Managing a Modern Law Office That is Paperless and Remote
Managing a Small Law Firm
8 min read
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Today’s workplace looks and feels different. Even before the pandemic, lawyers saw the advantages of creating virtual law firms. If anything, the pandemic allowed the entire world (including clients) to realize that virtual and online alternatives are viable and effective ways to conduct business.
For years, lawyers have pushed back on remote teams, insisting that clients expect to visit their lawyer at an office. In reality, today’s clients don’t expect—or really want—to visit your well-appointed office. Clio’s Legal Trends Report confirms that 79% of clients see the option of working remotely with a lawyer as an important factor when hiring a lawyer. Over 50% showed a strong preference for video conferencing. Clients are discovering the convenience of hopping on a video call instead of spending half the day driving downtown and parking for a meeting. Lawyers previously assumed delivering a great client experience required an in person component, but it is no longer true.
Law firm owners are reaping business rewards from creating hybrid or remote teams. First, a remote team opens us a new world (literally) of prospective team members. Firms in rural areas may have more success finding the right team member by looking beyond their local talent pool. Some small firm owners in urban areas have found success hiring team members in rural areas where the market rate for compensation is lower.
Other business owners are enjoying the lower overhead costs of a remote firm—goodbye office rent! Lawyers embracing virtual offices are seeing other benefits as well. Running a hybrid or virtual law firm forces you to be more intentional about your systems, processes, and technology. Hybrid and virtual teams are more likely to set up paperless offices (a must in today’s world). And more likely to use technology to help them work smarter. Usually, you can streamline your work and create new, easier ways to complete tasks—a win for clients and team members.
Now that you’re ready to reap the benefits of a virtual firm, let’s explore the steps to get started.
Before going completely virtual, you need to inventory the tools you already have and those that you need. Make some investments and prepare your team to use these tools before sending them off to their home office.
Challenges of a remote office:
Video meetings are essential for a well-functioning workplace in your virtual law firm. They must also be easy, effective, and reliable so that you can use it as the default for every meeting. Don’t forget to consider whether each employee has the tech to use a video meeting. This includes a company-provided laptop or computer, webcams, and microphones/headsets.
Make sure you pick one video software to use companywide. There are many options, but if you don’t have a preference, Google Meets or Zoom work well. Google Meets is the most convenient for computer users because it runs in a browser. Zoom is the best, however, for tablet and phone users, even though it requires installing an app.
Prepare your staff to use this technology correctly, so your virtual law firm is ready to go from day one. Built-in computer cameras can work if you can elevate the camera to eye level. A great first webcam for business use is the C920S HD Pro.
Set up guidelines for how staff will show up for meetings. Remind staff to turn their video on and that they shouldn’t use their computer’s microphone and speakers. Wireless headphones can have battery life issues, but plug-in headphones with a microphone are an affordable option to reduce feedback.
Make sure you’ve got the tech to get through a client meeting without issues. You won’t look very professional if you don’t have headphones or if they die halfway through a meeting.
We’ve been telling you to have a paperless law office for years, but it’s more important than ever to go paperless and to do it safely (more on that below). Your law firm needs a single source of client information and files. To work remotely, you have to be paperless. You should have a scanner just in case (we recommend the ScanSnap iX 1500). Your goal should be to eliminate as much paper as possible. Your client’s file storage, just like everything else in your virtual law firm, should be secure.
Make sure everyone on the team has enough bandwidth in their home internet to accommodate the increased usage as a virtual law firm. Your bare minimum should be at least 1.5mbps up/down. If someone’s partner or children are also using the internet, that affects their speed and usage. Team members can check their bandwidth at SpeedTest to make sure they are getting what the provider promised and determine if they need to upgrade.
Even though folks are at home, team members must put their most professional foot forward with their lighting, background, and display on a webcam. Sadly, we see too many examples of people ignoring just how important this is. You want to project an image of polished competence and business as usual with your remote law firm, not haggard working-from-home-because-I-have-to stress.
Help team members make a plan for creating a professional workspace at home. Encourage them to keep all their work in a dedicated area. They can easily find things and be more productive while presenting a professional image for your virtual law firm. If they don’t have a separate office, create privacy using divider walls or bookshelves. Make each person’s space personal by bringing in greenery, pictures, or small touches to make the space their own. It should still portray a professional image. You can ask someone to edit/approve each person’s setup.
Each person should consider the following when setting up their camera:
Every team member should be clear about the expectations with their home office and virtual appearance on the webcam, too. Consider clothing options that project a professional look when meeting with clients and referral partners.
You’ve analyzed or secured the technology and systems you need to function remotely. Now it’s time to build out the processes for your team to follow. You must have a solid practice management software in place before going remote. Without a streamlined system and method to educate employees and contractors, you’ll spend most of the day in the weeds trying to find things.
If anything, you should communicate more, especially at the beginning of your remote transition or when onboarding new remote team members. Keeping your team connected makes for better accomplishment of projects and goals, but also helps to limit isolation.
What does working remotely look like for your firm? Create and implement systems for when you expect team members to be online and how teams communicate and assign tasks. Decide if any of your current policies need to be updated for a remote workplace.
There are plenty of people who can work successfully in a remote home office. You just have to know how to attract them and set expectations. Let your current and future employees know what to expect. Put extra effort into getting them set up. It’s key, especially if this is their first remote job.
So how do you build and maintain a culture in a remote company?
All firms (yes, even those with traditional office space) should embrace a paperless law office. Digital files destress your life. Truly. If you’re ready to go paperless, there are a few key things you’ll need to make it happen:
Besides equipment and tools, you’ll also need a dedicated paperless workflow for scanning and filing documents. To start, scan existing files into your digital filing system. Then, make a process to scan every document or file that comes your way before you do anything else with it.
You’ll also want to decide how to organize your files—whether by open client files, closed client files, or another method. Name each document to reflect the client, the type of document, and the date. Remember to add this process into your office processes.
As you manage your firm’s documents, it’s important to have a process that includes what to save or shred. This includes those with a paperless law office.
For client files:
Finally, ensure the rest of your staff understands what to do with client files. Communicate the process in your law office management procedure manual.
Now you have the information it takes to run a hybrid or virtual and paperless law office. Next, we’ll talk about using contractors or freelancers and outsourcing work.