Working Remotely: 5 Tips for Law Firm Success
Thanks to advances in technology and a seemingly limitless number of real-time communication channels, the options for and success of remote working have exploded over the past five years. While some fields and professions have embraced these changes more than others (think engineering), professional service providers, including lawyers, haven’t been as quick to adopt remote working practices.
It should come as no surprise that the legal industry has been historically resistant to technological change—the field is highly personal and involves significant social interaction. However, just because working remotely doesn’t happen frequently doesn’t mean it can’t be done effectively. In this post, we’re sharing five tips for lawyers and law firms who engage in remote work, whether for the first time or as part of your regular routine.
Keep a structured schedule
Some people incorrectly believe that working from home opens the door to a work free-for-all, where schedules are long forgotten (as is the dress code). This is an easy assumption to make—you don’t have a commute to contend with, your work attire can likely be a bit more casual than usual, and you have the ability to work late into the night because your office is in your dining room. Why bother with keeping a schedule?
However, keeping a regular schedule isn’t just good for your productivity, it’s good for your mental health and well-being, too. Keeping a structured work schedule will allow you to devote more focused time to executing necessary tasks. As much as possible, try to have your remote working habits and schedule mirror your in-office practice—your body and your brain are already trained to work this way, so don’t force them to make new habits.
Additionally, maintaining a proper work-life balance is incredibly important for those working from home. You need to carve out time to physically and mentally unwind—if you keep working off and on well into the night, you never get a chance to recharge. So, as much as possible, set regular working hours for yourself, and when you’re able to wrap up work, close your laptop, leave the room, and truly relax.
Stay connected with essential tools and software
As mentioned above, the ability to work remotely is easier than ever before, thanks to the ever-increasing number of personal and collaborative productivity and practice management tools available to lawyers. In fact, many of these were created specifically to help law firms share documentation with colleagues and clients across great distances.
Before you start working from home or another remote location, make sure you have access to all the tools you need to conduct business away from the office and stay connected to colleagues and clients. This could include, but is certainly not limited to:
- Secure document sharing services
- Practice management tools
- Timekeeping and billing software
- Internal and external email accounts
- Internal communication channels (intranet, Slack, Skype, etc.)
- Company shared drives or file servers
- Secure document signing services
- Online notarization
If you look at the list above and realize that there’s something your office could benefit from, a remote work situation could be the perfect time to try it out. Most come with a minimum 30-day free trial so you can see how you and your colleagues adapt to the solution. Don’t be scared off if this is something completely foreign—attorneys know better than most that discomfort breeds growth.
Let your clients pay online
Of course, one part of your job that you can’t forget about when working remotely is accepting client payments. Whether you need to replenish an evergreen retainer or get paid at the end of a case, you need a reliable, secure, and easy way to get paid, and nothing fits the bill (literally!) better than an online payment solution.
Online payment solutions have the benefit of letting you not only get paid from practically anywhere, but get paid significantly faster than traditional means. Before online payments, attorneys would generally send their invoices by mail. Factor in the time it takes for the mail to arrive, the client to write the check, send the check to the attorney, and then depositing the check after it arrives—you’re looking at well over a week to get paid (if the check arrives at all). With an online payments solution, studies have shown that 85 percent of electronic invoices are paid the same week they are sent out, and as much as 57 percent of them are paid the same day they are sent to the client!
Not only that, but your clients will likely prefer being able to pay online. In our current “Age of Amazon,” clients are accustomed to paying for things online with just the click of a button, and paying for legal services is no different. In fact, letting your clients pay online is a huge convenience for them. Think of it: they don’t have to track down their checkbook, they don’t have to drive to your office, and they don’t even have to walk to the mailbox to pay their invoice. They can pay you from any internet-connected device, at any time. You’ll find that putting that power in their hands will not only breed good will from your clients, but also result in you getting paid faster and more reliably.
Utilize multiple communication channels
One common concern about working remotely is that, in the absence of a physical office, people may feel they are unable to have as productive of conversations or working sessions. The reality, however, is that there are a multitude of different options available to meet any specific type of call, conference, or working session. To maximize efficiency and productivity, we recommend familiarizing yourself with several different types of communication solutions, and utilizing them based on the unique factors present in a given interaction.
For simple conversations and link-sharing, you will likely find that the old staples of email or text messaging work just fine. If you’re looking for more real-time interaction, however, you might turn to one of the online communication tools referenced earlier, like Slack or Skype.
Want to see the person you’re talking to? No problem! Both Slack and Skype have video chat capabilities built in. Or, for a more formalized meeting, you can arrange a Google Hangout, a Zoom meeting, or an UberConference. All these solutions allow you to video chat, share screens, and type responses in real time, and can support large groups of attendees.
Of course, not every tool will be right for every interaction. but after using a few of them, you might find that your work becomes even more efficient and streamlined than when you relied only on in-person, in-office interactions.
A quick note on timeliness—just because you’re physically out of the office doesn’t mean you should be unreachable or out of pocket to your colleagues and clients. You should respond to emails, texts, and voicemails with the same timeliness you would if you were sitting in your office. This will help ensure your productivity, and is another way to build good rapport between yourself, your colleagues, and your clients.
Take care of yourself and others
Finally, whether you’re working remotely as a short-term necessity or as a permanent shift in your working habits, it’s important to remember to take care of yourself and others. As mentioned before, setting healthy work-life boundaries is essential to preserving your mental health and well-being, and creating a sustainable, longer-term working solution.
Carve out time to take care of your health needs, as well. Working from a desk in your home is no different from working at your desk in an office—you still need to take breaks, stand up and walk around, and give your eyes time to focus on something other than a computer or phone screen. Build these healthy personal habits into your daily routine, regardless of where you’re working.
Also, check in on your colleagues—especially if you’re all working remotely. Remote working can be isolating, and that environment can be difficult for some people to thrive in. These effects can be heightened if remote working is required for an indefinite period of time due to circumstances outside one’s control. As such, take note of your colleagues’ behavior and check in on them regularly. If you notice someone being more quiet or distant than normal, reach out for a quick non-work-related video chat just to see how they’re doing. Look for ways to maintain normal social habits, even if you’re not able to meet someone face-to-face.
Finally, enjoy the liberties that come with working remotely. Take comfort in the fact that you might get to work with your pet curled up in the corner of a room, or that you get extra time with your family at dinner because you don’t have to commute. While working from home certainly comes with its own host of challenges, it also brings a unique set of benefits. Appreciate these benefits, leverage the vast resources available to you, and embrace the experience.
Looking for more tips on working remotely? Check out these additional resources:
- Working Remotely: A Practical Guide for Small Law Firms -- Smokeball
- COVID-19 Virus and Law Firm Operations: Is Remote Work a Viable Solution? -- TimeSolv
- Coronavirus Could Be Tipping Point for Tech Competence in Law -- Above the Law
- Mental Health Resources -- Florida Bar’s Lawyers Assistance Program
- COVID-19 Resource Center -- American Bar Association