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Working Remotely: How It's Impacting the Legal Industry and Your Firm

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Summary: 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. Yet, at the same time, working remotely can have drawbacks.

Working remotely can help an attorney save time and bill more hours. But how does that attorney’s law firm and the attorney’s clients feel about it?

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…
 
  1. A needy senior partner
  2. Demanding clients
  3. Lawyers whose hands need holding as they learn the ropes
  4. 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:
 
  1. To buy a computer – at least a laptop – to work on.
  2. Potentially buy software to work on their computer.
  3. Go through the difficulty of explaining to his/her clients that remote work is the new trend in their law practice.
  4. 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.

Frequently Asked Questions
 

Will Law Firms Allow Remote Work?


Several law firms have begun planning for office returns following the COVID-19 vaccine rollout across the country. Many firms are considering transitioning to a hybrid model that allows for both in-office and a remote workplace, as lawyers and staff now have become familiar with the benefits of working from home.

While firms begin to reunite their attorneys in the office, some lawyers are rebelling and threatening to move to other firms to avoid having to move from their home offices.

Some associates and partners have been able to put to rest the reticence that arose from lockdowns and work-from-home orders during the pandemic. They have embraced the experience and want to make it a permanent lifestyle choice.

Recently, some associates expressed a reluctance to return to normal office attendance. Zoom calls, in particular, have proven particularly valuable to associates and mid-career professionals - allowing them to review the progress of their practices more effectively, and enjoy greater visibility within firms and with clients.

Leaders of law firms are pondering a requirement to return to office in September. Some, however, have said even later. Despite this, law firms' leaders remain concerned about how remote working impacts their culture, loyalty, and training.

Lawyers and staff may return to work, but firm leaders expect more flexible working in the workplace. Companies that reduce their real estate footprint can take advantage of the reduced costs resulting from fewer people working in an office and from workers staying in hotels. Certain firms stated that it would adopt the hybrid model, which is a mix of in-office and a remote workplace, after October; and that the firm's overall footprint will shrink by 24 percent. The firm will reduce office space by as much as 50% in the U.S., at the same time as extending its remote working policies for attorneys and staff during the flu season.

In other respects, the role of attorneys continues to change. Attorneys and clients will likely continue to value virtual dealmaking because of the ease of negotiation, cost-savings, and lack of unnecessary "bombast" and "theatrics," as well as the efficiency of avoiding travel.

Lawyers, especially associates, are becoming very burned out as they work remotely. There is more communication among clients and colleagues across time zones and attorneys are working longer and odder hours as the lines between work and home have blurred.

 Due to an increase in deal work, attorneys' commute time is no longer a divider and they work around the clock. Evenings, early mornings, weekends, and nights are when attorneys bill most of their time. There has been a double-digit increase in associate moves. The legal firms, however, are paying out large special bonuses that will be paid out in installments through the fall - an incentive to stay.

However, remote work will not solve the burnout problem on its own.

It would be helpful to have expected "off" hours and to acknowledge those who are exhausted after being at work all day. Families with working parents, more than anything else, need their legal firms to be understanding and flexible with their lawyers' time, both now and after the pandemic is over. Those lawyers would be going out of business if they ignored the request.

In the race for talent, a company will be successful if it creates reasonable employment policies, such as holiday limits and weekend incentives. A firm that hires more employees to meet the demand needs to hire more resources.

A remote location makes it tougher for young lawyers to prepare for their careers as lawyers, as it is harder for them to observe more senior lawyers in action or ask questions.

Many have argued that many law firms need to adapt their professional development approaches to fit a working environment where not everyone will be in the office at the same time, five days a week.
 

Do You Need A Remote Work Policy?


The majority of US workers now have the option to work from home. Almost overnight, it all happened. The same applies to lawyers: Many law firms need policies governing the work-from-home of their staff.

For most lawyers, this will be a new experience. Solo practitioners and Big Law firms alike embrace remote working from home. By offering remote work options on an "as needed" basis, Jackson Lewis, which employs more than 800 lawyers nationwide, has formalized a long-standing practice.

Working from home appeals to many people. 34% of American workers are willing to take a 6% pay cut in order to work remotely. As a result, this is a good opportunity to ensure that your work-from-home policy is understood by your team.

