Remote working for lawyers is generally less heard of. Nonetheless, it’s a trend that’s slowly growing, accelerated by the current pandemic.
When you think about a lawyer, you’re probably picturing a Law And Order scene. He or she is defending their client to the judge and a jury in a courtroom. Given the sensitivities of the job, the real question is; can attorneys work remotely without incurring a billing loss?
The short answer is yes.
Technology has connected the physical and digital worlds, enabling remote working for lawyers. Legal professionals can now move to a more virtual world.
Now for the long answer.
In this post, I’ll go into what a virtual law office looks like. Let’s quash those myths about the legal profession being unable to deliver value when they opt to work remotely!
Incorporating Culture into Remote Policies For Law Firms
The one thing this pandemic has taught us so far is that law firms run successfully in a fully-remote environment. Associates are highly efficient and just as responsive, enabling them to preserve quality and team cohesion.
The time has come for law firms to make their work policies more remote-first. It includes identifying areas for efficiency improvement, moderating communication and guiding the attorneys about work-from-home expectations. This way, instead of leaning into reactive policies, the firm can proactively preempt productivity lapses and delays by offering supportive assistance.
The remote team culture you decide to build should factor in what did, and didn’t work in the past. After all, the means and frequency of communication differ when tools and processes are remote.
It should lay out guidelines on staff training to ensure the interests of the clients onboarded remain protected. Even working hours, idle-time and breaks should be standardized. This way, you don’t end up presuming that everyone online is permanently available.
Relevant members of a team can work towards shared goals only if they are able to maintain cohesion. It is, therefore, essential to cultivate a culture of transparency, knowledge sharing and performance recognition. The first step to doing so is to compile a remote handbook that incorporates the experiential perspectives of seasoned attorneys. This can help junior associates out on casework.
Many of the changes being applied are here to stay even after the Coronavirus pandemic passes. This is why firms should study their responses now and revise those actions that are counter-effective. Let us now take a look at the virtual law office.
What is a Virtual Law Office?
Virtual law offices allow an attorney to interact with their clients entirely online, via technology. A virtual law office is a digital practice comprising lawyers who work remotely or from home. It lets you take your pick of legal counsel online. It depends on the representation you need and the consulting fees you can afford.
Legal practitioners have access to online meeting facilities and knowledge libraries.
The primary reason for the shift to the online marketplace is to run the work environment with a lower overhead.
Add to which, many countries have a reciprocity agreement to enable lawyers to provide legal assistance no matter where they work. Therefore, virtual law offices are a practical solution for lawyers with a geographically dispersed clientele. It follows the approach of ‘localized services with globalized legal expertise’. It serves as the catalyst to take on more clients.
Let’s take a look at the inner workings of a virtual law office model.
What’s Inside the Virtual law office model
Essentially, a virtual law office model makes the profession mobile. It relies on a workspace with internet connectivity. Practices can save up on office space rent and energy consumption. Besides saving commute for both lawyer and client alike, a virtual law office model maintains professional ethics without compromising confidentiality.
An entirely virtual law office supports remote working for lawyers with several office functions. A few common characteristics include:
- Legal management systems: lawyers log in to a traditional management system which is firewalled for security reasons. It contains a dashboard for logging the progress updates for all cases. It categorizes the service as closed, requiring further action.
- Cloud file storage: The cloud stores files without cluttering up your desk. It keeps legal work more organized and backs it up so that you can retrieve it when required. Little to no risk of losing or misplacing critical information.
- Real-time video conferencing: Video and tele-calling options lets both the client and attorney hash out the case and discuss options.
- Document collaboration: Important documents such as petitions, sale deeds, lease agreements and ownership are collaborated on virtually. The lawyer draws up the papers and has the client go over them. They jointly make edits and are kept informed throughout the process.
- Digital signature validation: Documents shared virtually are password-protected with the capability to verify signatures digitally. This way, the client can avoid multiple(and often, unnecessary) trips to the lawyer’s workspace.
- Online billing and invoicing: Attorneys can generate quotes and bill their services at fixed fees. They can also explore alternatives such as value-based pricing and automate invoicing for faster processing.
- Virtual calendaring: lawyers and legal assistants can adjust their availability online. They can use calendar apps to resolve conflicts, keep track of appointments, reschedule or cancel meetings.
Can Attorneys Work Remotely?
This question comes from concerns over ethics and sensitivity. One could argue that senior advocates managing their junior associates have no sure way of knowing what is going on. However, the plethora of remote management tools in the market today makes transparency in dealings possible. Attorneys can work remotely knowing that there is a very low probability of misplacing case-centric information.
Lawyers can make use of software to do the books, track hours spent and the decisions made.
