How to Work Remotely as a Law Firm

how to work remotely using a law firm dms

Introduction

Law Firm Employee working remotelyOr perhaps not – after the past year when many traditionally office-bound teams around the country have been scattered by the threats of COVID-19 and forced to find alternative ways to be productive.

Many lawyers have been pleasantly surprised by the transition – and have successfully balanced work and home life without getting in the car and driving to the office every day.

Or perhaps not – after the past year when many traditionally office-bound teams around the country have been scattered by the threats of COVID-19 and forced to find alternative ways to be productive.

Many lawyers have been pleasantly surprised by the transition – and have successfully balanced work and home life without getting in the car and driving to the office every day.

They have discovered that they CAN be productive, they CAN serve their clients and they CAN get successful outcomes – while also keeping their families, coworkers, clients, and communities safe. So much so, in fact, that many law firms will hereinafter work in a “hybrid” model.

So much so that many have decided to make the transition long-term or permanent.

Here are some pointers to make the transition from office life to home office life successfully as part of a legal team.

Are Lawyers Well-Suited to Remote Work?

Just because law is often characterized as a traditional profession with a reluctance for change, it doesn’t mean that’s true of every law firm or lawyer.

When you consider how most lawyers spend much of their time – researching, reviewing documentation, drafting documents and signing documents – it becomes clear that this can be done from anywhere.

Practice areas differ. Daily routines differ. Practice management processes differ. But much of the work is usually done as a sole pursuit with the attorney locked away in deep concentration.

Lawyers have traditionally placed a great deal of stock in meeting clients in person, especially in the information-gathering stage before much of the legal work is done. And court hearings also require in-person appearances (though during COVID-19 even many courthouses were closed).

But for professionals and families alike, video meetings have become part of life over the past 12 to 14 months for many of us.

Lawyers are no exception, with many forward-thinking firms adopting new technologies to ensure their legal teams have all the videoconferencing, document-signing and other requirements to continue to be productive remotely.

“But what about security and confidentiality?”, I hear you ask. That’s an important question for sure but one that now has answers in technology too (more about this below).

So, are lawyers suited to remote work? The answer is a resounding “yes.” In the majority of cases, lawyers should be able to work remotely without worrying if it will damage results or the client experience.

Law Firm Document Management: Data Security

A primary feature of LexWorkplace is the level of security that has gone into the create of our documents management system for your law firm. The only way document management can perform the way you need it to perform is if it incorporates the level of data security required.

Your law firm’s security requirements are immense and there are several non-negotiable data-security points you should require of your Legal DMS, whether it is LexWorkplace or another platform:

  • Data Encryption In-Transit
  • Data Encryption At-Rest
  • Geographic Data Redundancy

  • Multi-Factor Authentication
  • Secure Architecture (Secure Code)

With attorney-client confidentiality a basic tenet of the relationship between a law firm and a client, it’s very important to demonstrate to clients that this applies even when the system has moved online. A safe and secure practice in a remote working environment is no exception when showing your client that their privacy is as paramount to helping them resolve their legal disputes.

How to start working remotely as a lawyer

There is no single blueprint for working remotely as a lawyer, but the following guidelines should help you start off in the right direction.

Inform clients of the changes

If you or your law firm are temporarily or permanently moving to remote working from a traditional office setup, presumably this policy decision will be made with the input and consent of staff members.

It’s important, however, that your clients are also made aware of the changes so that they are not surprised later on.

To set their expectations accordingly, they will first need to know:

  • When it’s happening
  • How best to communicate with you
  • How meetings will be conducted
  • How it will affect your availability
  • How it will affect your availability

You can do this in several ways:

  • Send an email explaining all of the above and the reasons for the changes.
  • Put a notice on your website explaining the changes (if the office is closing temporarily – when?)
  • Inform people through your social media channels.
  • Put a note on the door of your offices for foot traffic.

Staff members will also need to be aware of how the new remote-working policy will affect their day-to-day duties and communications with you. Be clear on this. If they can’t just knock on your office door like before, how can they have a word with you in the new setup?

Some staff members may need to remain at the office for duties like printing and scanning documents or answering the phones – though technology may make this unnecessary.

