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Working Remotely: How It's Impacting the Legal Industry and Your Firm
by David Dorion
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It has come to a point where for some, working remotely is no longer an option; it is a necessity. With traffic ensnarling us between home and work, as well as an increasing number of responsibilities that require us to be home more often, working remotely can definitely have its benefits. At the same time, working remotely can have drawbacks.
Unsurprisingly, law firms have begun to get into the trend of working remotely. In fact, so prominent is this movement within the legal field, that Atlantic magazine asked in a feature story about the changing legal work environment, “Do lawyers need offices anymore?”
Well, some may need offices while others may not. Nonetheless, the office-less office that has now become part of law firm culture seems like it is here to stay.
What exactly is working remotely?
Working remote means a worker simply doesn’t go into an office to do their job. They can work from home, from a coffee house or diner, a library, or even somewhere relaxing, such as the beach.
While this type of work ethic may sound super chill as it potentially leans more toward the life side of the work-life balance phenomenon, one who chooses, or in increasing instances, has no choice but to work remotely, still has to complete their assignments in a timely manner.
The only difference between onsite work and working remotely is they can stay at home all day to complete their day’s work.
What are the positives of working remote, particularly for attorneys?
Saving time is a definite plus when one works remotely. For instance, the remote worker isn’t in their car, stuck for an hour each morning on the freeway going toward downtown. And forget about going back home between 5 pm to 7 pm when traffic is just as bad in the evening hours.
At times like this, commuters have learned to stay at work, presumably producing more work after already having a long day, until the nighttime traffic dies down when they finally leave for home late in the evening.
The lawyer who works remotely is more productive. First of all, they don’t have traffic to contend with. Their morning commute entails nothing longer than a stroll from their desk to the kitchen’s coffee maker for a refill.
Another positive that comes with working remotely is the lawyer can produce more billable hours. While some celebrate multitasking, calling clients while writing briefs on a laptop don’t necessarily mix well with bumper-to-bumper traffic. Maybe it’ll be feasible when we receive fully autonomous vehicles, but as of now, being a lawyer who is forced to handle tough situations and clients while in traffic, don’t blend. This is why working remotely can benefit an attorney. Other examples of how working remotely can be beneficial are:
Working remotely results in more energy: Commuting, particularly when an employee does so for an hour or two each workday, can wear that employee out even before they get to work. The remote worker, by contrast, is much fresher and alert mostly because they haven’t already driven two hours to get to work.
Home is much less stressful than work: Remote workers are less pressured than those who have to continually see their strung-out boss and co-workers. Not having the adversity that one might otherwise have in a fast-paced and loud workplace can make for a better workday.
Better focus: Working remotely can allow an attorney to custom select an atmosphere that will help them better focus on their work. The attorney who works remotely can have a variety of atmospheres in which they can work, which can inevitably help optimize their productivity.
More economically feasible: The attorney who won’t be driving as much, will be able to save a large amount of money by simply buying less gasoline. In some cases, at-home workers have been known to cancel their car insurance and even sell their automobiles.
A more mobile workforce: It’s not like attorneys are ordinarily out on the street, drumming up work. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that the telecommuting lawyer is any less accessible than when he or she worked inside a firm. In fact, they can be more accessible simply because they aren’t in an office. Lawyers can personally meet clients more quickly because they aren’t constrained within a law firm. For the lawyer who works remotely, breakfast and lunch meetings, or early evening dinners are a better possibility with now and future clients than if an attorney was “stuck at work.”
The Downfalls of Working Remotely
Earlier in this article, it was promised that the negatives of working remotely would also be examined, and while there are some negatives – a few of which could be deal breakers for busy law firms, some do pale in comparison to the benefits of working remotely.
Are they really working? Those who are still stuck in the downtown offices may wonder how much work the telecommuting attorney is producing. With this in mind, the telecommuting attorney needs to absolve these doubters by billing hours on a consistent basis.
