Round Up: Getting Paid, Reopening Your Firm, Ethical Videoconferencing and More

SpiralI often write articles and blog posts for other outlets and am going to post a round up here from time to time (but won't include my weekly Daily Record articles in the round up since I re-publish them to this blog in full). Here are my posts and articles published from late-April to the present:


More law firm reopening guidance, this time from the Indiana State Bar Association

Stacked3Here is a recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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More law firm reopening guidance, this time from the Indiana State Bar Association

Now that some states are flattening the curve, guidelines are being established to allow phased reopenings of businesses, including law firms. Of course, no one’s ever attempted to reopen businesses after a worldwide pandemic, sowe’re in uncharted territory. No doubt you’re wondering how to go about the reopening process in an efficient and safe manner.

Fortunately, there’s guidance out there to help you do just that. In my last column, I shared advice from the New York State Bar Association’s guide on reopening law firms. This week let’s take a look at the guidance provided in another recently released resource: the Indiana State Bar Association’s Guide, “Reopening Your Practice.” 

At the outset of this Guide, the Committee acknowledged that the guidelines were simply advisory. Because firms have different sets of resources, every firm won’t necessarily be in a position to ensure all that each and every piece of advice is implemented. That being said, the Committee emphasized that the overarching focus for any firm seeking to reopen, regardless of its financial circumstances, should be to ensure the safety of law firms employees and clients as best as possible.

Next, the Committee moved on to providing advice for firms in the process of returning their staff to the office. First, the Committee laid out the primary categories that firms need to address prior to reopening a law office. The Committee explained that there are six readiness essentials that firms need to think:

  • Control access points: Consider protocols for safety and health checks, building reception areas, shipping and receiving, elevators, and visitor policies.
  • Prepare the building and workplace: Consider cleaning
plans, pre-return inspections, HVAC, and mechanical checks.
  • Prepare the workforce: Develop plans to mitigate anxiety by creating policies for deciding when each employee returns and establishing an employee communications plan.
  • Create a social distancing plan: Consider options to keep workers at a safe distance, which may include new seating arrangements and establishing office traffic patterns.
  • Reduce touch points and increase cleaning: Consider keeping doors open and develop protocols for cleaning work areas and common areas.
    Communicate for confidence: Recognize that employees may have concerns about returning to work, so communicate transparently, and listen and survey regularly.

In the remainder of the Guide, the Committee focused on each readiness essential in order, providing a detailed explanation of the factors that firms should keep in mind when addressing that particular category. For example, for the first consideration - controlling access points - the Committee advised that firms will need to establish procedures that control access points in the firm. Those may include: 1) erecting barriers to enforce social distancing, 2) closing off certain entrances and exit points, 3) implementing visitor health protocols, and 4) posting signs around the office that clearly set forth expectations for everyone who enters.

The Committee covered each category of readiness in kind, so make sure to read the entire guide for specific recommendations for each one. Once you’ve done so, create a transition committee, as discussed in my prior column, that will be responsible for establishing a plan for the return to the office using the recommendations provided in both reopening guides. Once you’ve done so, your firm will be well on its way to successfully reopening it doors, as safely as possible, with the health of your employees and clients top of mind.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at niki.black@mycase.com.


NYSBA Releases Guidance on Re-Opening Law Firms

Stacked3Here is a recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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NYSBA Releases Guidance on Re-Opening Law Firms

Right now, most New York law firms are closed as a result of the Governor’s mandate relating to COVID-19 shelter-in-place requirements. But that will soon change as some parts of New York State begin to transition under the Governor’s 4-phase regional re-opening plan. Because law firms are permitted to return to work during Phase 2, they will be some of the first businesses to re-open in qualifying parts of the state.

If your law firm is located in one of the first 3 regions that will re-open next week (which includes the Finger Lakes Region, where Rochester is located), you may not know how to go about safely beginning the process of opening your firm’s doors for business. After all, this pandemic is unprecedented in modern times, and it’s far from over. Life as we know it has changed, and as long as this virus continues to be transmissible in the absence of a vaccine, the only option is to proceed with caution and institute policies and procedures that will protect law firm employees and clients. The trick is figuring out how to do that.

Thankfully, the New York State Bar Association recognized that lawyers might be uncertain as to how too proceed and presciently prepared a guide to assist New York law firms in re-opening. The “New York State Working Group Guidance on Re-Opening Law Firms." was released last week and provides an informative roadmap for law firms to follow as they transition back to in-office work. The Guide addresses all of the issues you’ll need to think about when re-opening your law firm and provides helpful advice to keep in mind as you tackle each step.

First, the Guide advises that firms should establish a re-opening transition team. The team should be prepared to create a plan to address the following issues:

Monitor oversight of the re-opening plan and implementation;
Develop and update, as needed, internal policies and procedures for the transition from remote work to the workplace;
Communicate with legal and support staff with one voice regarding the transition process, set forth clear expectations and offer firm-wide training, as needed;
Field questions or concerns;
Become familiar with federal and state statutes and programs governing office safety and human resource issues;
Develop an employee testing plan for testing employees for the virus; and
Develop client and visitor policies.

