- As has been seen in other businesses, remote work can be beneficial for both employers and employees.
- But can remote work benefit law firms as well?
- Keep reading to find out.
There can be many benefits for any company to have if not all, but a good portion of a business’s workforce to work remotely.
But those are regular businesses. Can working remote benefit law firms as well?
Certainly, and in a recent article published on Attorney At Work.com this relatively new development in how law firms have begun to remotely operate has grown even in the face of compliance issues, heavy regulation and concerns over client data protection.
Suffice to say remote work has grown commonplace across all industries, including law. Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal that one out of five professionals work from a location outside of the office.
Law firms, in particular, are expected to widely adopt a remote workforce in 2019, through both “virtual firms” — in which all lawyers work remotely — and evolving policies at conventional law practices of all sizes.
And while it is true that the legal industry has been slow to embrace the trend due to compliance issues, heavy regulation and concerns over client data protection, that is changing with the steady rollout of new technologies, improved security capabilities and wider connectivity.
Turnover is another motivating factor. Talent retention is top of mind for many firms and offering remote work benefits can be a competitive hiring advantage.
A recent Gallup poll confirmed that work-from-home policies are sought after by job seekers and beneficial when it comes to employee retention.
Plus, some degree of work schedule flexibility has nearly become a norm — the same report showed that 43 percent of employed Americans already work remotely at least partially each week.
The Case for Remote Work
The Attorney At Work article offers a few tips for accommodating a mobile workforce that could help your firm take the leap, or help you convince the partners.
1. Make It Official
While numerous firms already allow established associates and partners to work remotely, having an unspoken or inconsistent policy won’t enable your firm to reap the full benefits in terms of talent retention.
People may be unclear about who exactly has access to this privilege or hesitate to take advantage of it if only loose rules exist and compliance involves guesswork. With a clear policy that is consistently implemented and communicated, employees at every level should feel empowered to telecommute.
Clear, advertised remote benefits are also considerably more effective in attracting new hires.
This particularly applies to younger associates who completed law school and entered the workforce in an ultra-digital age.
According to Deloitte research, nearly 75 percent of millennials say a “work-from-home” or “work remotely” policy is important and 69 percent say a physical presence in the office on a regular basis is unnecessary.
Firms are rolling out remote work benefits and other office culture modifications to better support work-life balance and meet millennial associates’ expectations.
In terms of hiring, firms in some areas are even accepting full-time, fully remote candidates to widen their pool of available talent and scale the workforce based on client demand.
Yes, law firms are slow to react to its lawyers working remotely, but the above does show much progress.
2. Make It Secure
One of the main factors allowing lawyers to work remotely is the wider use of cloud computing.
Technology and security advances mean employees can work from nearly any computer or device and remain safely under the purview of IT and compliance standards.
Case files can be viewed securely whenever needed, saving hours of commute time to and from the office.
Cloud software is also crucial in enabling remote teams to leverage legal databases.
Secure remote access and the consolidation of case information into one well-organized electronic space not only aids productivity, but it is also essential in meeting data privacy regulations.
The ability to encrypt sensitive client information, control where it is stored and monitor who can access it is key for compliance with privacy regulations — such as HIPAA and GDPR — as well as ethics and professional responsibility requirements.
3. Make It Meaningful … and Productive
Given most lawyers’ demanding schedules, consider how providing more flexibility via telecommuting can make a lawyer’s job (and life) easier.
With commutes, traffic and office distractions eliminated or minimized, shifting to remote work can be a game-changer for many who might otherwise be at risk of burnout or other mental health concerns.
Also, it’s been proved that working from home can result in impressive employee productivity gains, benefiting lawyers, staff, management and clients alike.
Letting team members work at home, the client’s office, or anywhere but the office can help build a firm culture that benefits clients with increased flexibility and responsive communications.
The ability to work between meetings, access case files instantly and meet clients wherever they prefer can mean less time wasted during the workday — and that should mean much stronger results.
How else can working remotely help your attorneys?
In another Attorney At Work article, stress-related health problems are becoming all too common in today’s legal workforce.
As the article explains, lawyers have the highest behavioral impairment rate of any profession.
- Research has shown it.
- It is spotlighted in the media.
- And in a recent New York Times feature on a lawyer who tragically spiraled into addiction behind closed doors, the behavioral impairment can hit very close to home in the legal profession.
While the American Bar Association National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being released its recommendations on ways the legal community can address it, there still exists a preponderance of attorneys continue to experience work stress and excessive hours at work.
The same innate drive and problem-solving skills that make a good lawyer also enable some to present as “high-functioning,” while they successfully conceal addiction for as long as decades.
Meanwhile, as with any chronic, progressive disease, it worsens until the lawyer’s behavior and capabilities deteriorate. The good news is once the problems are acknowledged, our community can join together to help remedy them.
One remedy that has proven results is working remotely. The lawyer, when he or she is allowed to work from home (or anywhere else) experiences less stress and in many ways more productivity.
