Attorney Robert McKenna During the Pandemic: How His Foresight Helped His Law Firm Thrive

Attorney Robert McKenna During the Pandemic: How His Foresight Helped His Law Firm Thrive

Daniel Hall 01/11/2022
Attorney Robert McKenna During the Pandemic: How His Foresight Helped His Law Firm Thrive

The pandemic had a sweeping effect on every single industry.

Startups, enterprises, nonprofits, and conglomerates of every variety found they needed to shift strategies quickly or suffer the consequences. It was an unplanned experiment, one that saw many companies fold under its heavy weight. 

Robert McKenna III, founding partner of law firm Kjar, McKenna & Stockalper LLP, based in Huntington Beach, CA, had strong suspicions from the very beginning. His hunch was that COVID-19 was going to have a huge impact on all our lives, and he wanted to be ready for the storm. 

When he learned in February 2020 that the first cases had found their way into the US, Robert McKenna spoke to a friend at a global trading and VC firm with a biotech focus. It was this discussion that would give him early insight into what was ahead and how he was able to navigate the choppy waters. 

Taking Action 

The coronavirus was like nothing else that the US had dealt with before. While we certainly made comparisons to the Spanish flu, the reality was that the world had never been as mobile as it was in 2020. There was so much information coming out at the time, and very little of it was verifiable. It led to a lot of mixed reactions, with plenty of people refusing to see it as anything more than a garden-variety illness. 

By contrast, McKenna decided at the very beginning to take COVID seriously. If he did happen to be overreacting to overblown news, he decided he’d rather be safe than sorry. He told his partners and his office manager that he wanted them to be ready to close down the office, and that they needed a backup plan for when they did. 

His partners certainly didn’t have the same sense of urgency, but McKenna refused to back down. He insisted that the firm decide how they would operate if they no longer had the office to rely on. It meant getting concrete answers to difficult questions. If the staff couldn’t get to their computer, how could they still operate from their homes? How could they get access to information without endangering their confidentiality clauses? 

McKenna took it upon himself to go over the office procedures in detail. He was happy to find that while some tasks would need to be done in the office, they were few and far between. If one person could get to the office for a short window of time during the day, the rest of the daily duties could be completed from home. 

By the time a national emergency was declared in mid-March, Kjar, McKenna & Stockalper were already ready for a dry run. They had a scaled-back version of their office that was ready to go, so they felt prepared when the news hit. He might not have expected the world to close down as quickly as it did, but he was also satisfied that his office didn’t have to start from scratch (as many others did). 

Fast Pivots 

Part of why the stay-at-home orders were followed was thanks to advancements in technology. Businesses could keep up with their daily to-do lists thanks to tools like VPNs, Zoom, and Google docs. McKenna already had a functioning cloud-based business, and his firm had set it up before corona meant more than a beer. Because they already had the functionality, it was easier to switch over to a remote model.

McKenna was pleased by the cloud from the get-go. It was more efficient in practically every sense of the word. He was no longer paying for server repairs or for space he wasn't using. He could go anywhere, sign in anytime, and still get practically anything done. 

Other law firms took a very different approach than his firm. In fact, they saw an 'opportunity' where they wouldn't need to make any changes at all. Many argued that lawyers were as essential as grocery store workers, leading them to shun remote work from the very beginning. However, McKenna observed that this strategy didn’t help their business in the long run. It limited their functionality, which ultimately limited their productivity. It also put their employees in a compromised position. 

Picking Up the Slack 

The hybrid model that McKenna employed afforded him and his partners new opportunities, and his firm was happy to take advantage. When other firms tried to keep their office-based protocols alive, many employees were frustrated by the inflexible expectations. 

Not everyone felt that it was necessary to keep putting themselves in harm’s way, and they began searching for employers who felt the same. These professionals, many of whom formed the backbone of McKenna’s competitors, were concerned not just for themselves but for the sake of their loved ones. This was how McKenna came to hire expert administrative employees who wanted to do their jobs from home. 

The priority that McKenna put on his employee’s safety meant that the firm began to expand. He found the new hires were excellent at managing their time when offsite, and he had no concerns that people were exploiting the situation. He chose experienced workers who wouldn’t need much hand-holding, and the results were startling. It was professionally positive, of course, but it also had a major impact on his employee's quality of life. 

Changing Demographics 

COVID-19 disrupted nearly everything, including where people wanted to live. When McKenna started seeing an increase in applicants, part of it was due to health and part of it was due to location. Most of the administrative workers couldn’t afford homes in Orange County, but they were starting to look for real estate in more remote areas of California. By taking the commute off the table, McKenna’s hybrid model of work began to look appealing for multiple reasons. 

Now families could raise their kids in a good school district without having to worry about giving up their profession. From coast to coast, people from every walk of life saw that remote work was a real possibility for many. CEOs and decision-makers everywhere who shunned offsite work before were now beginning to question their assumptions. 

Employees started getting their work done and getting their lives back. They no longer had to get to and from the office, instead devoting the time to taking care of themselves, their home, and their children. What started off as a worst-case scenario, short–term plan was quickly morphing into the new normal — one that promised a much better work-life balance. 

The whole structure of Kjar, McKenna, and Stockalper became a bargaining chip that they were proud of. Those who lived far from the office no longer had to fight traffic every day. They were happier people overall, which would lead to better output from the firm. It wasn’t just a hiring advantage either. Robert McKenna attorney saw that his retention rates began to climb too.

The Hybrid Model Is Permanent 

There are a lot of viewpoints these days on remote work, with most agreeing it’s preferable to being in the office 5 days a week. As long as people have good home office equipment and plenty of resources to support their day-to-day, they can do most anything on their own. (He also urges his employees not to feel like they're on the clock 24/7. If people are on vacation, he lets them be on vacation.)

However, that doesn’t mean that there’s no reason for face-to-face interactions anymore. McKenna says that some meetings are more productive when they’re in person, which is why he has asked his staff to return to the office. The difference between his request is that he’s taking his worker’s needs into consideration. He’s offering his staff a flexible model, one where experienced administrative staff could pick two days a week to come in. 

When it comes to the professional world, McKenna’s interested in what people learned during the pandemic. He doesn’t minimize the losses, but he does want to focus more on the gains. There was so much resiliency and strength during the worst months of the virus. Businesses learned that employees were dedicated to their job, even if they couldn’t come to the office. Thanks to McKenna's vigilance from the beginning, he was able to reap far more benefits than most of his competitors did. 

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Daniel Hall

Business Expert

Daniel Hall is an experienced digital marketer, author and world traveller. He spends a lot of his free time flipping through books and learning about a plethora of topics.

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