Long before current events made working remotely the norm, law firms began moving more and more towards the Virtual Law Office.
In addition to safety concerns, attorneys working remotely benefit from less frequent commutes, increased responsiveness to clients, the ability to “set up shop” anywhere, and improved work/life flexibility. And from a competitive standpoint, firms that utilize these tools are more likely to retain talent, efficiently manage cash-flow and minimize business expenses… all of which are more important now than ever.
In this blog, we look at the key areas where law offices should focus their efforts and resources to thrive in a virtual environment.
Perhaps you thought the first area I would discuss is a product or service. But no product or service can make your operation successful on its own. Working in a virtual environment is only successful with a culture of engaged employees who are motivated to utilize the tools provided to them.
This starts with management coming to the realization that you cannot operate a virtual law office (or any office) with the same approach you have for a traditional in-person experience. Those of us who are working from home realized very quickly that you can’t entirely avoid the clash between your personal life that physically and mentally surrounds you with your work life that has specific demands on your energy and focus. And yet many management teams fail to recognize this reality in their policies and work style.
While discussing everything about a positive remote working culture is beyond the scope of this blog, step back and review the way you work with you team. How are they impacted by the changes to working in a virtual environment? How can you satisfy their personal needs with the needs of the firm, and what kind of flexibility should be implemented to achieve this goal?
Virtual Communication/Meeting Tools
Part of creating this positive culture is open and easy communication. Fortunately, 2020 offers a variety of options that can suit your needs with minimal investments.
Specifically to law firms, you should be looking for communication tools that are easy to use on a variety of platforms, both for the benefit of your staff, as well as clients you may need to have a deposition with, for example. There is no shortage of options, but there are significant differences between Zoom, MS Teams, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, and the many other products out there. Some of these tools work better for certain kinds of meetings than others. Furthermore, depending on other products you utilize, integrations and compatibility may vary.
I would also advise whenever possible to look for products that have broad support for a variety of devices. As teams work virtually, the idea of everyone unifying on a specific type of laptop or mobile device may no longer be as common as before.
Remote Support And Device Management
Along with having ways to communicate and collaborate, it’s very important that your team has device support, both for resolving day to day issues with technology, as well as ensuring that devices are properly configured and secured.
Most of the traditional support tools you are accustomed to in a more traditional environment, like Antivirus, patch management, application control, and others are still available for workforces that may not be working from a centralized office. Device management can mostly be managed without ever having to physically step in front of a device, except for hardware issues. Good support is important for protecting the privacy and security of your technology assets, as well as keeping your team engaged and following the process.
The technology in place needs to feel functional and pleasant, so end users will embrace the provided solutions without going outside of agreed upon protocols, as this could lead to “Shadow IT”, which can be a threat in a virtual environment.
Time/Case Management Software
For a long time, law firms have been utilizing tools like Amicus, Clio, and Needles for managing a case from start to finish. Nothing has really changed in terms of the need, but in 2020, the right solution is going to be dependent on several factors specific to your practice.
- Hosting – Depending on the nature of your data and how you work, where this application is hosted may make a meaningful difference. While most circumstances demand a solution hosted in a public Cloud like Microsoft Azure or a solution hosted by the application provider themselves, there may be security or compliance reasons to avoid certain products.
- Integrations with other products – Do you send a lot of emails? If you do, you will want a product that ties in nicely to your email system. What about your accounting system? Perhaps your case management software can serve as an accounting system as well, or you may want a solution where that function is outside the scope of your case management software.
- Budget and Size of Practice – Certain products are designed for simple and perhaps small practices, while others are designed with the needs of bigger and more complex organizations in mind, including customization.
There are probably other factors to think about before picking an application provider, but hopefully this gets you in the right mindset when you go through an evaluation. Most technology failures happen not due to technical reasons, but rather because of failures of planning and decision making up front.
Document Management is another critical product for a successful virtual law office. For a long time, firms have been required to store and process large volumes of paperwork both for day to day work, as well as the legal archiving requirements of the industry. For the virtual law firm, it is critical to be able to share, manipulate, store, search, and archive in as close to real time as possible. Time that is spent shuffling through documents trying to find the specific information you need is essentially providing no value to your clients.
Specific to the virtual law office, you will most likely want a Cloud-based product that automates much of the filing and organizational needs of your firm. Like the other areas I described earlier in this post, you will want a tool that is as device agnostic as possible, including a solution that makes it easy to view documents even if, for example, a PDF reader is not natively installed on the device.
Privacy is also going to be very important, as this sensitive information travels back and forth over the public Internet. You will want a solution that has strong authentication and encryption in transit so that your team can focus on operations and not dwell on the security implications of their work.
Business Needs of the Firm
Like anything else when it comes to overall technology success, the virtual law office needs to step back and think about the business needs first. The products and services to be successful are out there, but technology should be more about the people using it than the speed or price of the product.
What are the productivity needs of the organization, and what liabilities, compliance, and personal needs must be satisfied to achieve your goals? Application vendors, as well as Managed IT Service Providers, should be able to address your specific needs, otherwise you should think twice before engaging in a partnership with these vendors.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions... or take a look at how DP Solutions helps our customers in the legal field find technology success.
Need help setting up a Virtual Law Office for your firm?
Contact us today!