Transcription

The Complete Guideto Working Remotelyas a Lawyer

The Complete Guide toWorking Remotely as a LawyerWritten by Teresa MatichWorking remotely as a lawyer or legal professional might seem like a perk. An unorthodoxlifestyle choice. A nice idea, but an approach that’s too difficult for the demands of an age-oldprofession like law.But when one looks more closely at how to work remotely as a lawyer—how many lawyersare already doing so, and what’s really possible—remote legal work doesn’t seem like such animplausible idea after all. In fact, in light of rapidly changing situations such as that of COVID-19,lawyers and legal professionals may be looking at remote work not as a once-in-awhile perk, butas an option with the potential to protect their families, their clients, and their communities.Whether you’ve looked at working remotely as a lawyer in the past (or as a paralegal, legalassistant, legal professional) with dreams of traveling the world, or whether you’re looking into itfor the first time now, this guide contains clear, practical tips for opening a remote legal practicewithout interruption. We’ll cover: 10 steps to follow for successful remote work What to do if you still need to meet clients in person Tips for how larger legal teams can succeed when transitioning to remote work A basic list of tools to use for remote lawyering Examples of law firms that have worked remotely in some capacity(or are currently doing so)Can you work remotely as a lawyer?Before you start setting yourself up to work from home or from abroad, you might be askingyourself, is this really possible? Can a lawyer work remotely?While the answer depends on your practice area and what a typical day looks like for you, theshort answer is “yes.” It should be possible to complete some or all of your legal work remotely,and even provide an excellent client experience while not in the office.2 of 16

Of course, if you need to go to court, it’s difficult to get around that, but certain circumstancesmay render that point moot as well. For example, as the situation surrounding COVID-19evolves, the US Supreme Court is now closed to hearings presently (as of March 12), and manyother courts are enacting partial closures or modified operations such as teleconference orvideoconference hearings. Keep an eye out for alerts from any relevant courts, and make sureyou know whether trials are still moving ahead in your area.With modern technology, lawyers can draft and review legal documents, get them signedelectronically (in most cases) and keep clients up-to-date—all while ensuring client and firmdata is kept secure and confidential. This is simpler than many would expect: If you use any sortof computer program currently, you should be able to set yourself up to work from home orelsewhere.10 Steps to follow when working remotelyas an attorneyFollow the steps below for a successful remote-work experience.1. Communicate changes with clients, staff,and colleaguesIf you’re opening a remote-first practice from the start, this point isn’t as relevant. But if you’reshifting from a more traditional law firm model to remote work—permanently or temporarily—it’s absolutely critical that you clearly communicate any changes and new policies.Send an email making it clear that you’re shifting to remote work, and set expectations for whichcommunication channels to use, how meetings will take place, and how often you’ll be contactingclients. If you’re canceling all in-person meetings, let everyone know far in advance so they canadjust their plans. Make the switch to video conferences easy by adding links to video inviteswithin the notes section of any calendar events.This will make the transition as smooth as possible for you, your staff, and your clients. Also, ifyou’re clear about why you’re working remotely, this may help clients understand and help themsee the changes in a positive light.Speak to any staff you normally work with about how you’ll work together while you’re remote,and send an email to staff making it clear whether they’re meant to work remotely as well. Ifyou think some staff need to come to the office to use equipment like printers or scanners, orto answer the phones, we’d recommend that you seriously explore different options that wouldnegate this need, such as a portable scanner and printer, e-filing to negate the need to printlengthy court documents, and a VOIP phone service so that phones can be answered remotely.3 of 16

