Many industries have been impacted by COVID-19, including the legal sector. According to a recent American Bar Association (ABA) report, the demand for legal services is growing amid the coronavirus pandemic. As experts recommend social distancing and other stringent measures to slow down the spread of the virus in the U.S., law firms are coming up with coronavirus response plans. Many law firms have gone remote to provide seamless services for their clients while protecting their employees. The demand for virtual team technology and legal transcription outsourcing is expected to increase law firm staff switch from in-office work to working from home. With the right tools and processes in place, law firms can continue to function efficiently as they go remote.
COVID 19 driving the demand for specific legal services
The coronavirus pandemic has thrown up new legal challenges. The ABA report cites the head of a law firm as saying that both employers and employees are contacting them for information on how to address their immediate needs in these extraordinary circumstances.
Employer inquiries relate to how to treat employees who demonstrate symptoms of coronavirus or have been exposed to others diagnosed with COVID-19. They also want information on dealing with situations when they decide that an employee cannot come into the workplace. Organizations need to have a plan in place in case employees are exposed to the coronavirus or diagnosed with it. Lawyers recommend that employers should go by the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) when making decisions about which employees should be required or requested to self-quarantine.
Lawyers are also receiving calls from employees concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on the safety of their workplace. If they are worried about contracting symptoms if they remain in their workplace, lawyers say that employees can request their employers to provide make reasonable allowances as required by law, such as work-at-home options.
The ABA article also notes that lawyers are counselling their health care clients on how to manage patients diagnosed with coronavirus or exhibiting symptoms of it, as well as how to properly address the concerns of employees and the community at large. Health care providers should rely on guidance from the CDC and other public health authorities when making coronavirus-related decisions, say lawyers.
Many law firms have created multidisciplinary coronavirus task forces to help their clients navigate these unchartered legal waters. However, as they meet these new needs of their clients and social distancing becomes the norm, many law firms have transitioned to working remotely. And they need to have the right tech tools and processes to work from home.
Technology and Processes for Law Firms to Work Remotely
To work efficiently from home, lawyers need the right tools and processes. Here are the popular options available:
- Video conferencing software: The legal video conference is an economical and efficient tool to support collaboration as lawyers switch to home offices. It can be used for many applications such as client meetings, lawyer conferences and depositions. Easy and reliable options include Google Meets for computer users and Zoom for mobile phone and tablet users. Staff must be properly trained to use video conferencing software so that office and client meetings go smoothly. A video transcription service provider can ensure that these meetings are accurately documented.
- VoiP (voice over internet protocol) phone systems: Efficient VoiP phone options for law firms include RingCentral, Nextiva, and Ooma. These cost-effective alternatives allow you to make and receive unlimited phone calls (including international calls) routed over internet protocol networks. You can use them to make conference calls, receive messages in various formats, send and receive faxes, etc. Make sure that you thoroughly assess the technology provider that will be hosting and storing your data.
- File storage: Virtual legal offices must ensure secure storage of client files is a must as lawyers work remotely (www.lawyerist.com). All documents should be scanned using a quality scanner. By converting them to electronic format, important information can be captured and saved the practice management software for easy retrieval.
- Practice management software: Cloud-based law practice management (LPM) software allows all information to be securely stored in one centralized location for access by the remote team. In addition to contacts, invoicing, legal documents, financial data and internal and external communications, some LPM systems come with e-signature capabilities, marketing tools, and secure client communication and collaboration tools (www.abajournal.com).
- Word processing tools: Home lawyers would also benefit from word processing software. This tool will help ensure error-free as letters, pleadings, contracts, legal memorandums, and other documents. Microsoft’s Office 365 supports real-time collaboration and sharing. This online office suite includes access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.
- Digital transcription services: Digital transcription service providers can convert information recorded on a digital recorder or saved in digital format (audio, video or images) into clear and accurate text documents. Online file transfer is done via secure file transfer protocol (FTP) with advanced encryption. With FTP, you can upload digital files safely on the Internet. With secure FTP access, the legal transcription company can download the files, transcribe them and upload the final documents for access by the remote team. Speech-to-text dictation tools are also a very useful option for lawyers working remotely. These tools convert dictation into text in real-time. In fact, the ABA article notes that an AI-enabled transcription and translation service provider says that since the coronavirius outbreak, they have signed new contracts with the police department and advertising agency clients as well as a legal client.
Finally, as law offices switch to the remote mode, they will need to establish cybersecurity security measures and train their staff on these policies. Employees should understand the risks, and be able to recognize suspicious activity and messages.
The ABA has set up a nation wide task force comprising volunteer lawyers and judges to meet the needs of Americans arising from COVID-19. The ABA’s voluntary task force is committed to meeting the needs of ordinary Americans arising from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
“As the pandemic spreads, thousands of Americans will need help – not just with medical issues but also with legal issues including lost jobs, evictions, insurance claims, family emergencies and obtaining government benefits they need to survive,” ABA President Judy Perry Martinez said in a news report from the association. “Those who come before our criminal justice system will face additional challenges as jobs are lost, the inability to pay fines and fees escalates and we face a greater risk of detentions. In times of crisis, lawyers help. With this task force, we will start by looking for where the need is greatest and where we can make the biggest difference for people in dire situations.”