Little to no contact with the other attorneys: Working remotely to an extent is like working alone. Some attorneys may feel isolated, left behind or simply left in the dark. This is one of the negatives of working offsite that an attorney needs to be aware of. After all, lawyers need contact too, especially when they’re working on a case and need advice or support.
Meeting with clients may be more difficult: Although working remotely can translate into certain workplace freedoms, those same freedoms can be detrimental when it comes to meeting and on boarding new clients, especially if those types of introductions traditionally take place inside law offices.
There can be a host of other issues that might cause consternation for those lawyers who work remotely, such as…
A needy senior partner
Lawyers whose hands need holding as they learn the ropes
A senior lawyer who in some legal cases holds the hand of telecommuting attorneys as they learn the ropes
When faced with situations like these, the chances of an attorney working remotely can be slim, particularly when they and the law firm’s culture and logistics are dependent upon one another.
The Positive Ways Working Remotely Can Impact a Law Firm
While money remains the bottom line for many Am Law firms throughout the country, those same firms can benefit greatly from having its attorneys work remotely.
Attorneys who work remotely can save an exorbitant amount of money for a law firm simply from the fact that fewer attorneys requiring office space translates into fewer offices that need to be leased.
Sure, a person can still have access to an attorney, but instead of trudging downtown to a gentrified skyscraper, a client and attorney will instead meet in a Starbucks or possibly a shared independent workspace, which has ironically begun to eclipse the idea of having a traditional office space such as a law firm.
Attorneys who work remotely can also save the firm money on furniture, electronic gear such as computers, etc., and in some cases perks like parking fees and gym memberships.
The Negative Ways Working Remotely Can Impact a Law Firm
No matter how much time a lawyer saves that he or she can eventually convert into billable hours, there remain some strong reasons for a firm to not allow its lawyers to work remotely, many of which can involve the client.
For instance, if a client is used to meeting their lawyer at a specific place, like a firm located on 333 South Hope Street in Downtown L.A., and not at an eatery like Barney’s Beanery on Santa Monica in West Hollywood, there can be some confusion on the client’s part as to why they are meeting their attorney in restaurant and not a law office.
This can raise suspicion within the client, making him or her feel confused, conflicted and uneasy enough to pull the plug and take their work to a more traditional law establishment.
For the attorney, working remotely can also involve a sharp learning curve. First of all, attorneys who work remotely may need:
To buy a computer – at least a laptop – to work on.
Potentially buy software to work on their computer.
Go through the difficulty of explaining to his/her clients that remote work is the new trend in their law practice.
Convince their client that meeting in a park, or in the client’s home, a coffee house or Denny’s to discuss legal issues, will from here on be the new normal in their representation.
It’s easy to see how this can throw a client off and potentially upset them. It’s for this reason that a firm should not only consider its lawyers, as well as its bottom line when allowing attorneys to work remotely, but at the same time consider how remote work can impact clientele.
Revamping vs. Starting from the Ground Up
Revamping a law firm that has already been established as traditional with a clientele that is also traditional can be risky. Going remote can be a hard evolvement for some clients to swallow, particularly after decades of service.
Conversely, the best way to establish a virtual law firm with attorneys who work remotely all over the country is to do so from the ground up when the firm is being put together. Sure, older clients who aren’t tech savvy may not get it, but younger clients, particularly those who are wealthy and tech aware, will appreciate this new take on law practice tradition.
It can’t be said that anything involving morning and evening commutes, particularly in large cities will innovate as quickly as technology and the evolving workplace culture. Instead of being caught up in freeway traffic behind a car’s steering wheel, attorneys are staying home to add to their billable hours, and in the end, their job security.
Of course while time saved by attorneys who work remotely can benefit a law firm in cost and productivity, some clients may not like the change, causing them to feel wary as to whether or not they will be well-represented in times of legal need.
The bottom line is this: for your firm to convert its attorneys to work remotely, much of how the law firm practices also has to be considered, as well as the clients themselves and how they feel about the change.
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