If you’re closing your offices, put a notice on the homepage of your website and a sign on thedoor (that includes information on how to reach you) so those who come knocking don’t feel likethey’ve hit a dead end.Even if you’re a partner at the firm and you’re electing to work from home independent of whatthe rest of the firm is doing, speak to your staff before you begin working remotely.2. Get a strong internet connectionWorking remotely means a lot more time in front of your computer, and as a lawyer, youcan’t have the internet dropping off in the middle of an important video conference meeting.Furthermore, if you need to collaborate with clients, staff, and colleagues on important legaldocuments, they’ll need to be stored in the cloud rather than locally on your computer, and astrong internet connection will ensure fast and easy access to your work.How can you tell if your internet connection is “good” enough? If you have a broadband internetconnection, you should be fine. Also, this post from developer Martino Fornasa covers how toensure the stability of your connection—another important factor.If you’re working from home, talk to your internet provider about the level of speed and stabilityyou’re getting with your current package, and upgrade if needed. If you’re working abroad,consider investing in a portable Wi-Fi hotspot (or use your iPhone or Android smartphone as ahotspot) to avoid troubles with spotty hotel Wi-Fi—just make sure you’re paying for plenty of datato cover your working needs.DO YOU NEED A REMOTE-ACCESS VPN TO WORK FROM HOME?A remote-access virtual private network (more often referred to as a VPN) is exactly what itsounds like: It allows users (e.g., lawyers) to securely connect to a private network (e.g., one at alaw firm) from a remote location. If your firm uses on-premise case management software, orif your files are stored locally on your firm’s network, you’ll need to set up a VPN in order to getaccess to key case details and documents. Follow these steps to set up a remote-access VPN.If you use a cloud-based practice management system like Clio Manage, you don’t need to worryabout a VPN: Simply log in via your web browser for safe and secure access to all of your files.4 of 16

3. Set up remote access to cases anddocumentsYou can’t take a filing cabinet with you everywhere. Also, mailing paper documents betweenyourself, staff, clients, and colleagues when not in the office will quickly become cost-prohibitive.Therefore, it makes sense to ensure you have access to as many documents and case details aspossible online if you’re planning to work remotely.SCAN PAPER DOCUMENTSFirst, digitize anything you might need that’s paper-only and not already scanned into yourcomputer or the cloud. You can do this yourself, put a staff member in charge of scanningdocuments, or use a service or ask if a Clio Certified Consultant can digitize existing documentsfor you. You’ll also need a scanner to take with you wherever you’re working from if you don’thave one already (more on that later).STORE DOCUMENTS IN THE CLOUDYou can’t take your law firm’s server home with you. If you’re planning to work remotely forawhile, and others at your firm are as well, you’ll need to take special precautions to ensure yourserver is protected from potential fires, floods, power outages, or other potential problems,and depending on the situation, taking these precautions may be extremely difficult. If you’replanning to work remotely full-time, you may not need a law firm server at all!For these reasons, we recommend cloud-based document storage. Cloud-based documentstorage solutions allow you to securely access your files from anywhere in the world, as longas you have an internet connection. You can also collaborate easily with staff, colleagues, andclients.Clio Manage offers unlimited document storage. Other cloud-storage solutions include OneDrive,Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive.5 of 16

4. Prepare a positive remote experience forclientsClients will be looking for you and your services whether you’re working remotely or not. Provideclear information on your website, create a streamlined onboarding process, and be upfrontabout the fact that you’re working remotely and the experience clients can expect, and you’llsoon have a thriving remote legal practice.Even if you’re only working remotely temporarily, your ability to be flexible and show that you’restill available to clients could very well lead you to connect with clients who’d otherwise havea difficult time getting the legal help they need. Furthermore, your clients may want a remoteexperience.Consider offering consultations over the phone or via video to create peace of mind for potentialclients, and send newly signed clients a welcome letter with how best to contact you, how oftento expect communications, and times you’ll be available if you’re working unconventional hoursor in a different time zone. Send a modified version of the letter to existing clients as well.To keep potential clients and new client onboarding organized, you may want to invest in acustomer relationship management (CRM) and client intake solution like Clio Grow, which helpswith contact organization, custom intake forms, and e-signatures. If you use a different solutionfor client intake, make sure you’re able to access any information about potential newclients remotely.5. Communicate with clients securelyIf you’re working remotely, you likely won’t be meeting clients in-person. Of course, this dependson the type of law you practice, but at the very least, you’ll need to prepare to provide caseupdates and ongoing communications online, via text, or over the phone.Luckily, there are plenty of options available. And as a bonus, your clients may even appreciatethe convenience of different communication methods. The main thing is to make sure anychannels you’re using are encrypted and secure. As a lawyer, you need to uphold your duty tokeep client information confidential, and if communication channels aren’t encrypted, it’s all tooeasy for others to gain access to client conversations.Tools like Skype are fine for short video chats where you won’t be discussing anything substantial,but when you’ll be discussing sensitive information with a colleague or client, we recommendtools like Legaler or Jive, which use encryption to keep your video calls secure.For text messages, we recommend Signal. Other business texting services include Zipwhip,Heymarket, and Kenect.6 of 16