Two important phases of re-opening a law firm that are covered in depth in the Guide are preparing the workplace and preparing employees. One notable recommendation relating to returning to work is to stagger work schedules in order to enforce social distancing and is an indication of how much this pandemic will affect our workplaces for the foreseeable future. Specifically, the advice provided was to stagger workday hours and monitor employees returning to the office, while also allowing some employees to continue to work remotely:

• Take into consideration lawyers and support staff in more critical areas of practices less attuned to remote employment and phase in other practice areas over designated periods;
Anyone who can effectively work remotely should continue to do so until further notice;
Discourage visits by lawyers from other branch offices; and
Maintain attendance sheets to provide responsible contact tracing information, if needed, and to limit and track hours in the office.

Speaking of working remotely, another very relevant area of focus in the Guide is the advice provided on how to conduct business in a way that is both safe and productive. As explained in the Guide, part of finding that balance hinges on making use of technology like cloud-based legal software and videoconferencing tools to facilitate effective and efficient remote work while also enforcing revised policies regarding employee movement and behavior while at work:

Encourage the use of technology for remote mediations/ hearings/arguments and depositions;
No in-person meetings in the office among attorneys and support staff for at least a specified time;
Limit the number of people coming in the office at the same time;
Limit unnecessary employee movement within the office;
Specify what work people need to do in the office to attempt to limit time in office;
Implement the virtual notarization requirements to limit in person contact; and
Restrict the use of office printers and copiers to avoid personal contact.

Those are just a few highlights from this informative and very timely guide. Make sure to read through the entire document thoroughly and implement the policies and advice set forth therein.

We’ve undergone a long and unexpected break from the workplace and are all eager to return. But in doing so, it’s important to tread cautiously and implement policies and procedures that will protect your workforce and clients. This guide is a great place to start.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at niki.black@mycase.com.


Remote Working During COVID-19: Improve Your Mindset

Stacked3Here is a recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Remote Working During COVID-19:  Improve Your Mindset

Working remotely in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic isn’t easy. In fact, it can be incredibly stressful, in part because there are a lot of things about that current situation that are simply beyond our control. The good news is that there are some things we can control, such as our mindset and our immediate environment. The key is to identify what can realistically be changed that will have a positive impact on your state of mind.

Let’s start with your environment. One step you can take that can help reduce stress is to ensure that your remote workspace is as welcoming and comfortable as possible. To that end, consider adding some greenery, since plants add color and give off oxygen, helping to improve your air quality. 

Also, make your remote work area more livable by ensuring that you have lots of access to natural light. And try to keep it as clutter-free as possible. After all, less mess leads to less stress.

Another way to reduce your stress levels is to consider allowing your pet, if you have one, to spend time with you while you work. Having your pets around you creates a more relaxed atmosphere and offers a welcome distraction from the day-to-day stress of work-related deadlines and the never-ending news cycle.

Likewise, don’t overlook the benefits that an ergonomic work environment can have on both your mental and physical well being. Incorporate ergonomic work processes and office equipment into your day-to-day activities in order to ensure that you experience as little repetitive physical stress and pain as possible.

Also important is to make it a priority to give yourself a timeout. Schedule time for mental breaks. Stand up, walk around a bit, and maybe even go outside. Take time during the workday to relax and think about something other than the COVID-19 crisis or the practice of law.

Last, but not least, don’t forget to look inward as well. Take time at the beginning of each day when you sit down at your desk to reflect on the good things going on in your life and in your practice. It’s a good habit to get into during the pandemic, and it’s something that you continue to do when life returns to some semblance of normalcy.

Another way to focus on wellness is to consider learning about and incorporating meditation into your daily routine.

Read a book or two on mindfulness and make sure to take advantage of the resources and networking and support groups offered by your state and local bar associations.

For example, one book worth checking out is “The Anxious Lawyer,” an ABA-published book written by attorneys Jeena Cho and Karen Gifford. This book offers an 8-week guide in which mindfulness is used as a tool to help you achieve a more satisfying and balanced law practice. You can also access guided meditations based on the teachings of the book here: http://theanxiouslawyer.com/category/guided-meditations/.



Another great mindfulness resource is available compliments of the New York State Bar Association. It’s a website created in collaboration with the NYSBA for lawyers experiencing COVID-19-related stress called “A NY State of Mind” (online: https://www.headspace.com/ny). On it you’ll find free guided meditations, along with links to other useful mindfulness and wellness resources. 



Finally, the Monroe County Bar Association hosts a weekly virtual wellness chat for lawyers every Monday at 3 pm. This event is always well-attended and provides lots of great support for Rochester lawyers as they navigate these unprecedented and uncertain times.



Take my word for it: gratitude and mindfulness can make all the difference in your mindset. We’re all experiencing stress and uncertainty about the pandemic and the future. While we can’t control the future, we can control how we feel in the present. So do what you can to control your present mindset by taking advantage of some of these tips and resources, and get on the path to a healthier, happier you.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at niki.black@mycase.com.