All this will add up to a healthier attorney who most likely will not burn out or fall to the typical stresses found in many law firms, especially large prestigious law firms.
What is a virtual law firm?
In an article that appeared on Law Technology Today, the virtual law office was broken down and analyzed in this way:
Where to Start?
Often when people ask how to create a virtual law practice, they think it sounds easy but haven’t thought through what that means.
Like any business, you need to understand your client base. Who are you going to serve? What practice areas are in your sweet spot?
This article focuses on an imaginary firm that serves two practice areas: family law and civil litigation.
Naturally, the family law clients are individuals while the litigation clients are a mix of businesses and individuals.
The importance of this lies squarely on your need to think about what technology you will need for communication purposes as well as what type of office space you will need, among other things.
Lawyers have often commented that if they have consumer clients, such as those going through a divorce, a virtual environment is not ideal. They feel that a traditional office space is a must.
This, however, is not always true.
There are several ways to meet with clients that do not involve talking at a Starbucks, potentially divulging client secrets. Flexible office space options, like Regus, are great options to meet with existing or potential clients on an as-needed basis. You can pay a lower amount per month than traditional office space, including by the hour. This allows for the use of office space to scale as you have more client meetings.
Regarding business clients, the same holds true. Plus, you can go to the business owner’s headquarters to meet with them.
It is convenient for the client, and, second, it is an opportunity to get new work from the client. You may show up for one matter, but because they see other work on their desk, they can hand it off to you.
While the majority of lawyers report using traditional offices leased or owned exclusively by their law firms (60%), other options include a home office or traditional office space shared with one or more other businesses.
There is also the option to take a hybrid approach—use of traditional office space and virtual space to expand into other geographic areas.
And what do you need to practice law out of these venues? A laptop or at least a tablet is a must, as well as a smartphone. Those items, plus a solid cloud-based practice management software, will let you work anywhere. You can bounce around from office space to client sites to Regus and keep working.
A 2018 survey shows that lawyers “regularly” use their mobile devices (e.g., laptop, smartphone, or tablet device) for law-related tasks in a variety of different locations such as:
- The courtroom (16.5%)
- The airport (22.5%)
- A hotel (29%)
- While in transit (e.g., car, train, or airplane) (28%).
This may seem pretty basic, but the point is that really any lawyer can work from anywhere. It is not hard to be a mobile lawyer in 2019. You can be as mobile as you want to be.
Thinking About Intake
In starting a new virtual practice, one area that cannot be overlooked is the focus on intake and effectively getting new clients in the door. Now, most lawyers recognize the need to get new clients, but the sales process is not something that comes naturally. Leveraging an intake system is important for mobile lawyers and is in line with the general philosophy of running a modern firm. This is true regardless of whether you are representing consumer or business clients.
Here are some ideas:
- Get potential clients to a human. Whether you have a virtual receptionist service, like Ruby Receptionists or Smith, answer your phones or have an effective auto-attendant; new clients need to talk with someone as quickly as possible. This is true for virtual firms. You also need an intake specialist who is trained in sales and has the ability to sign up the potential client for a consultation as quickly as possible. You work remotely, which means your intake team can as well.
- You have the technology in place to manage those services. You can give them access to your case management software if need be. You will statistically have a mobile phone glued to your hand and can keep tabs on new consultations.
- Track the data related to intake. This is important. Effectively tweaking your intake so that it results in more clients can be a huge difference in meeting your revenue goals.
Using Technology to Cultivate a Team
This is the hardest part of running a firm, so it is good to save for last. Regardless of the type of firm (old/stodgy or shiny/virtual), the human component can be challenging. This is especially true when growing a distributed team. If you are not in the office together all the time, maintaining positive relationships takes extra effort.
The technology highlighted in this article can be helpful to manage these relationships. You have mobile devices and computers, so all you need is to regularly use collaboration tools, including video conferencing (Zoom, Hangouts, etc.), Slack, and project/case management tools that keep work flowing.
Now, the technology is helpful, but you need to be present with your team. Have regular one-on-ones with each team member (if feasible, depending on the size of the firm), organize the firm in teams so that they can work closely with one another regardless of their physical location, and regularly share Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) with members of the firm when you gather for weekly, monthly, and quarterly meetings via video.
Being a data-driven firm and sharing KPIs with your crew will keep everyone on the same page. If the firm is working toward the same goals, then they will be more invested in the organization. This is a process issue that is supported by technology. Both are critical. You can have all the fancy technology in the world, but if it is not being used effectively then you are losing.
These are just a few ways a remote workforce can benefit you and your clients. The trend will only gain prevalence as technology and connectivity continue to evolve.
And as law firms evolve in many other ways such as diversity and offering better work-life balances for its legal workforce, there is no reason any law firm shouldn’t take the next step in becoming more technologically proficient as well as user, or rather more client friendly.