As the deadly COVID-19 pandemic is twisting 2020 beyond all recognition, the visibly overwhelmed legal field is beginning to process its severity.
Given that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predict that COVID-19 effects could last well into 2021, it’s likely that working from home will become a new normal. Consequently, attorneys from across the country are moving their ‘brick and mortar’ firms to their respective living rooms, home offices, and whatnots and law students are replacing classrooms with Zoom online classes.
This abrupt departure from traditional offices and campuses prompts everyone in the law field to change how they communicate, manage, and collaborate fundamentally. Luckily, evolved technology is what makes that possible. There are tons of tech tools attorneys can adopt to ensure their legal team stays connected, productive, and efficient.
Here are some essential tools and tips that might help attorneys adjust to the new normal and make the change easier for management and employees.
Basic Tech Tools for Remote Work
Working in a fully furnished traditional office comes with its perks- you have all the necessary tech tools needed to perform your daily work. Now that you are switching to a ' virtual law firm,' you have to make sure you and your employees have the essential tech tools such as computers, connections for keyboard, mouse, monitor, internet, and appropriate apps for mobile devices.
A big part of a lawyer’s day is spent talking to clients and colleagues. Fortunately, when it comes to videoconferencing, in recent years, there are a plethora of choices for lawyers, ranging from bare-bones free tools to more costly options that include several features designed to streamline the video meeting experience.
Here are some that have made a mark on the legal industry:
Tools like Google Hangouts and GoToMeeting make it a breeze to interact with fellow attorneys and other legal employees. You can use these tools to have a real-time group video chat with your law firm team. Tools like Slack also make documentation easier-all interactions are automatically tracked, recorded, and made searchable. Join.me is another excellent collaboration tool that provides you a secure way of communicating with one another in your virtual law firm.
Lawyers and firms are now able to leverage tools explicitly built to streamline face-to-face meetings. Video conferencing Softwares like Google Meet or Zoom allow attorneys to meet clients and law students to 'attend' online lectures. WebEx is another excellent option for secure video conferencing, cloud calling, online meetings, screen sharing, and webinars. It includes a host of features and offers various pricing levels depending on your firms’ needs.
The Human Resource Information System (HRIS)
As highly trained legal professionals are the heart of the practice, labor is the single most considerable expense for most law firms. With this in mind, it's of incredible value to make sure that the firm employees are taken care of, especially in these difficult times of uncertainty. Having an HRIS with app capabilities and employee self-service can make it easier to organize HR information and direct efforts in your virtual law firm.
Cloud-Based Law Practice Management Software
As cloud-based technologies have increased in recent years, there are many tools available to run every aspect of your law firm from any location. Some LPM systems even include lead management tools, integrated email, built-in e-signature capabilities, and secure communication tools such as a client portal.
Cloud-based time tracking
Having well-integrated and intuitive time-tracking software is one of the essential tools for remote work. Keeping employees accountable for their breaks and their time on the clock works better when updating their time card is as simple as operating a mobile app.
Online Fax Services
Now that most lawyers are working remotely, online fax services may come in handy as online faxing makes it easy to send and receive documents in digital format. Depending on the service you choose, documents can be sent and received via email, an online portal, or via a smartphone app. eFax is one of the first online fax services to launch. It provides annual and monthly subscription pricing, starting at $16.95 per month with a $10 setup fee. This includes the ability to send 150 and receive 150 pages per month. MetroFax is another affordable option with a free 30-day trial and a choice of annual or monthly plans. Monthly plans start at $7.95 per month for 500 pages.
Tools and Techniques for Focus
Whether it’s the stress of the pandemic or social distancing or merely the effects of being without outside stimuli, remote work can mess with how employees perceive time and the ability to stay focused.
Here are some tools that might help you
- Noise-canceling headphones
- Working from home means distractions can arrive in the form of neighbors' loud music, crying children, and dog barking. Investing in noise-canceling headphones can help you stay focused while others are at home.
- Ad-blocking software
- Ad-blocking software can help you stay focused while doing online legal research.
- Notification mute buttons
- Notifications are the most frequent distractions; it's the equivalent for a tap on the shoulder. Muting notifications will help you to stay"in the zone.
- Silencing mobile devices
- There are many great apps out there that force you to focus by locking down your phone or internet or even ones that block specific apps, such as Facebook. Brain.fm is another excellent online tool that uses music to influence your mental state. The AI music composer uses auditory rhythms that are proven to help you focus.
- Focus Timers
- Time management is one of the hardest parts of maintaining reasonable work expectations when working remotely. Setting a timer can help employees visualize their time management and balance their responsibilities to your workplace, their families, and themselves.
There are tons of positive aspects of working from home, you are in your personal space, and a relaxed environment has been shown to improve creativity. Limiting travel leaves more time for productive billable work. However, for many, working from home right now - where both the economy and legal system have been severely disrupted can be a challenge.
Set Real Work Hours
The concept of working from home is a double-edged sword, especially productivity-wise.To maintain the ‘usual working dynamic,’ set real working hours and stick to them, as you would do in a traditional office.
Set a dress code
Getting dressed for work is an essential part of sticking to a daily routine. Not only is it crucial for interacting with clients or co-workers, but it will also affect your performance.
Discourage personal intrusions
Naturally, your friends and family don't just stop by the office to chat, hang out, or interrupt your work. However, when you work from home, interruptions and drop-ins happen more than often and can cause you to lose your focus or procrastinate. Try to prevent intrusions into your workspace by setting some ground rules during your at-home work hours.
Encourage snack and movement breaks
It's most likely that with everything nearby, you might end up moving less than you usually would. Encourage fellow attorneys and other co-workers to schedule regular snacks and movement breaks. Short jog on a home treadmill, ten sets of squats and pushups, or a quick walk around the block will help you stay focused and avoid the 'cabin fever' effect.
Sharpen Your Delegation/Supervision/Feedback Skills
Working remotely requires your delegation/supervision/feedback skills to be even better—more frequent, more precise, and more realistic—than usual. Several law firms have already offered training on these topics, so they have excellent resources available to sharpen those skills.
Ultimately, keep in mind that attorneys can and must continue to serve clients and practice their noble profession no matter where they are.