If required, make it clear who this involves and who is expected to work from home.

Sort out remote access to what you need

Reliable and secure access is the name of the game when it comes to working from home.

A stable broadband connection is necessary for reliable video streaming – it may require a call to your internet provider to upgrade to a more premium connection if you are going to be using it for work.

You also need to be able to access all the files you need, when you need them as if you were in the office. Cloud technology makes it easy to access the right documents as long as you have a stable internet connection, quality devices, and the right document management software for law firms.

If you’re still running a manual, paper-based system, this could be challenging. It’s best to get set up with cloud-based document management software as soon as possible, digitize all your documentation, and provide access privileges to authorized individuals.

This allows you to securely access your files from anywhere – and easily collaborate with staff, colleagues, and clients.

First, we advise avoiding the urge to implement a hasty “band-aid solution” to work remotely.

For example, setting up the ability to log into your work PC from a home computer may be fast, but it’s slow, clunky, inefficient and only works for as long as your work PC is up and operational. Working remotely in this way is a bit like picking up a pile of dimes with gloves on: it can be done, but it’s a slow and frustrating process.

Similarly inadequate solutions include VPN tunnels and basic, consumer-grade cloud storage. If you absolutely must setup a quick-and-dirty remote access solution because your firm needs a solution today, we strongly advise that you do so while simultaneously developing a robust medium and long-term remote working strategy.

Cloud-Based Document Management System

LexWorkplace offers a cloud-based document management system for law firms that offer the benefits of locating, accessing creating, editing, saving, sharing, and storing documents with world class matter management options.

Here are 4 reasons your law firm should consider LexWorkplace and transition to the cloud:

  • Easy integration with other systems,
  • Improve version control of documents,
  • Improve service to clients,
  • Improve decision-making.

LexWorkplace’s Document Management

A cloud-based document management system (DMS) tracks, stores, manages and controls the flow of documents and files without requiring any physical paper storage in the office or any local officer server.

When these functions are performed in the cloud, locating, accessing, editing and storing documentation is made easier, more secure, and more efficient all while minimizing mistakes concerning duplicates or different versions of the same document.

Bellow, you can visualize how LexWorkplace organizes all data first by Client or Matter, then into Documents, Email and Notes.

Focus on providing a great client experience with excellent security

Wherever you work from, you need to make it a smooth and streamlined experience for clients to contact, consult with, and engage you for legal services.

During the pandemic, many law firms moved temporarily to remote working. Clients were most likely flexible and understanding of working that way in difficult circumstances.

Post-pandemic, if you continue to work remotely, clients will be less forgiving. They will expect to receive the same level of service as if you were working from law offices.

Make sure that clients are clear on the process and how it has changed with remote working – with onboarding instructions, video meetings, and instructions on how to get in touch and receive case updates. Explain on your website and in a letter to existing clients.

Ensure that you use appropriate Law Practice Management a (LPM) and Document Management System (DMS) software that you can access from anywhere to help organize content, contacts, forms, and sign documents securely and reliably.

Indeed, security will likely be one of the main areas of concern for clients with remote working.

With communications online, via text, or over the phone, how will you ensure that client-lawyer confidentiality is maintained? Explain to clients that the encryption levels used in your software and business messaging services (email, text, etc.) protect their privacy.

Video calls over Skype or Zoom may not offer the level of confidentiality and security you require, so consider using specialist video software for law firms, such as Legaler.

Make sure the communication channels are kept open

This point connects with the previous one. We can’t stress enough how important it is to keep communication channels open for clients when working remotely.

If a client is used to coming into the office for meetings and being able to pick up the phone to you, it is easy to feel cut off and neglected when you move to remote working with different ground rules.

Depending on your type of clientele, some individuals may prefer the phone and may not have access to online video or mobile technology.

Make sure that office calls are forwarded from your number at your law firm to your cell or home phone – temporarily or permanently depending on how long you will be working remotely. Consider using a VOIP phone service to answer phones remotely and make calls from your computer.

Jive, Vonage, and Corvum are all good options but just make sure you have a good set of headphones to maintain call quality.

