should be a priority. Your clients are real people, who may be facing tremendous challenges in their personal life. Checking in with them, which lets them know you care about them as people, not just as a source of revenue, can help strengthen those relationships.
This can also be a good time to review your customer service overall. Many law firms have a lot of room for improvement in their customer service. What’s your client intake process like? If someone leaves a voice mail or fills out a web form asking for information, how long does it take for someone to get back to them? Web forms should be replied to within 24 hours, and voice mails on the same day. If someone is interested enough in your services to leave a voice mail or fill out a form it usually means they have a problem that you can help solve. You want to get back to them before someone else does.
Think about the first impression someone gets of your firm. Nowadays, that is mostly going to be your website. Does it convey the image you want? Does it look contemporary, or does it look like it was created 20 years ago and hasn’t been updated since? Is it easy to find relevant information?
How your phone gets answered also makes an important impression on customers. Many if not most law firms now use an auto-attendant system as the first step for calls. Does your message sound professional, without “ums” and “aws”? If someone pushes the button to be connected to a human, are they quickly and consistently connected with a human?
Encourage Strategic Thinking
Every business may be worried about conserving cash right now as there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding how long the coronavirus crisis is going to last and how long it’s going to take for the economy to recover. But in business school they teach that a down time in the economy is an excellent time to invest in things that will pay benefits when the economy comes back. Increase your market share when it takes a smaller investment – in a down economy – and it’ll be easier to keep that market share and grow faster when the economy rebounds.
Many companies may be too busy during normal times to spend a lot of time thinking about their patent portfolio. This can be a good time to encourage your clients to step back and take a look at their overall patent strategy. Are there some patents they can file that would strengthen their position relative to their competitors? In a time when clients are concerned about cash, it can also be worthwhile to look through the portfolio and find patents that are weak or that have little commercial value which the client may wish to consider abandoning rather than continuing to pay maintenance fees to the patent office.
Staffing for the Long-Term
Many – but certainly not all! – law firms substantially curtailed hiring of new associates in 2020 as a result of the economic contraction related to COVID-19. This can create opportunities for firms that take the long view and that have strong balance sheets. There’s less pressure on associate salaries than in a normal year, and there may be some very highly qualified candidates who are having trouble finding a suitable position. Maintaining the size of your incoming crop of lawyers in a down year can be a way to leave you well-positioned with a highly qualified team when the economy comes back.
Another thing that many firms have discovered because of the pandemic-induced changes in how they operate is that remote working functions better than they expected. This can also create hiring opportunities – if someone only has to come into the office once a week, or occasionally, rather than every day, it can substantially increase the available talent pool and lead to happier employees.
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Improve Your Processes
It’s also good for you to look at your own operation in a strategic way.
Every law firm has a multiplicity of processes for managing clients, money, work, and staff. It’s human nature to tend to ignore the processes as long as they are working OK. All too often, we only pay attention to process improvement in the wake of a disaster. A slow period, such as during a pandemic, can be a good time to be proactive and look for ways to improve your processes to be more economically efficient, or to provide a better work output.
Legal technology is booming – every month there are new and improved tools that can be used for accounting, billing, practice management, document storage, electronic discovery, and more. One new area is AI-driven automated contract review. Generally speaking, automated contract review doesn’t replace a lawyer, but it can speed the review process by flagging paragraphs that someone should review.
There are a number of legal tech products specifically serving IP and patent related needs. There are tools that apply artificial intelligence (AI) to conducting prior art searches, promising to help law firms find prior art faster, more thoroughly, and less expensively than using conventional search techniques.
There are also AI-driven tools that can help with portfolio analysis – they can help find valuable patents that may be hidden in a large portfolio with hundreds or thousands or patents that could be candidates for sale or licensing.
There are also companies providing tools for conducting patent transactions on blockchain. Instead of resisting these tools out of a fear of being deemed redundant and unnecessary, law firms should embrace them and find ways to bring additional value to their clients.
If the tools you’re using are more than five years old, you might want to take stock and see if some improvements could be made by upgrading to the latest technology. You may have processes that are still being done manually or on paper that could benefit from automating.
Learn more about the USPTO guideline regarding Corona virus
The above-mentioned process improvement efforts can naturally lead to cost savings.
The operational changes most law firms have experienced since the start of the coronavirus pandemic can also point the way to additional cost savings. Many firms are finding that their legal staff works just as effectively from home as they do from the office. It may be possible to reimagination what a law firm looks like in terms of physical facility. If staff can work remotely all or most of the term, you can reduce the amount of space you need, which can bring a whole host of cost savings that go well beyond lower rent.
Another area to consider is patent drawings. If you’re paying more than $30-$45 per drawing, you may be paying too much. Learn more about our quality, turnaround time, and pricing.
Successful businesses make thinking about and planning for “the day after” an integral part of their strategy for getting through an economic downturn. This is an excellent time to think strategically, improve your business processes and tools, and reach out to existing and new clients so that you’ll be positioned to enjoy even greater growth when the economy comes back.