For longer messages, document sharing, and invoice sharing, email can work. However, lawyersmust ensure they’re using an encrypted email service. We recommend a secure client portal likeClio Connect for secure communications and document sharing. Learn more about how to set upa client portal and what to use it for.6. Set up mail forwardingDepending on how you’re running your practice currently, and depending on the type of law youpractice, you may not be able to go completely paperless overnight!If you’re working remotely temporarily, contact your local postal service to set up a temporarymail forward from your office to the address you’ll be working at. If you work remotely fulltime and need to handle mail, consider using Casemail to mail documents directly from yourcomputer.You can also minimize mail (and its associated costs) by opting to receive bills for any businessexpenses online, and by sharing client invoices online as well. For example, with practicemanagement solutions like Clio Manage, you can easily share invoices via email or a secure clientportal, and include a link so clients can easily pay online via credit card.7. Be reachable by phoneYou may not be at the office, but your clients will still phone you! Even if you don’t have an office,it’s likely you’ll have at least some clients who want to get in contact via phone. For example,clients with limited access to technology might have an easier time phoning you than texting,emailing, or video chatting.For temporary remote work, make sure all calls are forwarded from your number at your lawfirm to your cell phone, or another number you can easily access while away from the office.For permanent remote work, consider switching to a Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phoneservice. Such services allow you to make phone calls from your computer. There are severaloptions, such as Vonage, Corvum, Nextiva, and Jive.It’s also worth investing in a headset for top-notch sound quality on any calls.Finally, you may want to consider using a virtual receptionist service like Ruby or Smith.ai. Thisway, you’ll make sure no calls get missed, ensuring an excellent client experience, and guardingagainst potential new clients slipping through the cracks. This can be helpful if working remotelymeans you’ll need to handle more calls than you’re used to, if you’ll be working in a different timezone, or if you’ll be working irregular hours.7 of 16

8. Use e-filing if availableIf you need to file documents with the courts, look into e-filing as an option. Not all courts offerthe ability to e-file, but many do, and it can be a real time-saver. Texas provides this guidance fore-filing, for example. Solutions like InfoTrack can help with e-filing.9. Plan for professional video meetingsWhen working remotely, you may find video meetings replacing face-to-face ones with clients,co-counsel, opposing counsel, and a variety of other people. With the power of technology and astrong internet connection, you can meet anyone, anywhere, anytime!It’s a given that you’ll need to look professional for video meetings, but with only a little bit ofeffort and planning, you’ll look extra sharp and create a strong, positive impression on clients andother legal professionals. Keep your background tidy. What’s the view behind your computer? Tidy any shelves,keep the kitchen or laundry baskets out of view, and if all else fails, sit in front of a blankwall. If you have a home office, try to take video meetings there. It’s important to meetprofessional contacts from a professional space. Prevent distractions. Lock the dog out of the room, give a heads up that your kids arehome, and turn down the volume of other devices (or turn them off). If you’re not athome, find a quiet place to meet. It’s easier than you think to get distracted when meetingremotely. Choose strong lighting. Harsh or dim lighting can make it appear as if something is offwhen you’re on video. If you can, sit in a room with stronger-than-you-think-you-needincandescent light (or LED energy-saving lights that imitate incandescent light). Keep your video on. The best video meeting etiquette is to always appear on video.It shows you’re present and engaged in the conversation, and gives your clients andcolleagues visual cues about how you’re reacting. Of course, if you’re under the weatherand toughing it out to get work done, it’s fine to turn off your video—just explain thesituation to the person on the other end. Use a headset. Today’s laptop mics are strong, but a headset will ensure crisp,professional sound quality on your calls—a critical consideration if someone on the callhas low hearing. Consider muting yourself when it’s not your turn to talk. Whether there’s constructiongoing on down the street, or whether your family member is also working remotely andconducting a loud meeting in the next room, or whether you’re typing during the meeting,background noise is louder than you think on the other end of the video. Take stock ofyour surroundings, and mute yourself if needed; just be sure to give your full attention tothe video camera (and maybe disregard this rule for 1:1 meetings).8 of 16