Round Up: Remote Working Tools, Videoconferencing, Economic Relief Loans, and More

SpiralI often write articles and blog posts for other outlets and am going to post a round up here from time to time (but won't include my weekly Daily Record articles in the round up since I re-publish them to this blog in full). Here are my posts and articles published from Mid-March to the present:


How law firms are adapting to remote work

Stacked3Here is a recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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How law firms are adapting to remote work

Lawyers across the country have been sheltering in place for weeks now, and for many, there is no immediate end in sight. The move to remote work was a sudden one, with governors instituting social distancing requirements seemingly overnight. Notably, many firms were unprepared for this change, and as a result business continuity proved to be a pressing issue.

However, over time, firms adapted. They had to; they had no choice.

Now that a few weeks have passed, working from home has become the new normal, but it hasn’t always gone smoothly. The transition was easier for some firms than others, as borne out by the results of a recent survey. The nationwide survey was conducted by MyCase (the company for which I work) from April 8th-10th, with 819 legal professionals responding. Some findings regarding remote work were expected, but others were more surprising.

For starters, the transition to working from home full-time occurred fairly quickly for many firms, with 46% reporting that it took a day or less to establish a virtual law practice. 31% shared that it took 2-3 days, 13% did so after a week, and for 10% of respondents it took 2 weeks or more.

Not surprisingly, the majority of lawyers reported that at the time of the survey their firms were operating remotely in one form or another. After all, necessity breeds ingenuity. Specifically, 48% of lawyers indicated that all law firm employees were working remotely. Another 39% shared that some of their employees were working remotely. Only 12% reported that their firms were open for business with all employees working in the physical office. Finally, only 1% had closed their firms’ doors for the time being.

Most law firms didn’t have all of the necessary technology tools in place to enable their firms to move to a remote practice overnight. This was an unprecedented situation, so the lack of preparedness was to be expected. That being said, the majority of legal professional have adapted to the sudden change in circumstance very adeptly, and at an incredibly rapid pace. So much so that that I’d go so far as to say that much of the technology adoption that occurred over the past month would not have otherwise occurred for another 5 years or more.

Because working remotely necessarily requires better communication methods, it’s no surprise that due to the shelter in place mandates certain forms of online communication exploded in popularity overnight. The survey results provided insight into the specific tools adopted by law firms over the past month.

Video conferencing was the top technology adopted by firms due to remote work requirements, with 529 indicating that their firms had begun to use it. Next, 235 respondents shared that their firms had invested in new hardware, such as laptops. 206 reported that their firms had not adopted any new technology, followed by VOIP phone systems (55), online fax (55), data backup (49), payment tools (47), internet security (46), and other (34).

Finally, the responding lawyers weighed in on whether they felt prepared to work from home with the technology tools supplied by their firm. The survey results showed that 79% of law firm staff using cloud-based systems felt that they had what they needed to work from home, whereas only 59% of non-cloud based users sharing that sentiment. 

Has your firm moved to remote work? How does your firm’s transition process compare? Hopefully you feel well prepared to provide legal services while working from home. If not, rest assured, there is technology available that can fill the gap and streamline your work processes so that you’re able to work as efficiently and effectively from home as you do in the office. But if you don’t take advantage of it, you only have yourself to blame. So what are you waiting for? Research your options, choose the right tools, and get to work!

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at niki.black@mycase.com. 

 


Pennsylvania issues timely ethics opinion on remote working for lawyers

Stacked3Here is a recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Pennsylvania issues timely ethics opinion on remote working for lawyers

Have you gotten used to what is, at least for now, the new normal? For many lawyers, it’s a work in progress. Firms that already had cloud-based software in place transitioned relatively smoothly. Others, not so much.

What about you? Has your law firm provided remote working tools for its employees? Are you able to access firm files from your home and securely communicate and collaborate with clients and colleagues? Are you ready to participate in court appearances via videoconferencing tools?

If you’re fully prepared, congratulations! You’re one of the lucky ones. But simply having the required tools at your disposal is insufficient; you also have to ensure that your firm’s remote working plan is ethically compliant.

Fortunately, the Pennsylvania Bar Association stepped up to the plate last week and provided guidance to help lawyers navigate the ethics of working remotely. In Formal Opinion 2020-300, the Pennsylvania Bar Association Committee on Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility addressed the issue of how lawyers and their staff can ethically provide legal services while working remotely.

At the outset the Committee acknowledged that it was releasing this guidance due to the recent shelter in place mandates, but that the information provided was generally applicable whenever an attorney or staff member works remotely.

Next the Committee opined that, as it had previously concluded, it was ethical for lawyers to work remotely and provide virtual legal services using cloud-based software. But in order to do so, if was necessary that lawyers make reasonable efforts to ensure that reasonable safeguards were in place to protect confidential client information.

Next, the Committee talked about the issue of secure communication, explaining that attorneys have an obligation to ensure that safeguards are in place to protect confidential communications via electronic means, including email. Notably, the Committee adopted the analysis of ABA Formal Opinion 477R, and concluded that lawyers must assess the sensitivity of confidential communications on a case-by-case basis and, for particularly sensitive matter, must use encrypted communication methods, such as encrypted email or secure client portals:

“(L)awyers must exercise reasonable efforts when using technology in communicating about client matters … (and use) a fact-specific approach to business security obligations that requires a ‘process’ to assess risks, identify and implement appropriate security measures responsive to those risks, verify that they are effectively implemented, and ensure that they are continually updated in response to new developments. … A fact-based analysis means that particularly strong protective measures, like encryption, are warranted in some circumstances.”

