Since 1997, attorney Bill Munck has been at the helm of intellectual property law powerhouse, Munck Wilson Mandala. He’s is a member of the firm’s executive committee and chairs its technology and IP law group, with expertise in hardware, software, firmware, gaming, and more. The Dallas-based law firm represents clients that range from startups to Fortune 50 companies.
Is your business continuity plan working, or have there been surprises?
“Fortunately for us, we were ready. We had a trial run on business continuity when the tornadoes hit Dallas in October 2019. Our Dallas office had no power for nearly a week and our IT team had to transfer the server to our Austin office. Our team worked night and day to ensure the attorneys and staff were up, secure and working remotely.
“Because our clients are global, we had been monitoring the COVID-19 response globally and we, unfortunately, knew what to expect. Before the shelter-in-place order, all attorneys and staff in every office were equipped with home office necessities, VPN access, monitors, printers, and training on our secure video conferencing system. We did a trial run to test how our VPN system worked, with full staff working remotely two weeks before the quarantine.
“We have had no surprises, other than being surprised about how adaptable our team is and how capable our IT team is in providing the critical services needed for business continuity.”
What have you learned that may change your policies or strategies for the future?
“I believe that there is a disconnect with reopening society while schools, daycares, and camps remain closed. Working parents and primary caregivers are going to need the flexibility to meet the demands this new normal is putting upon them. I operate the firm expecting the best from my team and I can tell you that asking our parents and primary caregivers to give us their best during a regular workday while managing virtual learning and care for their families is not realistic. So, we adapted our business to that.
“As we start reopening our offices, we are giving each employee the option to decide when it is best to return. If they are at risk, have a family member at risk, or they are simply not sure it is safe, they can continue to work remotely. If they are responsible for homeschooling or taking care of an elderly relative, we recognize and respect those challenges and we will work with them to meet those responsibilities.
“We have always operated in a ‘family first’ capacity. This culture allows us to attract and retain top talent. We have no doubt that those continuing to work remotely will continue to perform at their highest level and if we give them the flexibility to work from home and work window hours, they can still give us and their family their best.”
What will things look like for your company and industry in another six months?
“In March, the executive committee and our CFO looked at models projecting revenue and costs over the next six months. We were one of the first law firms to announce salary cuts and furloughs in early April and we had several partners agree to defer the entirety of their base pay other than family healthcare. We chose not to cut the pay of our non-management staff. We will reassess in three months and have a plan of action ready.
“We are very fortunate to have a high percentage of attorneys, directors, and managers who voluntarily took pay cuts or salary deferrals early to focus on the health of the firm and keeping good people employed. I predict we will come back from this slowly, but we will come back and return to normal operations or even higher revenue in six to 12 months. This situation creates opportunities to find new ways to bring value to our clients. It brings new opportunities to us that has traditionally helped emerging businesses by providing innovative services and forward-thinking solutions.”
Do you have advice for other local business leaders?
“You must trust your team and give them the tools to do their best. Whether that means allowing them to work remotely or shuffle hours to take care of family, this only works if everyone is on the same team. We are facing unprecedented times. No one has a rule book for how to handle this so the best tools you can use to keep afloat are trust and communication. Tragic circumstances, like a pandemic, the housing crisis, or 9/11, can destroy a business or define it; we choose the latter.”