Last week in Parliament, the UK health secretary Matt Hancock questioned – with no hint of irony – the ‘tone’ of Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, the new shadow mental health secretary and front-line NHS worker, after she challenged the UK Government’s response to Covid-19. In doing so, Hancock walked into a tone-typhoon of his own making.

Whether dressing someone down in Parliament or producing and providing insightful content designed to help clients achieve their business goals, getting your tone right is arguably more important now than ever.

As one lawyer put it to me last week, “everyone recognises that it isn’t business as usual at the moment … so everyone is adopting a respectful tone and is focused on commercial solution-finding.” Unfortunately, the lawyer was referencing his clients in the sports sector rather than law firm communications in general.

Much has been written in recent weeks about how some firms are appearing to be tone-deaf to the needs of clients during these tough times. Many companies are facing an existential crisis and have totally different priorities right now, and yet many law firms are failing to recognise this with their communications. Inundating legal departments with Covid-19 newsletters explaining ‘force majeure’ and regurgitating the latest government measures is at best unhelpful, and at worst insulting.

In a recent article looking at the implications of Covid-19 for law firms, management consultancy McKinsey highlighted five lessons for law firm leaders from previous economic downturns. It also outlined potential implications for client demand across practice areas and sectors, and suggested priority areas of focus.

Among its suggested priorities is the seemingly obvious one of focusing on clients, clients, clients. “Their business context has shifted dramatically, presenting unprecedented challenges,” states the article. “Law firm partners should proactively connect with and really listen to clients and their needs. Even a two-line personalised email can send the right message.”

McKinsey says that prioritising clients during these troubled times will help law firms sustain value in the near term and build value – and trust – over the long term. That’s because listening and empathising with clients remains key to collaborating and delivering the services and solutions they need. It is also key to producing and providing communications that are helpful and not ‘tone-deaf’.