As a side note, as I’ve discussed in the past, in order to avoid having to make an ad hoc determination regarding each law firm communication, it makes sense to simply choose one type of encrypted communication method and require that all law firm employees to use it at all times. This is especially so during the current situation, where all members are working remotely from their homes. If everyone uses encrypted email or the secure client portals built into law practice management software for all communications, then you’ll have effectively ensured that all communications are sufficiently protected.

Finally, the Committee provided tips that lawyers should consider implementing in order to enhance the security of their online interactions, such as:

  • Avoid using public internet/free Wi-Fi;
  • Use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to enhance security;
  • Use two-factor or multi-factor authentication;
  • Use strong passwords to protect your data and devices;
  • Backup any data stored remotely;
  • Secure all remote locations and devices;
  • Verify that websites have enhanced security;
  • Lawyers should be cognizant of their obligation to act with civility; and
  • Assure that video conferences are secure.

Finally, the Committee provided some very helpful and timely advice on the last point — ensuring the security of videoconferences. The Committee explained that the steps to take to mitigate videoconferencing hijacking attempts include:

  • Do not make meetings public;
  • Require a meeting password or use other features that control the admittance of guests;
  • Do not share a link to a teleconference on an unrestricted publicly available social media post;
  • Provide the meeting link directly to specific people;
  • Manage screensharing options. For example, many of these services allow the host to change screensharing to “Host Only;” and

Ensure users are using the updated version of remote access/meeting applications.
The entire opinion is worth reading, since I only covered a few choice highlights due to space constraints. So make sure to read the option in its entirety and implement the advice provided therein.

We’re undoubtedly facing challenging times. Fortunately, the technology we need to practice law remotely is readily available and sufficiently secure. So choose the right cloud-based tools for your law firm, use the advice in this opinion to secure your firm’s data, and then rest easy knowing that you’ve done all you can to continue representing your clients’ interests while also protecting their confidentiality during this difficult time.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at niki.black@mycase.com. 


Staying Connected With Your Law Firm Team During COVID-19

Stacked3Here is a recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Staying Connected With Your Law Firm Team During COVID-19

Your entire law firm is suddenly and unexpectedly working remotely. Now what? How do you ensure that your entire staff is able to communicate and collaborate effectively while working from their homes?

If you’re wondering what to do next are, rest assured, you’re not alone. Remote work is uncharted territory for most law firms. Fortunately, by creating a remote working plan and establishing remote working procedures, you can create a supportive structure for your remote law firm that will streamline communications and encourage productivity.

  • Here are some steps to take when creating your law firm’s remote working plan that will help you get your virtual law office up and running as quickly as possible:
  • Secure and take stock of your office hardware assets by inventorying your firm’s hardware and distributing it as needed to all staff who will be working remotely. 

  • Similarly, determine which files you’ll need access to and ensure that you have a way to electronically access them. For many law firms, the easiest way to accomplish this is to use cloud-based law practice management software.

  • Ensure that you’ve put necessary technology tools in place to promote remote work and facilitate collaboration and ongoing communication.

  • Establish a communication plan that includes multiple ways to communicate both within your firm and externally. In addition to using the communication tools and portals built into your chosen law practice management software, you’ll likely also need to set up VOIP phone systems, an electronic fax tool, and a video conferencing tool. 

  • Make sure that you’re able to access all of the client data that you need in order to work remotely on pending matters.

  • Have a plan in place for receiving online payments from clients and for payroll; that way clients can continue to pay their bills and your employees will continue to get paid.
  • Protect law firm data, and ensure that everyone working remotely understands client confidentiality issues and uses the software you’ve chosen for all client matters.

It’s also important to support your remote team during this crisis. Transitioning from working in an office to working from home is difficult enough and the chaos and confusion surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic only adds to your team members’ stress. That’s why short daily check-ins with your team to see how they’re doing can make such a big difference. During this brief check-in, make sure to acknowledge the disruption they’re experiencing and find out how it is impacting them.

It’s also helpful to set aside time for occasional 1-on-1s with key team members to check in regarding their their personal well being and to find out if they have questions about ongoing projects or need anything from you.

Other steps to consider taking that will help to support your team and improve its morale during these challenging times include: 1) planning a weekly video conference lunch with your team, 2) providing your team with regular, detailed updates regarding how your law firm is is responding to the crisis, 3) sending out a short video or email at the beginning of each week during which you set priorities for the week, provide remote working or productivity tips, and encourage a sense of team unity, and 4) sending out an end-of-the week video or email to your employees that summarizes projects completed, celebrates successes, and provides encouragement.

It’s incredibly important to provide your team with the tools and supportive environment they need to get the job done. By taking the time to thoughtfully incorporate some of these ideas into your regular routine, you’ll help your law firm team transition smoothly to working remotely in the midst of never before seen challenges. Your effort and up front planning will undoubtedly pay off in the long run, since as we all know, effective teamwork and collaboration is always important; but during a crisis, it can make all the difference.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at niki.black@mycase.com. 


