The coronavirus pandemic has led most industries to adapt to the virtual model and the law sector is no different. According to the 2020 Legal Trends Report, more and more legal professionals think that virtual work will become the norm. With advanced technology, the right team, and the appropriate policies and processes, lawyers can now work remotely from home and continue to handle all types of litigation. Virtual meetings facilitate instant communication face-to-face with clients and partners and these sessions are documented with the help of legal transcription service providers.
The ABA’s Formal Opinion 498 defines virtual practice as the “technologically enabled law practice beyond the traditional brick-and-mortar law firm”. Virtual law firms leverage cloud technology to conduct their operations digitally. In a 2019 ABA Journal article, partners from virtual law firms highlighted the main advantages of this model as savings on rent, no unnecessary overhead, reduced commute, and greater operational efficiency. Reports indicate that the pandemic has fuelled the adoption of the virtual model among law firms. A recent ABA journal article references a survey by the practice management company MyCase which found that by early April 2020, 48% of U.S. law firms started working totally remotely, and only 12% remained in their offices, with the rest doing a mix.
But what does it take to run a virtual law firm successfully? Here are 4 top tips from experts:
- Use the Right Tools and Technology: Running a virtual law firm means having the right tools and technology in place for communication and collaboration with partners, staff and clients.
- Client Portal: One of the most important requirements is a secure, user-friendly client portal. Online client portals are intuitive, efficient, convenient and easy to access, and come with several collaboration features.
- Video Conferencing Platform: Options like Google Hangouts and Microsoft Zoom are user-friendly, make screen sharing easy, and also have strong encryption. In addition to choosing the most impactful video conferencing tool, it’s important to check out cost, functionality, and importantly, security before choosing an online platform. As states have varying restrictions on the use of video platforms, law firms would need to vet it carefully before making a decision.
- Professional, User-Friendly Website: The website should be discoverable online, easy to navigate and have high quality, relevant content. Posting fresh informative content on a regular basis is crucial to be found online. Hiring SEO services is a practical strategy when it comes to ranking well on Google.
- Other Tools: Other software tools that virtual law firms can consider are internal team collaboration software, an online accounting system, document automation software, and online calendaring or scheduling system.
To improve efficiency and save time, it’s important that these technologies integrate with the law firm’s practice management software will. Also, law firms will need to invest in system upgrades and hire IT experts support these arrangements.
- Leverage Cloud Computing: Cloud computing is at the core of most virtual models. Legal-specific online practice management platforms allow lawyers to engage directly with their clients using secure online portals. Data stored online is encrypted and secure, backed up, and accessible from any secure online connection. With cloud mobility, lawyers can work with their team easily across multiple time zones, avoid expensive server hardware, setup, and maintenance, access their data from any web browser or mobile device, and secure their data with round-the-clock monitoring.
- Make Data Security Arrangements: Opinion 498 states: “As lawyers increasingly use technology to practice virtually, they must remain cognizant of their ethical responsibilities. While the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct permit virtual practice, the Rules provide some minimum requirements and some of the Comments suggest best practices for virtual practice, particularly in the areas of competence, confidentiality, and supervision.” Virtual law firms will also need to take measures to ensure data privacy and address other cyber security challenges associated with staff working remotely. Examples as listed in an ABA article include: the use of two-factor authentication, encryption through virtual private networks (VPN’s), drive and data encryption on mobile devices and enhanced identity management and access control.
- Maintain a Positive Work Culture: Preserving a positive work culture is necessary when working remotely. As attorneys, paralegals, and staff work remotely, lack of face-to-face interaction can result in disconnect and isolation, which can affect work and productivity. As law firms go virtual, they will need to take steps to maintain a positive firm culture. The social connection and organizational experience in a virtual set-up can be brought on by video conference calls, sharing information, time to discuss non-work topics, and virtual happy hours for co-workers to bond.
A recent ABA article notes that while law firms are embracing the virtual model, some are considering a hybrid approach to cater to “corporate clients who expect and demand a certain level of service”.
When it comes to remote work, law firms need to assess their requirements and adopt the types of tools needed to streamline their operations and help their employees work efficiently. Having documentation tasks performed by a digital transcription service provider can save time spent on converting audio recordings of depositions, hearings, and other events to text format.