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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.