Author: The Process Server Center | PROServerCENTER is a legal professional organization whose mission is to set a national standard for the process service industry in the United States.
Traditionally, the idea of working remotely might seem like an approach that is too difficult for the demands of the legal profession. However, if one looks more closely at how to actually work remotely and what lawyers and paralegals need in order to utilize today's technological advances, remote work in the legal industry seems more and more viable. In fact, in light of the rapidly changing environment during the last year, many legal professionals are embracing remote work. Lawyers and paralegals are discovering that remote work allows them to protect their families, clients and communities, while leading to better efficiencies and higher level of productivity.
Whether you have considered working remotely as a legal professional in the past, or whether you are exploring it for the first time, this guide contains 9 clear, practical tips to help you run a remote legal practice without interruption:
1. Communicate Changes Clearly
If you have been running a traditional law firm model, and have decided to begin working remotely, whether permanently or temporarily, it is absolutely critical that your law firm clearly communicates any changes. Send an email to your clients, vendors and staff, making it clear that you are shifting to remote work. Share your new policies and set expectations for which communication channels to use, how meetings will take place, and how often you will be contacting clients. If in-person meetings will no longer take place, let everyone know and introduce video conferences by adding links to video invites within the notes section of any calendar events.
Make sure you clearly share with your clients why you are working remotely so that your they can understand and see these changes in a positive light. By communicating clearly, you can make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone involved. When it comes to your law firm staff, speak to any regular staff about how you will continue to work together while you are remote, and let the staff know if they are meant to work remotely as well. If you are considering to close your law firm office, put a notice on the homepage of your website and a sign on the door. Make sure the sign include information on how to reach you so those who come knocking do not feel like they have hit an impasse.
2. Set up Remote Access to Cases and Documents
If you are considering working remotely, it is difficult, if not impossible, to carry your filing cabinets with you. It makes sense to ensure you have access to as many documents and case details as possible online. Before you begin your remote work, scan paper documents, digitize anything you might need that is paper-only and not already scanned into your computer or the cloud. You can do this yourself, put a staff member in charge of scanning documents, or find a legal document scanning service to help you get started.
If you are planning to work remotely for an extended time period, and others at your firm are as well, you will need to take special precautions to ensure your law firm’s server is protected from potential fires, floods, power outages, or other possible problems, and—depending on the situation—taking these precautions may be extremely difficult. If you are planning to work remotely full-time, you may not need a law firm server at all! Instead consider a cloud-based document storage which allows you to securely access your files and easily collaborate on them from anywhere in the world, as long as you have an internet connection. Some cloud-based storage solutions your team may consider are Clio, Dropbox and Box.
3. Ensure Your Internet Connection is Solid
As a legal professional, you cannot have the internet dropping off in the middle of an important video conference meeting. If you are working remotely, a strong internet connection is critical to your success in order to meet deadlines and ensure all processes run smoothly. In addition, if you need to collaborate with clients and staff on important legal documents, they will have to be stored in the cloud rather than on a local server or computer. A strong internet connection ensures that you and your staff can easily access these documents when you need them.
To make sure that you have a strong and reliable internet connection, test your internet speed for free and talk to your internet provider about the level of speed and stability you are getting with your current package. Consider upgrading if you feel that your internet connection is not stable enough. If you are working out of your local area or expect to regularly go on business trip, consider investing in a portable Wi-Fi hotspot in order to avoid troubles with spotty Wi-Fi connections when away from your home office.
4. Keep Client Communications Secure
If you are working remotely, you need to consider multiple secure ways to communicate with your clients. At the very least, you should be able to provide case updates and ongoing communications online, via text, or over the phone. With many communications methods available, the key thing is to make sure any channels your legal team is using are encrypted and secure. As a legal professional, you need to uphold your duty to keep client information confidential, and if communication channels are not encrypted, it is all too easy for others to gain access to client conversations.
5. Consider Your Clients’ Remote Experience
Clients will be looking for you and your services whether you are working remotely or not. If you want your remote legal practice to be successful, you must provide clear information on your website, create a streamlined onboarding process, and be frank about the fact that you are working remotely and what experience your clients can expect.
Even if you are remote work is only temporary, your ability to be flexible and show that you are still available to clients could very well lead you to connect with clients who otherwise have a difficult time getting the legal help they need. Consider offering consultations over the phone or via video to create peace of mind for potential clients, and send newly signed clients a welcome letter with details like how best to contact you, how often to expect communications, and what times you will be available.
6. Set up Post Office Box Forwarding
Depending on how you are currently running your law practice, and depending on the type of law you practice, going completely paperless may take some time. If you are working remotely temporarily, contact your local postal office to set up a temporary mail forward from your office to the address you will be working at. You can also minimize mailing expenses by opting to receive bills for any business expenses online, and by sharing client invoices online as well.
7. Be Accessible by Phone
Even if you do not have an office, there are still clients who will want to contact you via phone. For temporary remote work, forward calls from your number at your law firm to your mobile phone, or another number you can easily access while away from the office. For permanent remote work, consider switching to a Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phone service, which allows you to make phone calls from your computer. It is also worth investing in a headset for top-notch sound quality on any calls.
If you are working remotely, consider also a virtual receptionist service. It can help you ensure that calls do not get missed and potential new clients do not slip through the cracks. This can be helpful if working remotely means you will need to handle more calls than you are used to, or you will be working in a different time zone, or if you will be working irregular hours.
8. Present a Professional Appearance
With the power of technology and a strong internet connection, you can meet anyone, anywhere, anytime with video meetings with clients, vendors, staff, and a variety of other people. Working remotely does not mean your professional standards should lapse. It is a given that you will need to look professional for video meetings, but with some effort and planning, you will look extra smart and create a strong, positive impression on clients and other legal professionals.
9. Take Care of Your Mental Health When Working Remotely
Remote work can be isolating. If you are used to interacting with others directly on a daily basis, suddenly sitting alone all day can be a tough change for your mental health. To combat the downside of remote work, create a routine, and create some distance between your work and personal life. Here are some tips:
As a legal professional, it is entirely possible—with the right preparation and support—to work remotely in today’s digital age. Equipped with the proper tools, and by following a few key best practices, you will continue to run a profitable law firm while providing good client experiences. Depending on the situation, your clients may even appreciate the convenience and efficiency of a remote experience. By selecting secure tools, communicating clearly and effectively about how your remote practice will work, and maintaining a strong internet connection, your firm can thrive from anywhere.