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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.