Your entire law firm is suddenly and unexpectedly working remotely. Now what? How do you ensure that your entire staff is able to communicate and collaborate effectively while working from their homes?
If you’re wondering what to do next, rest assured, you’re not alone. Remote work is uncharted territory for most law firms. Fortunately, by creating a remote working plan and establishing remote working procedures, you can create a supportive structure for your remote law firm that will streamline communications and encourage productivity.
Here are some steps to take when creating your law firm’s remote working plan that will help you get your virtual law office up and running as quickly as possible:
- Secure and take stock of your office hardware assets by inventorying your firm’s hardware and distributing it as needed to all staff who will be working remotely.
- Similarly, determine which files you’ll need access to and ensure that you have a way to electronically access them. For many law firms, the easiest way to accomplish this is to use cloud-based law practice management software.
- Ensure that you’ve put necessary technology tools in place to promote remote work and facilitate collaboration and ongoing communication.
- Establish a communication plan that includes multiple ways to communicate both within your firm and externally. In addition to using the communication tools and portals built into your chosen law practice management software, you’ll likely also need to set up VOIP phone systems, an electronic fax tool, and a video conferencing tool.
- Make sure that you’re able to access all of the client data that you need in order to work remotely on pending matters.
- Have a plan in place for receiving online payments from clients and for payroll; that way clients can continue to pay their bills and your employees will continue to get paid.
- Protect law firm data, and ensure that everyone working remotely understands client confidentiality issues and uses the software you’ve chosen for all client matters.
It’s also important to support your remote team during this crisis. Transitioning from working in an office to working from home is difficult enough and the chaos and confusion surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic only adds to your team members’ stress. That’s why short daily check-ins with your team to see how they’re doing can make such a big difference. During this brief check-in, make sure to acknowledge the disruption they’re experiencing and find out how it is impacting them.
It’s also helpful to set aside time for occasional 1-on-1s with key team members to check in regarding their personal well-being and to find out if they have questions about ongoing projects or need anything from you.
Other steps to consider taking that will help to support your team and improve its morale during these challenging times include: 1) planning a weekly video conference lunch with your team, 2) providing your team with regular, detailed updates regarding how your law firm is responding to the crisis, 3) sending out a short video or email at the beginning of each week during which you set priorities for the week, provide remote working or productivity tips, and encourage a sense of team unity, and 4) sending out an end-of-the week video or email to your employees that summarizes projects completed, celebrates successes, and provides encouragement.
It’s incredibly important to provide your team with the tools and supportive environment they need to get the job done. By taking the time to thoughtfully incorporate some of these ideas into your regular routine, you’ll help your law firm team transition smoothly to working remotely in the midst of never-before-seen challenges. Your effort and up-front planning will undoubtedly pay off in the long run, since as we all know, effective teamwork and collaboration is always important; but during a crisis, it can make all the difference.
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase legal practice management software. She is the nationally-recognized author of “Cloud Computing for Lawyers” (2012) and co-authors “Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier” (2010), both published by the American Bar Association. She also co-authors “Criminal Law in New York,” a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for Above the Law, ABA Journal, and The Daily Record, has authored hundreds of articles for other publications, and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. She is an ABA Legal Rebel, and is listed on the Fastcase 50 and ABA LTRC Women in Legal Tech. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.