10. Take care of your mental health whenworking remotelyNo matter why you’re doing it—or where you’re doing it from—remote work can be isolating. Ifyou’re used to interacting with others directly on a daily basis, suddenly sitting alone all day canbe a tough change for your mental health. To combat the downside of remote work, create aroutine, and create some distance between your work and personal life. Here are some tips: Dress like you’re going to work. A common trope of remote work is the worker who sitsin pajamas all day. However, this isn’t a great look for conference calls, and won’t make youfeel great either. Instead, dress as you normally would. Set clear work hours. Without a commute and a separate space for work and home, it’seasy for your work and your personal life to blend together. It takes a tremendous amountof self control to only work during certain hours and separate work and life. One tip thatmight work for you is taking a short walk at the start and end of your day to create amental boundary between your work and personal time. Work in the same area. Another way to create routine is to work in the same space everyday, preferably from a home office, or a setup resembling one. If you’re sharing limitedspace with someone else who’s also working remotely, set a clear schedule for videomeetings in the most appropriate locations, and/or stake out your own clear workspaces. Call a friend or coworker. Depending on where you are or why you’re remote, you maynot regularly be in contact with others. In this case, prioritize calling or video chatting withone person each day, whether a friend or colleague. Even if it’s only for five minutes. This isa small promise to keep and can help combat the effects of isolation. Unplug. As a lawyer or legal professional, there will always be more work to do. If youlove your job, it’s easy to sit in front of a laptop for hours and hours in the name ofproductivity—but that’s a recipe for burnout. You need to take care of yourself in orderto take care of your clients, so unless there’s an emergency, stick to your work hours andunplug outside of that time.What if you still need to meet clientsin-person?Depending on your practice area, you may still need to meet clients in person, even if you’reworking remotely. For example, you may need to meet clients so they can sign their will.If you work from home, and if there are no extenuating circumstances preventing you frommeeting with clients, this isn’t a problem. You can schedule a time to meet at the office, or rent ameeting room at a shared co-working space if you don’t have an office.9 of 16

However, if there are extenuating circumstances, it might be trickier to meet in-person. Forexample, amid COVID-19 concerns and recommendations for social distancing, it might be worthcontacting clients to defer any in-person meetings that can wait. If you absolutely must meetin person while you’d prefer to work remotely, we strongly recommend following this InterimGuidance for Businesses and Employers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Working remotely for teamsWe’ve covered a lot about how to work remotely as an individual lawyer, but what if you workat (or own) a small or medium-sized firm? How do you grapple with the realities of remote workwhen your team numbers more than 20? How do you set up your law firm employees and staff tocollaborate effectively and ensure your firm is profitable?There are many things to consider here, but we’ll touch on two of the most important points:1. Enacting a clear remote work policy2. Tracking firm productivity when everyone is remoteWHAT MAKES A GOOD REMOTE WORK POLICY?Whether you’re creating a work-from-home policy or a policy that allows employees to workremotely from anywhere, your policy (or lack thereof) can mak