Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak as a pandemic, social distancing and quarantine are affecting every business in the U.S. Traditional law firms, which were busy up until a few weeks ago holding face-to-face meetings with clients, prepping for trials and litigating in court are now puzzled. They are busy figuring out how they are going to survive and prosper through this phase.
In order to keep the momentum going, law firms, both big and small, are left with no other option but to move on to be a virtual law firm. Although this concept is new to many lawyers, managing a virtual law firm is not difficult, thanks to enhanced technology. In this article, we’ll provide several tips and tricks that you can immediately apply to help you overcome the challenges of managing a virtual law firm.
1. Document Retention & Access
The accessibility of legal documents is crucial for lawyers and law firm employees. Anyone inside the firm must be able to access and refer to legal documents and client records on a daily basis. When your firm becomes 100% virtual, the first challenge you’ll face is how you can retain these records and access them remotely.
The Uniform Electronic Transaction Act (UETA), solves this issue by permitting you to store electronic records and electronic signatures by any electronic means. So, you can retain documents electronically in a cloud-based secure platform like Dropbox or Google Drive and organize your case files which can be easily accessed by anyone in the firm.
2. Attorney-Client Confidentiality Issues & Data Breaches
As an attorney, it is your duty to keep the secrets of your client safe. In a virtual law firm, you face the risk of hacking, information leaks or data breaches, when lawyers are working through home networks. It is a big challenge, especially when more and more clients are turning to their legal team for advice during this pandemic.
First off, it’ll be wise if you separate your personal and professional devices. Thereafter, you need to use communicating and collaborating tools like Zoom, Flowdock, Join.me, etc. that provide encryption facilities to maintain attorney-client confidentiality.
In regard to protecting your devices from hacking – Apple users can enable ‘Filevault’, Windows users can use ‘Windows 10 Professional’ and access Bitlocker encryption, and for Android smartphones & tablets, simply use a strong password on devices. In case of loss or theft of your professional electronic devices; Microsoft, Apple, and Android users can enable the “Find My Device ‘ option and remotely wipe the data off of their devices.
3. Miscommunication & Collaborating Issues
Lack of physical interaction in a virtual law firm can lead to miscommunication & collaborating issues, which ultimately can cost the firm with the loss of a client. Hence, opt for collaboration tools like GoToMeeting, Google GSuite, Microsoft Office for Teams, etc., and stay in touch with all law mates of your firm.
Communicate using Slack, Flowdock and work together on cases using Basecamp, Asana, etc., so that physical distances don’t hamper the quality of work at your virtual law firm. For more on this, check out our recent blog post: Tools for Better Communication, Collaboration, and Organization for Law Firms.
4. Technical Failures
Since everything you do in a virtual law firm is digital, it is a big challenge not to have any technical failures or breakdowns. All communications depend on technology, so their maintenance must be done constantly.
Therefore, distribute contact details of your tech support to all of your remote working lawyers, so that they know whom to approach under such circumstances. If your tech person has to visit your law teammates home, make sure they follow the COVID-19 social distancing, disinfecting, and sanitizing protocol. To safeguard the loss of valuable information further, store all case details on consumer cloud services.
5. Supervision of Staff
Shifting from a traditional law firm to being a virtual law firm owner/partner can suddenly become a challenge, especially when you have to supervise your dispersed team of junior attorneys. It is tricky for both lawyers and partners, as you don’t know if your lawyers are having a bad day and they need your guidance or support. Thus, make it a point to communicate on a daily basis through video conferencing tools like Zoom or GoToMeeting.
100% supervision may not be possible in a virtual law firm, so you have to be comfortable in providing space for your lawyers. To drive your law practices forward and maintain efficiency amidst this chaos, you can use supervision tools like Taskworld, iDoneThis, etc., to know what your team is doing and how they are performing against the given goals.
6. Productivity issues
Under normal circumstances, self-motivated & independent proactive lawyers are given the opportunity to work remotely, but these are unprecedented times and now everybody is in the same boat. The productivity of the firm now depends on how proficiently you communicate with your lawyers and paralegals. Each person has their own productivity level, therefore, you have to work with them using collaboration tools like Confluence and Asana and then monitor their work using tools like Taskworld. More than ever, you have to get used to being flexible in your approach to measuring the productivity of your employees.
Lastly, overcoming all the challenges of managing a virtual law firm depend on the training of remote working lawyers as well. You have to guide them in using various hardware and software as well as on legal policies, standards, and practices involved in working in a virtual law firm. They need to be educated on the importance of ‘Cyber Security’ and how to avoid clicking on dangerous links.
Managing a virtual law firm is all about maintaining internal and external lines of communication so that productivity levels remain high and your firm continues to provide unmatched services to its current clients. With email marketing and social media marketing, you can continue to promote your virtual law firm, and maintain connectivity with clients and prospects even in these chaotic economic times.
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