Flexible working policies, or work from home policies, set out expectations clearly. As a result, your firm is more likely to succeed. The benefits of remote working will be available to you as well. You can hire from a wider pool of qualified candidates, have lower overhead, and have loyal team members who are less stressed. Study results found 91% better work-life balance among workers who can work from home (part or full time).
 

How Do I Create A Remote Work Policy?

Be Clear About When It Is Ok For Lawyers And Staff To Work From Home


For how long is this going to last? Make sure you are clear about who the policy applies to, and when it applies when you draft a law firm work from home policy.
 
  • Does the whole team have the option of working from home or is it only certain positions?
  • Working from home is it a temporary or long-term arrangement?

Whether in person or remotely, documenting the answers will help to clarify expectations. Identify the needs of your employees before making a decision. A temporary work-from-home policy may be in your best interest. Staff and lawyers may do better at home if they are less stressed and more productive.
 

Establish Expectations For Availability

 

Consider First the Issue of Hours


Would it be possible to work flexible hours?

Communication can be easier during normal business hours. If you are able to allow offset hours, you will benefit not only your team member but also your company. In addition to being able to work a variety of hours, the team member can spend time with their family and other obligations. Additionally, firms may be able to service clients outside of traditional business hours. Some clients might find this to be more convenient.

Some employees might be more productive if they can work offset hours from home. Many families will be having dinner at home during the COVID-19 pandemic when childcare is not available.
 

Make Sure That Your Team Members Know How to Communicate Their Availability


It is very important that all members of your team indicate their availability very clearly since there is no way to walk over to their desk to check if they are there.

Each team member should have defined working hours that are accessible to everyone. This can be achieved by utilizing the calendar feature in your practice management software. An ideal calendar would indicate each team member's working hours and scheduled meetings to allow others to know when they are available.

When working from home, tools like Slack or Google Hangouts are available to coordinate and inform colleagues when a team member takes a break or steps away from the workspace. This reduces confusion and delays by setting expectations for response times.

In your firm's policy on work from home, describe how you prefer to communicate your availability.
 

Outline Preferred Communication Methods And Tools For Working From Home


Communication is even more important when members of your law firm work from home in different locations. Therefore, your work-from-home policy should clarify how you prefer to communicate with your team, and which communication methods will benefit your team.

When staff members have long questions, tell them to prefer chat. However, if the question is complex or if their written message might come across as unclear, tell them to take a video call right away.

To ensure your firm's success, make sure you train your lawyers and staff on your chosen communication tools.

To avoid getting bogged down in email for less complex interoffice back and forth, check out an instant messaging type application like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Google Hangouts, saving email and phone calls for lengthier communications. Whichever tool you choose for internal (and external) communications, remember that security needs to be addressed; Make sure team members know best practices (strong passwords, the need to keep video meetings private), and speak to any vendors to make sure your communications are encrypted.
 

Make Remote Working Easier For Your Team


Your team members should all be provided with a separate office at home for their use. It is not always realistic or practical to work from home, especially when the arrangement is temporary.

Consider the following concerns when surveying your team's intended work area:
 
  • Could you block out the activity of the other occupants of the house with a door or other barrier?
  • What tools and files are available for team members to be productive?
  • Are team members' spaces set up to accommodate a professional appearance if they are hosting video conferences with vendors or clients? (No dirty laundry, for example.)

The situation most likely will determine whether you purchase new computers for your employees to work from home or if they can take the computers from the office home. Take note of the computers and other equipment your staff will take so that you can track them and return them if this is the plan you intend to follow.

If you decide to let employees work-from-home, clearly outline your policy the circumstances under which they can take equipment home (can everyone do it, or only if the need arises?), or the process by which you will purchase equipment for employee home offices (can they choose anything they like or will you provide funding up-front or reimburse expenses?).
 

Flexible Work Policies Should Include Security


Team members who work from home have only one rule: Be sure it is secure. The digital security provided by your law office also leaves when your staff leaves the office. A Work From Home Policy should address the best security practices for remote workers.

