Boston, MA Intellectual Property Law firm, Lando & Anastasi, LLP, marked its 18th year anniversary this month. I sat down with one of the firm’s founding partners, Peter Lando, to get his insight on leading the firm through the COVID crisis, how the firm has evolved over this period, and what the future practice looks like.
What were some of the challenges that L&A faced during the pandemic?
We had just moved our offices from Cambridge to the heart of Boston’s Financial District on March 1, 2020, which was a great effort by our team. And, of course, just as we were beginning to settle in, the pandemic forced us to quickly implement a firmwide remote work model. The economic uncertainty that accompanied the health crisis led to many business closures and law firms were no different, with several implementing pay cuts, furloughs and staff reductions. We quickly recognized that the near-daily announcements of “belt-tightening” at law firms throughout the country would create a further level of stress amongst our team. At that point, the Partners committed to retaining all our employees, without any decrease in salary or hours, as we could see all around us the affect these business decisions were having on people – particularly those with families to support.
How else did the firm respond?
At that time, we observed great levels of uncertainty, stress, and anxiety all around us, and as the crisis grew and expanded, the disruptions created in all of our lives required our management to provide some predictability, control, and connection. In response, we created several regular weekly firm-wide and group-specific briefings, including: Monday morning inspirational notes to the firm, daily virtual check-ins each morning, weekly staff and team meetings, weekly partnership meetings, and Friday firm-wide briefings. These consistent opportunities to connect and share information with each other provided our firm with the predictability and stability that people need during times of uncertainty. They also helped to promote a positive morale, and to build stronger relationships and positivity throughout the organization.
We looked for ways to support our firm holistically. On a professional level, we encouraged each of our employees to renew and learn new skills that will support personal and firm growth through the crisis. Our team responded by creating and presenting various practice training programs and developing their own practice meeting schedules and innovations toward efficiencies. In allowing the team more control over how they perform their tasks, they learned new skills that benefit the entire group – proving that, with encouragement, leadership can happen from any chair. On a personal level, we encouraged our employees to reach out to family, neighbors, friends, and their communities to provide – and receive – support from those networks, too.
What about clients?
We realized early on during the crisis that our diverse IP practice in a wide variety of technologies and industries provided a hedge in uncertain economic times. While some of our clients were doing well and were actively engaged in supporting the effort against the pandemic, a good number of our clients were experiencing some level of personal anxiety and business disruptions. Again, our communications were consistent and supportive. We encouraged our team to actively reach out to clients to express our sincere support, and to check in with them in the same manner that we were doing with each other – on both a personal and a professional level. In some instances, we worked with clients to appropriately delay projects where possible, or to extend payment terms, in order to help them work through the crisis and near-term cash flow crunch. Of course, reaching out to clients is always a good practice, and one that we strive to do consistently – in good times and in challenging times.
How has the past year changed your perspective on what is necessary to run a successful firm?
I always recognized the absolute need to counsel with empathy – to “sit in your client’s chair.” However, this challenging year made that truth for all effective communication within and outside the firm. It is always important to be consistent, recognize the power of community, and to be authentic and reassuring. Beyond the great issues posed by the pandemic, the social unrest and broader societal issues highlighted this past year made understanding differences a significant necessity in firm management. We also have confirmed that remote work can be effective, when necessary, and that promoting a nimble organization that is open to new ideas and work models is key to maintaining success.
When did you return to the office, and what are the firm’s current plans?
We finally reopened our offices in July 2020 on a voluntary basis to those who felt comfortable coming into the workplace. This was after we hired a consultant to analyze our space and put all appropriate safety features and procedures in place. We provide lunch and a parking stipend daily to all employees who come into the office. We typically have between 10 and 15 people here on most days. We do plan to officially reopen the office on September 1st and require employees to work from the office one or two days a week; we are moving into a hybrid model that allows for flexibility. We will revisit the plan for the new year and determine what works best for our firm and its practice teams.
Why a hybrid working model?
Law firms and other service providers were already moving in this direction, but the pandemic accelerated new thinking and approaches by necessity. The situation drove us to adopt new procedures and tools to communicate and to accomplish our daily activities. The remote working arrangement also has expanded our options for sourcing legal and support staff talent from outside our area.
This past year underscored for us, and I am guessing for others in service fields, the importance of personal, face-to-face interactions. This is how I have always preferred to practice over the past 30 years. There is undoubtedly a value in being together in the same physical space; there are more and better opportunities to bond and create trust, to mentor, learn, and on-board new hires. The impromptu interactions are opportunities for incidental information exchange, which can provide ideas that you had not considered and maybe did not even think you needed. Particularly for younger lawyers, in person interactions can passively teach by example a reasoned judgment – how to think and behave in particular circumstances.
Some people work better in a remote setting, and others prefer the environment of the office setting, although certain roles at the firm require more physical presence to get the work done. At this point we believe that a hybrid model provides the flexibility and a best approach to balance the needs of all of our partners and employees. While we have observed and experienced that a fully remote work model can succeed, as service providers we still strongly believe in the value of personal interactions. A hybrid model provides the best of both approaches. It is certainly one thing to declare that we are moving into a hybrid working model and quite another to determine what that looks like. There is still work to do in implementing this model – not the least of which will require building equitable schedules that make sense for our employees and our clients. We will further develop our plans over the next month.
What are you most looking forward to when your entire firm is back together?
First, just being thankful that we can all gather together safely and enjoy each other’s company. Celebrate that we all came through the other side of the longest year with new skills and a greater appreciation for each other and the firm. We certainly will be resuming our monthly firmwide social events, and we also are planning programs with clients, colleagues, and friends. Our annual holiday party is always very special, and I trust this year’s gathering will be even more so.
What milestone are you most proud of the firm reaching?
We have achieved much in these past 18 years. We have created livelihoods for many, within and outside of the firm, by thinking and acting differently. In fact, almost half of our present team have been with our firm for more than 10 years. There have been, of course, many client successes – IP portfolios built, cases won, settlements made, and deals signed — but most significant for me is that we have proven that from just a spark of inspiration, a law firm can practice intentionally and with greater attention to the lives of our team and their families while still serving our clients and their business goals with creative and responsive counsel. Maintaining our priority for balance is a cornerstone of our firm, and one that requires constant attention and mindfulness. Challenging times are always a test of our mettle, and I am proud that we came together as a firm to stay true to this core value and demonstrate that we can do so, regardless of what else is happening around us.
Where do you see the firm in another 5 to 10 years?
Given what we just came through, I am thankful to take a day at a time. However, to the extent I allow myself to think beyond the near term, I always believe our firm will continue to do great things and, as has been said of us before, to “punch above our weight!” We endeavor to grow in our IP capabilities and to build upon our well-earned reputation for client service, technical and business understanding, and thought leadership. Though not a primary goal to grow numbers of practitioners, I believe that we will expand our partnership and overall team, and remain a full-service, highly ranked IP boutique for many years to come. We will always appreciate what we do and who we do it for – the confidence clients place in us, and the role we play in the creative process that builds upon and protects ideas and innovations, establishes businesses and contributes meaningfully to the economy and to sustaining our employees and their families.
Peter Lando is a partner at Intellectual Property Law Firm, Lando & Anastasi, LLP. He can be reached at PLando@LALaw.com or 617-395-7002.