6 ways to make remote working sustainable for legal professionals

Man working at a table with kids
How can law firms turn remote work from an emergency situation to a long-term process that works for everyone? Here are some tips to get started.

A May 2020 Loeb Leadership report found that almost 70 percent of the legal professionals surveyed would like to continue working from home, at least part-time, even after it is safe to return to the office.

The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that people can get work done from anywhere. However, to make remote working arrangements sustainable for legal professionals in the long-term, some essential measures must be taken:

Set up a dedicated, private workspace

A dedicated workspace with complete privacy (and a door that can be closed) is vital for a legal professional to remain compliant with ethical obligations regarding client communication and confidentiality. Some points to consider:

  • Is it possible for someone to overhear conversations occurring in your workspace?
  • Are you working on a shared device that is accessible to others?
  • Do you connect to Wi-Fi via an unprotected network?
  • Are physical client files being left out where they could be compromised?

If the answer to any of those questions is yes, it is time to review best practices regarding data security and the ethical considerations that must be taken when working from home.

Leverage technology to facilitate case management

While sustaining a remote work environment may be challenging, utilizing technology to complete the following routine processes can make working-from-home an option for your team far into the future:

  • Electronic signing. Setting up e-signature capability will allow your team to finalize documents quickly and securely.
  • Online intake. Moving intake online will allow potential clients to retain your firm quickly and easily.
  • Email invoicing. As opposed to invoicing via the USPS, emailing invoices to clients will allow you to manage billing and payments more efficiently.
  • Video conferencing tools like Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, Zoom, and Slack will allow you to review progress and set goals remotely.

Since remote work of some degree is likely to be with us for at least the foreseeable future, your team should regularly review their practices to improve productivity, efficiency, and success.

Schedule out your day

Try to begin your day in much the same way you did when you worked in the office, avoiding starting earlier or later than usual. Fight the temptation to multitask while working from home by scheduling uninterrupted time to focus on singular tasks, and interrupted time when colleagues know that you will be available to discuss cases and other firm business. Take short breaks to restore energy and concentration, and include a firm quitting time in your schedule to help you stay on track during the day.

Commit to regular meetings

A quick 15-minute team meeting may not seem that important, and when you’re all working in the office, it is easy to let those regular weekly or monthly gatherings slide. However, colleagues are now essentially siloed from each other and have fewer opportunities to connect and motivate one another to stay engaged.

A routine team meeting offers a consistent way to collaborate, share information, provide accountability, set priorities, build camaraderie, and get on the same page.

Avoid situations involving the unauthorized practice of law

When legal professionals work remotely, issues involving the unauthorized practice of law (UPL) may arise in a few different circumstances. Here are two main examples:

1) if you are physically (or virtually) located in a state in which you are not licensed to practice law but are providing legal services to clients who are physically located in a state where you are licensed to practice, or

2) you are licensed in the state where you are working from home but are providing legal services to clients located in jurisdictions where you are not licensed.

According to Washington, D.C. Attorney Michael McCabe, Jr., “It is up to the states to control who can practice law within its borders, and plainly some states are more protective than others in determining whether an individual who crosses the border—virtually or otherwise—engages in the unauthorized practice of law.”

Be flexible whenever possible

With children learning from home and adults working from home, there is a lot going inside those four walls. To make working from home as tenable as possible, make sure you and your firm are leaving room for flexibility. Whether it’s to attend to children, make up for lack of help around the house, or for some other reason, giving employees space to take care of all of their needs means that they will be more present and focused when they are working on tasks for the firm.

With proactive work-from-home arrangements in place, your firm will be able to provide staff and clients with the direction and attention to detail necessary to navigate the current environment and continue to thrive once the crisis has passed.

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