Make sure your policy answers these questions:
 
  • Members of the team will have unlimited access to their personal devices? If so, ensure that your firm has a clear device policy.
  • With particular data, does each team member have to use specific encryption tools and methods?
  • Do team members have unlimited access to public Wi-Fi for firm business development?

Home-based workers may often work nearby other family members, which makes it very important to keep client communications confidential. Assess the risks facing your team members, and help them put in place solutions that will foster a secure work environment.
 

Create Deliberate Connections Between Remote Teams


Maintaining a sense of teamwork is one of the challenges of working with a remote team. You cannot connect with someone if you do not walk past them every day in the hallway. In some cases, “out of sight, out of mind” can apply. There is a risk of becoming siloed, especially if only a minority of your team is working remotely or has flexible working hours. The first time your entire team works remotely after the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely to be even easier for invisible digital transformation to appear.

Your flexible work policy should include the following tools. Teamwork and connection will be cultivated through these activities:
 
  • "Stand up" meetings should be held on a regular basis. Video conferencing can be used for these meetings. The team members learn about each other's work.
  • Create a virtual watercooler for team members. There should be a place where they can talk about things other than work. Separate Slack channels or video conference lines can serve as virtual break rooms. It is possible for team members to crack jokes, celebrate victories, and ask for help. Investing in team building will pay off in the end.
  • Keep in touch with team members on a regular basis. Check-in with team members regularly during times of wildfires, floods, pandemics, or any other act of nature that requires the team to go remote. Be sure to ask them how much support they are able to provide, and how much support they need. It is important to encourage members of your team to take care of themselves as well as their responsibilities. Using Calm App (a meditation app) as an incentive can be useful.

Clarity is Created By Having a Work-From-Home Policy for Your Law Firm


There is no need to be afraid of working from home. Using it for the first time in law firms can be beneficial, even if it is a whole law firm undertaking in the same direction. Understand when working from home is OK, how to secure your work, and how to stay connected. Create a clear policy for working from home. When your team and you adjust to remote working, be prepared to adjust your style. Ultimately, you know what is best for your company.
 

Which Attorney Jobs Can Be Done From Home?


Over the years, you have done more than just serve clients. Your skills have been fine-tuned. Legal practice is essentially a master's course in writing, risk assessment, and account management. In addition to legal roles, these skills can also be applied to non-legal ones. Furthermore, many roles offer the option of working from home.

It is easy to find full-time attorney work-from-home positions on job sites. You may apply for a variety of work from home lawyer jobs using your lawyer education, professional experience, and fine-tuned skill set:
 

Attorney


There are a number of associate attorney jobs you can pursue from home today thanks to technology and telecommuting options. Lawyers are increasingly being hired for remote-working positions in law firms. It is also possible to start your own law firm.
 

Freelance Lawyer


Most of these opportunities can be taken on remotely, or even on a part-time basis. There are plenty of online services that match freelance attorneys and law firms. You can look into this option if you want more flexibility.
 

Legal Writer


Even though you might not consider yourself a writer, chances are you have honed your craft in writing legal documents, contracts, and briefs. Writing drafting content for blogs or other websites (using your legal expertise to contribute content) or drafting legal analyses & summaries could be among the interesting remote writing jobs for lawyers.
 

In-House Counsel


Many job postings for work-from-home positions in in-house legal counsel have appeared lately. For in-house legal support, companies may offer remote, part-time, or contract positions. Basically, it just depends on how flexible they are and what they need.
 

Document Reviewer


You could fill in a gap in employment by reviewing contracts and other legal documents, even if you do not want to do it full-time. Keeping up with the latest developments in your area of practice requires reviewing new case law frequently. At any time, you can return to your legal career.
 

Non-Legal Work-From-Home Jobs


Lastly, look beyond your legal experience! It is possible to find remote lawyer jobs where your past experience or hobbies intersect with your legal expertise. Work from home in fields like project management, recruiting, writing, and coaching.  

No matter what approach you take when seeking a full-time work-from-home position, make sure you prioritize jobs with flexible schedules and clearly negotiate your work-from-home arrangements from the beginning.

In Conclusion

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.

Want to hire a remote attorney or a remote legal staff member for your law firm? Go here to use LawCrossing and get your job posted on over 500 job boards at once.

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