Tips to Organize Your Virtual law office
Here are a few tips to make the transition from a physical workspace to a virtual law office easier;
Embrace technology to stay flexible
: Technology is advancing as we speak. A 5G network will mean instant connectivity, clarity and better video conferencing quality. Get ready to use a platform that has inbuilt messaging, web-based phone services, remote employee monitoring and productivity checkers.
These tools help law offices manage and monitor the legal team remotely. It also supports the team in their work. It gives them remote access to case history, knowledge bodies and other professionals in the network.
Create a distraction-free workspace:
Personal distractions end up taking up some of our focus and time. The problem starts when it causes you to stop watching the clock. To combat this effectively, set up your workspace in a quiet, well-lit space.
If you have young children or pets, keep paper files out of reach. Put them in a place that you can easily remember and retrieve from. Remember the adorably embarrassing moment Professor Robert Kelly faced in his 2017 BBC interview?
Keep up with legal trends:
Previously, remote work was optional. Lawyers chose to work from home or elsewhere for a few days a month. Now, however, the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a formalized structure for remote working for lawyers. The legal landscape has guidelines to follow, which includes virtual check-ins between the standard practice and their clients.
Keeping up with the direction that the legal landscape is leaning towards helps you diversify your services. You can spend a few minutes every day catching up with what other legal practitioners are up to. It keeps those feelings of alienation at bay. It might even help you a way around a problem by giving you a different perspective to think from!
You can immerse yourself in the legal literature to stack up the knowledge necessary to provide consultation.
Set regularity to routine:
Follow the 80/20 rule to prioritize. 80% of your work gets done with 20% of the effort. Regular practice makes remote working for lawyers easier.
Cultivating this regularity helps you organize your day such that crucial work gets completed when you’re productive. It also ensures nothing important is forgotten and kept for the last minute. Categorize tasks by how time-consuming and urgent they are. This will help you focus profoundly and stay motivated.
Hold virtual check-ins with clients:
One of the most significant setbacks to remote working for lawyers is a feeling of disconnect.
Combat this by holding virtual check-ins with clients on a regular basis. Get and give updates and make notes as the conversation progresses.
This will create more material that will help you in the case at hand. Whenever possible, have your video on and encourage your client or coworker to do so. It replicates the trust and familiarity your client would feel if they were sitting before you at an office.
The law firm remote working policies
The benefits of remote work include increased flexibility and work-life integration. But what makes remote working for lawyers a real success is about taking purposeful actions. It goes beyond taking your work laptop home and logging in. It’s about being able to deliver tangible value at scale.
So here are a few policies beneficial to law firms;
Trust lies at the heart of remote work. It helps you delegate work instead of shouldering them yourself.
Experiment with virtual team-building exercises to help your team work with each other. Use a vision or idea board in weekly reviews. This way, teams can come up with new ways to make remote work more productive.
Have you ever found yourself sitting in a meeting, thinking that this could have been done over email? While it is necessary to communicate, it’s just as crucial to prioritize meetings. This helps keep them to a minimum without deviating from the agenda.
An independent study by Michigan State University Professor Steve Kozlowski found that shared leadership was more conducive to high performance. One, as the team size grows, the lines of authority can blur. And two, when legal associates are remote, it creates presumptions as to who to report to and for what. Democratizing leadership prevents this from happening by optimizing accountability across the practice.
Make culture intentional:
A healthy remote team culture reflects in the actions one takes, no matter where they are located. The binding elements of a physical workspace should be captured through the values blueprinting process.
What future do you see for your legal practice? Are you equipping your team with the tools, processes and knowledge necessary for change? Are you encouraging collaboration over the competition for more casework? The answers to these questions tell you more about the idea culture for remote working for lawyers.
Leverage time arbitrage:
In theory, a virtual legal practice can be tapped into ’24/7′. Practically speaking; however, it’s about maintaining responsiveness in the time zone that the legal team is working out of. As a senior associate, you would have to account for the fact that everyone’s deep focus time would differ.
It may not always be possible to find an overlap in the schedule for team meetings. This is where you can leverage time arbitrage.
Remote working staggers an individual’s hours in stages and splits them as billable consulting, advisory or pro bono work. Don’t confine them to the rigidity of a 9 to 5 schedule. Instead, introduce flex hours so that they can work the hours that suit them.
The feedback on remote work has been mostly positive. Many legal practices making arrangements for their employees to work remotely on a permanent basis. 85% of respondents in a survey led by LOEB leadership successfully transitioned to remote working. They also reported that they will continue to work remotely in a post-pandemic world.
The first step leaders should take to enable remote working for lawyers is to create a clear performance strategy. As a field that hinges on client satisfaction, it is crucial to set expectations from the very beginning. Make sure that goals, milestones and outcomes are unambiguous and align with the expertise of the legal team.