Also, make sure that your “snail” mail is forwarded temporarily or permanently from the office address. Use Casemail software to mail documents directly from your computer.

Hone your video meeting skills

If you’re going remote, you’ll need to be adept at using video with clients, other legal teams (opposing counsel, etc.)

If sitting around the boardroom table is not an option, this is the next best thing. You need the right software and a reliably strong internet connection.

Most of us have been forced to get used to it over the past 12-15 months so that should help the adjustment for you and your clients.

You can create the right impression of your law firm remotely by honing your video skills and paying attention to a few details:

Although video may seem informal, plan it as if you were conducting an in-person meeting – video is no reason to become “sloppy”.

Some clients may not mind if you rock up in pajamas and sit out on the balcony, but others will – it’s best to keep it professional at all times.

No discarded clothing or junk. A blank wall is fine, but clutter looks unprofessional.

Distractions may be annoying for clients discussing stressful situations and they will expect your complete focus on their issue, so turn off the TV.

If there is likely to be a distraction during the call (like a child’s noise, for instance) explain it to the client upfront. Most clients will understand but won’t appreciate surprises that seem unprofessional.

Invest in sound and lighting: make sure that you are well-lit and well-audible during calls by ensuring there is enough illumination above your position and investing in a high-quality headset.

If you’re working from home and the neighbor is building an extension, it could get noisy for your clients. Mute your microphone when you’re not talking if there is considerable background noise.

If your clients are elderly individuals (e.g., with estate planning law firms) consider their needs during calls – they may need extra volume, lighting or other provisions to get the most out of the experience.

Use the links provided by your video provider and arrange automatic invites for clients once meeting dates and times are set.

Use other technology to save time and hassle

We’ve already covered some of the technology at your disposal to make life easier when you work remotely – including cloud-based document management software and video software.

Consider using a virtual receptionist service too. Ruby or Smith.ai are two good options. This will guarantee that you’ll never let an existing client down or miss a prospective client’s call, helping you deliver that stellar client experience mentioned earlier.

Then there are the benefits of e-filing. This can help ensure that you get documents to the court without the need for a printer.

E-filing may be an option at your local courts but may not be possible everywhere. Check to see if you can file papers this way as it will save you time and hassle. Infotrack is a good solution to help with e-filing.

Also, consider a portable scanner and printer for those times that you do need to scan and print. This can save you from having to go into the office or asking a colleague to look after it for you.

Learn to create a harmonious work-life balance

Some lawyers find it difficult to draw the line between work and home life in remote working arrangements.

When you work from the office, there is a distinct “dividing line” between what’s work and what’s not. If you work remotely from home, that’s not always the case.

It’s easy to become distracted and lose focus. For others, it’s easy to become obsessed with work because it is never out of your sight. That leads to burnout.

It can get lonely too – without the “buzz” of the office or someone to talk over ideas within the office kitchen.

The isolation can take a psychological toll after a while and can start to affect relationships.

It’s important, therefore, to structure your remote working days. Having a set routine will help you create a harmonious work-life balance. Here a few other tips:

  • Stick to work hours: all lawyers have days when it’s necessary to work out of hours to complete important casework but try to set and stick to specific work hours so that you know when to “switch off” without feeling guilty.
  • Dress for work: change the clothing you wear when you are “at work” or “at leisure”. This can help you create strong dividing lines between the two.
  • Take a short walk: if you take a short walk before your working day starts and again at the end of the day, you also help to create that dividing line between work and leisure.
  • Designate office space: it goes without saying that you need a space in which to work if you set up for remote legal work – but creating a physical dividing line between where you work and where you relax can also help you (and the family) adjust mentally.
  • Build “unplugged” time into your day: if the phone’s always-on, it’s tempting to respond to client emails even if you’re in the middle of family time. Make it a policy to have an hour or two unplugged from technology and it should help you relax.

What’s required for entire teams to work remotely?

It’s one thing to work as a solo practitioner from home. It’s another when a team of lawyers from a firm are all working remotely and need to collaborate on work. Many legal teams have experienced this challenge during the pandemic.

Work on introducing some measures for an effective remote-working policy that enables productive collaboration.

