For a lot of attorneys, this is the first time where most of their business (i.e. consultations, team meetings, signing contracts, etc) has to be conducted remotely.
I’ve been working in a remote field and in similar capacities for almost a decade now and I can tell you from experience; with the right tools, doing your job from home (or from anywhere for that matter), is not only doable, but very efficient.
Like anything that’s new, it’s hard to know where to start.
So here’s a list of the tools and platforms I’ve used or had interaction with over the years that can enable pretty much any aspect of an attorney’s job to be done remotely.(Disclosure: I’m in no way compensated for promoting any of the tools on this list. They’re just the ones I find easiest to use and most cost effective)
DocuSign is a digital document sharing and signature platform that allows users to send, receive, and sign documents. It’s extremely easy to use allowing people to sign multiple documents in just a few clicks. It’s also highly secure and much more cost effective than traditional paper signing which takes additional supplies, time, and staff to complete.
Slack is a digital collaboration tool for teams. It’s main strength is as an instant messaging platform but users can also share documents, images, links, organize conversations into channels, and make video and phone calls from within the software. You can use it as a web-based service or download the desktop and mobile applications.
Trello is a a project management and workflow platform that helps teams work together and keep track of projects. There are a ton of these types of services out there and the reason I like Trello is because it’s not overly complicated and it uses the KanBan Method for moving work from start to completion. Another huge plus is that you can use the site for free with limitations on file upload size, support, and team boards. For many small law firms, you can get away with using the free version for a long time.
Basecamp is a direct competitor of Trello and is similarly easy to use. It uses a different workflow but has integrated chat and makes it easy to keep track of work. We’ve used both Trello and Basecamp extensively at our sister companies and they both have their strengths. Out of all the project management software out there, these were the ones we liked best.
Google Drive (docs, sheets, slides, etc)
Google docs, sheets, and slides are a super easy way for teams to collaborate in real time on documents. I’m sure Microsoft has their tools and there are other solutions out there but Google has worked really well for us since we use Google mail and other services that integrate really well with the platform. One thing I really like about Drive (and that takes some getting used to) is that it saves your work automatically. There is no File > Save like in modern word processing programs.
Video conferencing is a huge topic right now and Zoom is one of the best platforms I’ve seen out there. As video conferencing goes, you don’t really have an idea of what’s good and what’s not until you use it. The key difference here is, you guessed it, ease of use. I’ve tried Join.me, Google Hangouts, Slack video calling, Skype, Go-to Meeting, and Webex. With the exception of a couple of those, most are confusing, have compatibility issues, don’t recognize microphones, cameras, headsets, speakers, etc, and are just plain hard to use. Zoom is free to use for up to 3 people on a call for greater than 40 minutes (although that limit has currently been suspended in light of the pandemic).
Clio is a legal practice management website and many of our clients use it. It digitizes many common tasks performed by law firms like client intake, billing, document and relationship management, and overall case management.
Like Google Drive, Drop Box is a file storage solution using the cloud to store document safely. If all you’re looking for is an online storage space for your files that’s inexpensive, Drop Box is great for that. They have limited functionality for real time document editing and collaboration. They do have a solid desktop and mobile app for keeping frequently used files on a local drive. Whether you go with this site or another, it’s a must to have your files backed up to the cloud as it’s a primary defense against ransomware attacks.
Having the right hardware will be key in making sure your current and potential clients have a good experience working remotely with your firm. Implementing all of these suggestions will take any headaches out of an already challenging way for people to connect with your firm.
Get a decent web cam
When I first started working remotely, I dug up an old web cam that was probably 10 years old. It worked but I didn’t realize how poor the video quality was until I purchased an inexpensive (modern) upgrade. That made a world of difference in how people saw me. Instead of a grainy, faded video picture, they could see every detail. That may not seem important until you’re reminded that up to 55% of communication is non-verbal.
Put in a hard-wired connection
WiFi is reliable most of the time however video calls can take up a lot of a computer’s resources. When WiFi falters for just a second, your calls can freeze, drop, or audio can become distorted and hard to hear. I used a wireless connection for all of my video conference calls for about 2 months before I took the time to run an Ethernet connection to my computer. After that, not a single dropped call due to connection speed.
Your microphone and sound settings
You don’t have to buy an expensive mic to have good audio quality on your calls but there are some things you should do to ensure people can hear you well. A lot of people do things they aren’t even aware of that makes it hard to hear you.
- Choose a mic to use all the time: Most software will allow you to choose among available mics on your computer. The one you choose will determine what you do in the next steps. For the most part, you’ll have the choice between a built in mic on your web cam or laptop, or you’re plugging in headphones or a head set that has a mic on it.
- Reduce echoing and feedback: If you’re using a mic on your web cam, make sure any built in mic on a laptop or elsewhere is shut off. Otherwise you’ll get an annoying (and sometimes ear-piercing) audio feedback loop or echo.
- Choose a mic-friendly location: If you have a headset or headphones for your microphone solution, you can probably do your meeting in any type of quite environment. If you’re using a built in mic on a laptop or web cam, avoid big open rooms as that can make it hard for sound to reach the mic.
Upgrade your PC if necessary
If your computer is several years old, chances are you may need to upgrade in order to have successful virtual meetings. This is especially true if your law firm is going to consistently be doing new client consults over video. Here are some signs you may need to upgrade:
- You keep getting errors from video conferencing software that video card drivers are not compatible
- Frequent computer crashes, freezing, or glitching when other hardware issues have been ruled out
- Incompatibility with upgraded hardware like web cams, mics, or other devices
Making all these changes may seem like unnecessary expenses in the short term but the fact is, law firms may need to be doing business virtually for a lengthy, and yet undetermined amount of time. Rather than limp along until we can return to business as usual (as most of your competitors are probably thinking), why not get out ahead of the pack and make the virtual experience for your potential clients as seamless and positive as the in-person experience was.
Keep in mind that when this whole thing is over, virtual consults can still remain apart of your firm as a value-added service for those clients that are unable to or don’t feel like driving to your office. Being virtually accessible can also enhance your overall web presence as an attorney.