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Director of Strategic Communications & PR of ruby.com
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Taking Your Law Practice Online: The What, Why, and How of Going Virtual
The legal industry is witnessing a historic transformation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Law firms throughout the United States and around the world are reducing their on-site workforces or closing their physical offices entirely. Attorneys, paralegals, and administrative staff are working from home some or all of the time. From client communication to business development, online depositions to Zoom hearings, more and more work is happening remotely, over the phone and internet.
In short, the industry is going virtual.
Let’s pause on that phrase for a moment. What does it mean, why does it matter, and how do you do it? Here’s everything you need to know.
What Does It Mean to Go Virtual?
Going virtual means using technology to work, collaborate, and communicate across distances. It’s a supplement or alternative to the shared, physical environments in which law firms conventionally operate. Rather than traveling to and from an office building, members of a virtual team do their jobs from home.
Going virtual looks different for every organization. Depending on your state, the size of your firm, and the nature of your work, you may still need to conduct certain kinds of business in person—or you may be able to do everything remotely. Not every lawyer and law firm can (or should) go entirely virtual, but right now, all need to be considering what they can do remotely.
Why Go Virtual? 3 Pros and 3 Cons
The most immediate answer is “because you might not have another choice.” Given the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, it may not be possible for your firm to operate otherwise. Quarantine, shelter-in-place, and social distancing orders are still in place in many U.S. states and counties. Staff and clients may be unable or unwilling to meet in person. And with a vaccine still months (if not years) away, firms need to implement solutions now that allow them to operate in a virtual or semi-virtual manner indefinitely.
That said, there are numerous reasons to cheer the shift to remote work—here are just a few:
Pro #1: It’s good for business. Companies that go virtual save money on overhead, reducing or eliminating myriad costs related to rent, maintenance, equipment, parking spaces, meals, property insurance, and more. Plus, because virtual practices not tied to a single location, they can serve bigger populations of clients and recruit from a wider talent pool.
Pro #2. It’s good for people. Virtual work means a happier workforce and higher-quality results. Flexibility benefits everyone. Telecommuters report a significant reduction in stress levels after working from home. Multiple studies indicate remote workers are as productive or more productive than their in-office counterparts, and less likely to become burned out or quit.
As Erin Jackson of Jackson LLP Healthcare Lawyers told us:
“We’ll definitely allow more flexible work-from-home policies [post-Coronavirus]! Our team has been very productive, and we’ll defer more to them regarding where they work.”
Pro #3: It’s good for the world. I’m not just referring to improving employees’ lives or curbing the spread of disease. By going virtual, businesses help reduce greenhouse emissions and urban overcrowding, as well as the incidence of workplace violence and harassment.
As with any large-scale organizational change, however, there are potential downsides and growing pains firms need to be aware of when going virtual:
Con #1: Communication is more complex. You can’t just walk down the hall to talk to a colleague or invite a client into your office. You’ll need to use certain tools and software, and be deliberate in the ways you reach out and check-in with others.
Con #2: You may face increased security and privacy concerns. Your firm may need to institute measures such as data encryption and a virtual private network (VPN) Every member of your firm will need to be trained on matters of cybersecurity and data protection.
Con #3: It can get messy. A lack of boundaries between the workspace and personal space can threaten work-life balance and mental health. Employee productivity can feel opaque and difficult to measure. The wrong technology or approach can create serious obstacles.
How Can Law Firms Go Virtual?
Any successful transition to virtual work relies on two basic components: the right strategy and the right tools.
Your virtual strategy should address the following considerations:
- Internal communication – How will team members stay connected? How often will they meet? Are certain channels better for certain types of communication?
- External communication – What do virtual client interactions look like for your firm? When is your “office” open and closed? Does your website provide sufficient information for visitors? Who will answer phone calls, emails, and chats?
- Workforce management – How will you quantify and track performance? How will you make sure people are working when they need to be working and unplugging during their off time? What support resources will you provide for both personal and professional development?
- Privacy and security – What are your policies? Do they need to be revised with virtual work in mind?
There’s a plethora of tools and cloud-based systems out there that make going virtual as simple as possible. Many are available for free or low monthly/annual prices. Here are a few broad categories to look into:
- Video conferencing tools (e.g. Zoom, Google Meet, GoToMeeting, Skype)
- Collaboration/ongoing communication tools (Slack, Microsoft Teams)
- Project management tools (Teamwork, Asana, Trello, Basecamp)
- Cloud accounting and invoicing tools (QuickBooks Online, Freshbooks)
- File-hosting tools (Dropbox, One Drive, Google Drive)
Keep in mind the transition to virtual work is an ideal opportunity to consider outsourcing. Rather than simply moving the 9–5 from the office into the home, reduce your expenses, and make life easier for your team and your clients with flexible, on-demand business support. Departments and processes ripe for outsourcing include accounting, IT, answering phones and website inquires, research, and marketing and content creation.
We’re living through strange times, but there’s never been a better time to re-imagine work and redefine your firm.
Take it from Seinya H. Samforay of The Foray Law Firm: “COVID is forcing us to be creative. Our business has actually grown during this lock-down. Now, we are more efficient and our clients are happy.”