Zoom Videoconferencing 101

Stacked3Here is a recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Zoom Videoconferencing 101

It’s been a few weeks since we collectively began to “shelter in place.” Working from home has become the newfound reality for many lawyers, and many of you are likely in the process of trying to determine how to work remotely both effectively and efficiently.

As you put systems in place to facilitate practicing law virtually, video conferencing has undoubtedly become a central part of your remote workflow arsenal. And if videoconferencing is new to you, you’re probably using Zoom, which is arguably the most popular platform for video meetings, since it’s both affordable and user-friendly.

Because so many people are using Zoom these days, I figured it was high time I shared a Zoom primer. So without further ado, here’s what you need to know to Zoom like an expert.

First, the basics. If you’re going to use a mobile device, make sure to download the Zoom app. Then, whether you’re using your mobile device or computer, log onto Zoom by either clicking the meeting link provided to you, or go to www.zoom.com, click on “join meeting” (on the upper righthand side of the page), and then enter the meeting number, which is included in the Zoom meeting information you received via email or otherwise. From there, follow the onscreen instructions to open up the video meeting on your laptop or smartphone.

Second, in the name of all that’s holy, use your mute button! Mute yourself by clicking the microphone on the bottom lefthand side of your screen once you log on and then, whenever you’re not speaking, make sure you’re muted. I cannot stress this enough! Otherwise, everyone will hear your dog barking and each time it barks, your face will pop up on the main screen instead of the face of the person who’s actually speaking. Note that if you want to unmute yourself for a very quick comment (rather than a long soliloquy), instead of clicking on the microphone you can also hold down the space bar (which will unmute you) and say your piece. Then release the space bar when you’re done talking, and you’ll automatically be muted again.

Third, take a deep dive into the “meeting settings.” By doing so, you’ll have more control over your videoconferences, ensuring that your Zoom meetings occur without a hitch. When you schedule a meeting, make sure to familiarize yourself with the various settings, including those located under “advanced settings.” There are options there that allow you to set a password for the meeting, restrict access only to users who have signed in, and “mute participants upon entry.”

Fourth, take advantage of the settings that allow you manage participants once the meeting has started. They can be accessed by clicking on “Manage Participants” (once the meeting has begun) in the middle of the bottom of your Zoom screen. Some settings are immediately visible and if you click on “More” there are even well…more. Using these settings you can mute all participants, lock the meeting to prevent new participants from joining, and choose whether to allow participants to unmute themselves or rename themselves.

Fifth, up your Zoom background game. It’s easy to change your Zoom background and hide all the dirty clothes piled up behind you on your couch. First, search Google for desktop wallpaper or Zoom background images, and download a few that you really like to your computer. Once a meeting has started: 1) click on the up arrow located next to “Stop Video” in the left hand corner of the toolbar at the bottom of your Zoom screen, 2) click on “Choose Virtual Background” from the pop-up menu, and 3) click on the plus sign (+) located in the middle of the “Settings” screen on the right side and upload your chosen images from your computer. There you have it! A customized Zoom background!

Finally, for those days when you’re having a hard time pulling yourself together for a video call, there’s the “Touch Up My Appearance Setting.” Once you activate it, it provides a soft focus - something we could all use after weeks of being cooped up inside with our families! To turn it on, once a meeting has started: 1) click on that same up arrow located mentioned above located next to “Stop Video,” 2) choose “Video Settings” from the menu, 3) check the “Touch Up My Appearance” option located under the “My Video” section. And, voilà! You look like a million bucks!

Now that you’re armed with my top Zoom tips, what are you waiting for? Set up a video call and put them into action. In no time flat you’ll be Zooming like a pro

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at niki.black@mycase.com. 


Maintaining Your Sanity While Working From Home

Stacked3Here is a recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Maintaining Your Sanity While Working From Home

Last week, the world as we know it was turned upside down. Schools closed, businesses, including many law firms, were required to temporarily shut down, and the vast majority of federal and state court proceedings were canceled until further notice. In New York, “shelter in place” has become the new reality as we practice mandated social distancing for the good of the community.

These events are unprecedented. As a result most law firms - and lawyers - were unprepared for the sudden shift from business as usual while practicing law in an office to working remotely from home. In last week’s column I offered advice to assist firms in setting up their employees for remote work, and in today’s I’m going to share tips to help legal professionals work from home effectively while maintaining their sanity.

I’ve worked from home for more than a decade now, and for the last 7 years have worked remotely full-time for a California technology company, AppFolio. AppFolio is the parent company of MyCase, which provides cloud-based law practice management software for law firms, and I’m the Legal Technology Evangelist for MyCase. This means that the team I work with is based in California, and as a result, I’ve become very accustomed to working from home using the technology tools mentioned in last week’s article to communicate and collaborate with my team and ensure that I’m able to get my job done.

Here are some of my top tips for working efficiently and effectively from home. First off, stick to your normal routine. Get ready for work each day just as you would if you were going into the office. Follow your regular workday grooming routine, whatever that might be. Don’t avoid your typical weekday grooming habits, since doing so will make it all the more difficult for you to transition into “work mode” while working from home. Along those same lines, change out of your pajamas and get dressed. Don’t put on sweatpants or leggings. Instead choose a “casual Friday” outfit that is comfortable, but nevertheless feels somewhat professional. I know these might seem like a minor steps, but trust me, they make all the difference in your mood and help to put you into a work mindset.

