As the global workforce contends with a pandemic that requires social distancing, industries are looking at new ways to do business. The legal profession is no different.
“I worked from home for two weeks recently while my office space was renovated,” said Danielle Wild, a Browncroft Boulevard attorney who also serves as chair of the solo and small firm section of the Monroe County Bar Association. “All of my physical files were in storage during that time, and I will still be able to work on all of the client matters I needed to because of how I’ve set up my practice.”
Wild was barely moved back into her office when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. She moved back home to do her part in social distancing, she said.
“All of my client files are scanned and organized in electronic folders. I use Dropbox — a paid plan — to store my files,” Wild said, noting that she prefers this system because of the iPad app. “My practice is focused on criminal appeals, so I read a lot of transcripts. For about a year I’ve been reviewing transcripts on my iPad rather than hard copy. I prefer Dropbox’s comment feature to others that I’ve tried. I add comments to transcripts as I review them, then I can call those back up as I’m preparing my briefs, something I can do either on my iPad or my computer or my phone.”
The market is inundated with law practice management software, which streamlines virtually every aspect of a firm’s daily activities, including client records, documents, appointments, schedules and accounting.
Wild uses MyCase, which last year ranked second on TheeDigital’s list of the “Best 9 Law Practice Management Software Programs.”
“More than anything, I use it for task management. But it also acts as a hub of sorts for all of my client matters,” Wild said. “It allows me to keep track of all the information I have on a case in one spot. It syncs with Dropbox, my Google calendar and my Quickbooks account.”
MyCase attorney and legal technology evangelist Nicole Black said the cloud-based software helps lawyers run their law firm from any location at any time.
“It provides one secure, centralized location for all of the law firm’s data,” Black said. “We also have lead management filters built in to help them attract new, potential clients and then convert them into actual clients. E-signature software is built-in, two-way text messaging. It’s a one-stop-shop for all the things law firms need to do.”
That does not include VoIP, however. Voice over Internet Protocol is the technology that allows you to make a call directly from a computer, a VoIP phone or other data-driven devices. Google Voice and Skype are options attorneys can consider while working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, Black said.
Other software options include Clio, a software solution that provides several general practice management features such as time and billing and client management for all areas of legal practice; Bill4Time, whose main features include time tracking, billing and complete case management, as well as integrations with programs and websites like PayPal, Quickbooks, UpTime and Outlook; and Legal Files, which offers users a “big picture” look at their firm, including caseloads, schedules and case statuses, according to TheeDigital.
Aleksandar Nikolic is an intellectual property attorney whose work primarily is done at a distance. He said all he really needs is a phone, a laptop and the internet.
“You don’t need a physical place,” he said. “There are several video communication tools. The big one now, Zoom, you can have a video meeting with somebody. They need a computer and you need a computer. If, for example, I have a server at work that stores all of my data, there are tools for accessing that server. A lot of what solo practitioners are doing, and actually, a lot of firms are doing, they are having someone else store that data, so it’s stored somewhere in some cloud space and you have software that accesses it.
“I could work from a Starbucks, the airport, an office, at home,” Nikolic added.
Nikolic said the advantages of working remotely include easy access to information and files and the ability to work any time of the day or night.
“But that’s also a disadvantage because you need to make sure that there’s a work/life separation,” he said. “There has to be some self-discipline. Wherever you are you have to put yourself in the mindset that this is workspace. I find it helpful to actually have a dedicated work space where people don’t bother you.”
The fact that the workforce, in general, is being told to stay home has numerous repercussions, but this could change the face of the legal sector, particularly given the tools available to attorneys now.
“It used to be (lawyers) wanted to dip their toes in the cloud slowly: I’ll do billing or I’ll do document management,” said Black, who also serves as chair of the MCBA’s technology & law practice committee. “Right now I think they don’t have the luxury of testing all of the different things out and coming up with a plan. They just need to dive in really quickly because desperate times require desperate measures.”