Here are some guidelines for making it successful:

  • Be clear on the remote-working policy: is it up to the individual lawyers to decide when they work remotely or are there specific requirements?
  • Be clear on the rules for remote working: you need to ensure security and confidentiality of information in the firm so how do you address this? You also need to protect the firm’s image so are you going to impose dress codes during video meetings? Also, how will you ensure that communication lines are open for clients – do team members need to commit to certain working hours?
  • Make policies for acceptable devices/technology: which devices and software should team members use when working remotely? This needs to be made clear to maintain consistency, security, and protect the client experience.

We have just scratched the surface of the considerations when an entire team of lawyers moves to a remote-working policy.

Once you’re up and running, you also need to track productivity to make sure that the changes have not negatively impacted your firm’s business. Are you remaining profitable? How can you tweak the system to make it more efficient?

Your case management software should provide valuable insights into billable hours, invoiced amounts, revenue, and so on. Be sure to analyze it closely so that you have the ammunition you need to make informed business decisions.

Bear in mind that some of your firm’s lawyers may need more assistance (both practical and psychological) than others when making the transition from office to remote working.

What tools do you need to work remotely as a lawyer?

A few essentials are required to work from home, whatever the size and nature of your firm. Most of these have been alluded to already.

The following is intended just as a quick checklist but there are probably some nice-to-haves that you will add to the list based on personal preferences:

  • A robust internet connection
  • Portable computer – laptop or notebook
  • Scanner (a portable/wi-fi-based one if you’re moving around regularly)
  • Reliable video software
  • A quality headset
  • Cloud-based Document Management software
  • Cloud-based Practice Management/Billing software
  • Cloud-based email (such as Office 365)
  • A secure client portal
  • VOIP software provider
  • Virtual receptionist
  • E-filing software
  • Mail forwarding service

Email Management for Law Firms with LexWorkplace

Proper email management with LexWorkplace allows you to save emails directly to a matter. This simple but powerful capability keeps every client file or matter organized and quickly accessible to your entire team.

Document Management software like LexWorkplace also provides law firms with tools such as indexing and search, tagging and metadata, client/matter association and more.

A good law practice will not just save/keep emails related to their client’s cases: They should manage them for:

  • Productivity – Every matter-related email should be quickly accessible within that matter record.
  • Accountability – Proper email management ensures against loss or misplacing sensitive emails and documents.
  • Collaboration – Proper Email Management for Law Firms means matter-related emails are centrally stored, in the matter file, so all necessary parties can quickly access them.
  • Centralization – Good email management ensures important matter emails are centrally stored, creating a “single version of the truth”.

Communication & Notes

When everyone is working from different places, it’s important to have clear communication. This can be done by conventional means (email, phone) but can also be done right in your law firm software.

By way of example, LexWorkplace allows you to save emails directly to a matter file, then add a short note to each email, making it’s purpose clear.

Remote law firm collaboration solutions

For teams that need to work collaboratively on cases, consider the available software solutions.

The following are readily available solutions that can help you to easily communicate and work on documents/cases together as well as maintain more general contact with colleagues:

  • Slack: messaging platform with calendaring, meeting scheduling and formal/informal chat channels.
  • Skype: this one is still around and is a good free and secure option that most people are familiar with for interviews, client calls and case discussions.
  • Glip: team collaboration tool that simplifies task management via video and voice chat (with screen share, secure access and comment features).
  • Flowdock: a collaboration tool specifically for lawyers, allowing you to customize settings for notifications and alerts and activate instant video chat.
  • Join.me: allows hosting or joining web meetings securely, with recording and scheduling features.

Working remotely is now a choice for many law firms

Many of us were forced to work remotely during the pandemic. It has now become the preferred option for many – including countless lawyers and firms.

As well as being more convenient, it can help reduce overheads greatly, with savings potentially passed on to clients in the form of lower rates.

Some firms even encourage remote work so that their lawyers can travel and see the world while working.

Whatever the motivation for remote working, you have all the tools available. With mobile devices, always-on internet, and smart cloud-based software for law firms, a traditional office is no longer required.

That means working remotely is now a real possibility for almost every lawyer on the planet.