Another important step is to choose one or two areas in your home from which you’ll work. Personally, I prefer to work in the kitchen at the island until my kids wake up. Once they’re awake, I shift to a more secluded room where it’s quiet and I have privacy. Every once in a while I’ll work from one of the couches in the family room or living room in the late afternoon just for a change of pace.

Next, make sure to establish clear-cut guidelines with your family from the start. Your kids are home, too, and for them, it may feel like a never-ending vacation. They’ll understandably want to spend time with you. Make sure to let them know when it’s acceptable to interrupt you - and when it’s not. Typically, if I would prefer not to be interrupted, I’ll close the door. But if it’s extremely important that no one interrupt me, I’ll go out of my way to let them know the timeframe during which I’ll be incommunicado. Sometimes I’ll even lock the door.

Also make sure to schedule time for breaks every hour or so. Get up, walk around, grab the mail, take a few stretches, grab a snack, or do some deep breathing. Anything you do for a brief change of pace can make all the difference to your productivity and sanity.

Finally, make sure you have communications tools available that make it easy to connect with your colleagues and friends. Chat tools like Slack, video conferencing tools like Zoom, and online portals and other messaging tools built into law practice management software can make all the difference when you’re working from home. Not only will they help you collaborate and communicate more quickly and efficiently with work colleagues, they’ll also help to make you feel more connected and less isolated.

I know it’s a tough transition, and maintaining your productivity and sanity while working from home isn’t always easy. But trust me - you can do it. I’ve been working from home for more than a decade and I promise you’ll find a routine that works for you. You may encounter a few bumps along the road, but I’m confident you’ll find your groove sooner rather than later!

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at niki.black@mycase.com. 


Ready or Not, It’s Time To Set Up Your Remote Law Office

Stacked3Here is a recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

*****

Ready or Not, It’s Time To Set Up Your Remote Law Office

You’ve resisted technological change for years and put off adopting new software into your law firm. After all, you were busy doing what lawyers are trained to do: practice law. You didn’t have time to learn about technology, research the legal software available, and then figure out how to use it in your firm. You figured you’d get around to it eventually, when the time was right.

I’ve got news for you: the time is now. As you know, earlier this week, the world as we knew it ground to a screeching halt. COVID-19 descended upon our country, and cities, counties, and states began to require most non-essential businesses to close in the name of public safety. Courts began to suspend all but the most essential proceedings, and many law firms were forced to shut their bricks and mortar doors. It is no longer business as usual, and experts are predicting that the disruption could last for a year or more.

Rest assured, that doesn’t mean that the business of practicing law will cease to exist. The technology tools you need to set up a remote law office (aka a “virtual law firm”) are readily available and affordable. It’s simply a matter of identifying the software tools your law firm needs and implementing them firm-wide.

For most law firms, you’ll need to invest in the following tools in order to run your law firm remotely:

• Video conferencing software: facilitates encrypted face-to-face video meetings with clients, work colleagues, and co-counsel;
• A VOIP (voice over internet protocol) phone system: allows you to make and receive unlimited phone calls, conduct conference calls, and receive (and store) messages without needing a landline.
• Cloud-based law practice management software: provides a centralized location for contacts and calendars; invoicing and time-tracking; documents and other matter-related data; internal and external communications; financial data; and may also include built-in e-signature capabilities, lead management tools, integrated email, 2-way text messaging, and secure communication and collaboration tools such as a client portal.
• An online fax service: instead of using a landline-based fax machine, documents can be sent and received over the internet via email, an online portal, or a smartphone app.
• Document scanning tools: hardware and software tools, including mobile apps, that can be used to quickly and easily scan and digitize documents.
• Collaborative word processing software: cloud-based word processing software that makes it easy to collaborate in real-time with work colleagues.
• Speech-to-text dictation software: voice recognition technology that allows you to simply dictate and then the text contemporaneously appears on the screen in front of you as you speak.

You can find links to articles I’ve written about each of these technology tools here.

Once you’ve researched and chosen the software you’ll be using to set up your remote law firm, the next step is to train your employees and provide them with the information they’ll need to implement the software into their daily routine. Teach them how to use the features of each type of software and impress upon them the fact that client confidentiality rules apply no matter where they happen to be working.

No doubt you're feeling overwhelmed and concerned about the future of your law firm, but the good news is that the tools you need to practice law virtually are readily available and have been for years now. The technology is time-tested, trustworthy, and ethical. In fact, the ethics committees of more than 20 states, including New York, have deemed the use of cloud computing by lawyers to store confidential information to be permissible.

So what are you waiting for? Your clients are relying on you to get back to work - so get to it! Do your research, choose the right technology for your law firm, and start practicing law remotely. It really is that easy.

And, rest assured, there truly is no better time than the present.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at niki.black@mycase.com. 


The Ethics of Responding to Negative Online Reviews

Stacked3Here is a recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

*****

These days the online world matters just as much as the offline world when it comes to conducting business. The Yellow Pages have been replaced by Google and apps, just as restaurant and movie reviews in newspapers have now been co-opted by the online reviews of actual customers. And just like every other technology-based trend, lawyers are no longer immune from the effects of the online review ecosystem.

