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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.