In fact, for many small law firms, negative online reviews can be a big problem. I often frequent internet forums where lawyers will seek advice on how to handle a particularly negative and unfair online review. In some cases the person leaving the review was never even a client of the attorney’s firm, but the negative review left regarding an alleged unpleasant encounter with the attorney or law firm staff member resulted in a significant decline in the law firm’s rating. In others, a disgruntled client will leave a damning review grounded in untruths that drastically reduce the firm’s Google My Business or Yelp rating.

In cases like that, what’s a lawyer to do? What’s the best way to address the review both in terms of optics and ethics? While there’s no clearcut answer from an optics standpoint and there’s undoubtedly more than one way to go about effectively responding, the ethics of the situation is often more clear.

In recent years, a number of different jurisdictions have addressed the issue of how to ethically respond to negative online reviews, and one of the most recent to do so was North Carolina in Proposed 2020 Formal Ethics Opinion 1. As of now, this opinion is available for public comment and has not yet been published in final form. But the conclusions reached therein align with many of the opinions issued in other jurisdictions on this topic, so it’s illustrative of how to navigate the ethical issues when responding to a negative online review of your law firm.

The facts in the case at issue are simple: the lawyer’s former client posted a negative review on a consumer rating website that the lawyer believed was false. The lawyer was in possession of information that would rebut the allegations, but said information was confidential. The question to be answered was how the lawyer might ethically respond to the comments via a publicly viewable post.

At the outset, the Ethics Committee emphasized the importance of client confidentiality. The Committee explained that because confidentiality is a foundational element of the attorney-client relationship, lawyers are prohibited from revealing all confidential information acquired during the course of representation unless: 1) their former client consents or 2) one of the exceptions set forth in Rule 1.6(b) are applicable.

The Committee then turned to considering any applicable exceptions and determined that the only one that might apply to the situation at hand was Rule 1.6(b)(6), which “permits a lawyer to reveal information to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary: [T]o establish a claim or defense on behalf of the lawyer in a controversy between the lawyer and the client; to establish a defense to a criminal charge or civil claim against the lawyer based upon conduct in which the client was involved; or to respond to allegations in any proceeding concerning the lawyer’s representation of the client.”

Next, the Committee examined the nature of online reviews and determined that a negative online review did not constitute a “legal claim or disciplinary charge arising in a civil, criminal, disciplinary, or other proceeding”, and thus did not fall within the parameters of that exception.

Accordingly, the Committee concluded that confidential information may not be used when responding to online criticism of a lawyer’s services: “(A) (l)awyer may post an online response to the former client’s negative online review provided the response is proportional and restrained and does not contain any confidential client information.”

In other words, think before you type, since the internet is forever. And if at all possible, take steps to move the dispute offline so that you can discuss it with the client face-to-face and attempt to come to an amicable - and private - resolution of any outstanding issues. That way you’ll hopefully end up with a happy former client who may one day send business your way, and at the same time avoid leaving a permanent online record that you might later come to regret.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at niki.black@mycase.com. 


Round Up: ABA Techshow, Chatbots, Cybersecurity, and More

SpiralI often write articles and blog posts for other outlets and am going to post a round up here from time to time (but won't include my weekly Daily Record articles in the round up since I re-publish them to this blog in full). Here are my posts and articles published from late-January to present:


Gain technology competence: Attend a legal technology conference

Stacked3Here is a recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

*****

Gain technology competence: Attend a legal technology conference

If you read my column regularly, you’re no doubt familiar with my repeated mantra: lawyers need to maintain technology competence. Not only is it an ethical obligation in 38 states and counting, it’s simply common sense. We live in a world where technology has impacted nearly all aspects of our lives. Practicing law like it’s 1995 and ignoring technological advancements is irresponsible at best and arguably amounts to legal malpractice.

Even so, many lawyers continue to turn a blind eye to technology, in large part because the thought of trying to learn about it is overwhelming. This despite the fact that there are conferences and CLEs devoted to acquiring legal technology knowledge available to them both locally and nationally. But in my experience those conferences and CLEs are not nearly as well attended as those devoted to substantive and procedural law issues.

A decade ago, this fact disappointed me, but now it only serves to perplex me. Most lawyers readily admit that they know they need to learn more about technology, but only a small percentage of them actually make an effort to do so by taking advantage of the educational opportunities made available to them by local, state, and national bar associations.

It’s 2020 and it’s time for a change. New decade, new resolutions, and for those of you reluctant to embrace technology, there’s no better time than the present. There are plenty of ways for you to increase your technological know how at CLEs right in your backyard and at legal technology conferences on the other side of the country. Here are just a few great options to consider.

Check out your local and state bar associations and sign up for at least two different technology CLEs over the next year. If you’re a Rochester lawyer, you’re in luck. Kevin Ryan, the Monroe County Bar Association’s Executive Director is incredibly forward-thinking and as a result, you have many opportunities to learn about technology. For example, the Solo and Small Firm Section now hosts an annual conference (this year’s is scheduled for March 14th) and there are a number of sessions and workshops focused on technology issues.

There are also the technology CLEs sponsored by the MCBA’s Technology Committee that I chair. Our next CLE will occur on March 31st: “More Tech Tips You Need To Hear.” It’s a live CLE that will also be available via webcast and will provide you with 60+ technology tips to help you solve many of the day-to-day problems you encounter in your law practice.

On a state level, the New York State Bar Association now hosts an annual Tech Summit, which is devoted to legal technology issues. The second annual conference will be held on October 8-9th in New York City, so why not sign up?

You might also want to consider a national legal technology conference. Here are three major conferences focused solely on legal technology that are held each year that I would recommend.

The first is LegalWeek, a very large conference held in New York City that tends to skew towards larger law firm legal technology issues, but still provides lots of sessions of interest to lawyers from firms of all sizes. Next year it will be held from February 1st to the 4th.

Next is ILTACon, which will be held in Nashville. This conference has also historically been targeted more toward mid-sized and large firm legal technology decision-makers, but in recent years has broadened the focus to include content of interest to lawyers and legal technology decision-makers from smaller firms. This year’s conference will occur from August 23rd to the 27th.

Last but not least is ABA TECHSHOW, a conference that targets solo and small firm lawyers seeking to incorporate technology into their practices. It’s always held in Chicago and is scheduled to occur in 2021 from March 10th to the 13th.

So if you haven’t yet taken steps to incorporate technology competence into your 2020 plans, what are you waiting for? You’re ethically obligated to do so and there are plenty of opportunities available to learn about legal technology in the coming year. Sign up for a CLE session or two, or even an entire conference. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at niki.black@mycase.com. 

 


ABA Technology Survey Results: Cybersecurity Measures Taken by Firms

Stacked3Here is a recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

*****

ABA Technology Survey Results: Cybersecurity Measures Taken by Firms

If cybersecurity isn’t on your radar in 2020, then it’s high time you made it a priority. The risk of a breach that could compromise your law firm’s confidential client data is an increasing likelihood, especially if your firm hasn’t enacted security measures designed to counter cybersecurity threats.

This is especially so in the wake of news, as reported by the ABA Journal in mid-February, that a Texas law firm’s data was hacked and then its data was published online. The confidential information disclosed included fee agreements and diaries from personal injury cases.

Earlier in February there were also reports that ransomware attacks hit three different law firms.These types of attacks occur when law firm employees receive an email that appears to be legitimate but was sent by a hacker and includes a malicious link. Once employees unwittingly click on a phishing link or a link infected with malware, your firm’s data can then be exploited.

If you’re still not convinced that cybersecurity should be a priority for your firm, then the results of the 2019 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report should do the trick. According to the Report, 26% of lawyers reported that their firms had experienced a security breach such as a lost or stolen computer or smartphone, an attack by a hacker, a break-in, or a website exploit. And, 36% indicated that their law firm technology had been infected with a virus, spyware, or malware.

If your firm doesn’t have a cybersecurity plan in place, rest assured you’re not alone. According to the Report, only one third of lawyers surveyed (32%) reported that their firms had a full security assessment conducted by an independent third party.

That being said, the survey results showed that most law firms overall were taking cybersecurity issues into account, but some were implementing more security precautions than others. One popular security measure enacted by the majority of law firms (86%) was spam filters. Others included firewall software (80%), anti-spyware (76%), pop-up blockers (74%), desktop or laptop virus scanning (68%), mandatory passwords (68%), email virus scanning (67%), network virus scanning (64%), and hardware firewalls (52%). Other less popular types of security tools used by fewer than 50% of the firms included file encryption (44%), email encryption (38%), file access restriction (38%), intrusion prevention (34%), intrusion detection (32%), web filtering (25%), whole/full disk encryption (22%), and employee monitoring (21%).

Another security measure increasingly taken by law firms is to use more secure online channels for client communication. After all, email communications and employee actions are often the weakest link when it comes to law firm security, so communicating using more secure methods simply makes sense. This is especially so in light of the issuance of Formal Opinion 477 by the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility in May 2017. In that opinion, the Committee opined that unencrypted email may not always be sufficient for client communications, especially when the information being discussed is of a particularly sensitive nature. The Committee concluded that in that instance, lawyers may want to consider more secure methods of communicating and collaborating with clients, including using a “secure internet portal.”

The good news is that in 2020 lawyers have more options than ever when it comes to securing their law firm’s systems and communicating securely. In recent years, technology has improved significantly, and more secure electronic communication methods have emerged. That’s why more and more firms are choosing to use client portals to securely communicate. According to the Report, 29% of law firms now offer clients access to a secure client portal, up from 22% in 2017. Some of the top ways that lawyers reported that their firms used client portals include document sharing (42%), messaging and communication (38%), invoicing and bill payment (34%), and case status updates (23%).

So if your law firm isn’t prioritizing cybersecurity in 2020, then what are you waiting for?          There’s no better time than the present. If your firm isn’t taking precautions to protect its data and educate employees about phishing and hacking schemes, then it could be the next firm to make the headlines following a breach or ransomware attack. Don’t be that firm. Instead, take steps to secure your firm’s data and make sure that the only reason it makes headlines is for winning cases - not getting hacked

.Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at niki.black@mycase.com.