Daily Record--Legal Currents Column

Zoom court hearing tips from the Boston Bar Association

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

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Zoom Court Hearing Tips From The Boston Bar Association

It’s the end of July 2020, and we’re months into the COVID-19 crisis with no end in sight. As surges occur across the country, working remotely has become commonplace for most members of the legal profession. Because of that, court appearances, hearings, and jury trials are also part of our newfound reality.

As lawyers increasingly appear in court proceedings via videoconferencing, concerns regarding this format have begun to crop up, ranging from proper attire and etiquette to ethical and confidentiality issues. Because it’s such a new method of interacting for the vast majority of lawyers and judges, it’s an experiment in progress and people have been making it up as they go along.

Fortunately, the experiment is well underway, and as a result, protocols are being established to help lawyers engage more successfully in this format. Most recently, the Boston Bar Association provided 4 virtual hearing guides that include lots of great advice for lawyers seeking to improve their videoconferencing skills. (Online: https://tinyurl.com/MAZoomTips).

Some of the tips revolved around preparation. For example, lawyers were advised to ensure full familiarity with the videoconferencing platform being used by the court. Here some of the best tips relating to preparing for an appearance:

  • Take online tutorials about Zoom so you become comfortable with all the technological capabilities Zoom has to offer.
  • Call into the hearing a few minutes prior to the designated time to ensure you will have time to resolve technical issues.
  • Make sure your necessary technology is ready to go without incident (e.g. internet is fully functioning, Zoom app is updated, cell phone charged).
  • If you are participating in a Zoom hearing, carefully set your camera so that it captures a good view of your face and upper torso. You don’t want the camera to cut off part of your face, for instance.
  • Ensure that you are in a quiet room away from potentially distracting noise.
  • Be aware of your background. Make sure that you are not in front of a window, which will make you backlit and hard to see. If your background is distracting, consider using a neutral digital background on Zoom. To practice you can start a new meeting in the Zoom application, and it will show, without other participants, how you will look in an actual meeting.

Videoconferencing etiquette is often a foreign concept to first-time users. To that end, the guides also include a variety of etiquette recommendations including the following:

  • Treat the hearing as if you were present in the judge’s courtroom.
  • At the start of any virtual hearing, make sure all attorneys and parties state on the record that they are alone and that no third parties are within earshot of the hearing proceedings. If a third party must be present for the hearing, identify that individual and the reasons why that individual must be present for the hearing.
  • Defer to the judge as to his or her preference on who should speak at a given time.
  • If a motion is being heard, expect the moving party to speak first and the responding/opposing party to speak second.
  • Do not talk over one another.
  • Mute yourself when you are not speaking

Finally, there was very useful advice provided regarding the practicalities of appearing via videoconference while maintaining client confidentiality and ensuring an open line of communication between attorneys and clients throughout the proceeding. Some of the most useful tips included:

  • Be sure to warn all witnesses that once they are on the call/meeting, anything they say can be heard by the clerk and anyone else present and it may even be recorded on the record. This is true even if the judge has not joined the hearing.
  • All participants should also be aware that if they are participating in a Zoom hearing, they can be seen even if they aren’t speaking so they should be careful to behave in the same way they would if they were in court.
  • The best practice is for you and your client to to be in the same room for the virtual hearing, following safety guidelines. However, if you and your client are appearing in separate locations, consider setting up a “back channel” for in-hearing communications such as e-mail, text message, Slack, Google Chat.
  • Be careful with your use of Zoom chat and make sure if you do use Zoom chat that you are directing your messages to the correct recipients.
  • Remember that hearings are recorded. You and your client should not speak to any third parties during a hearing.

Those are just some of the highlights, and there’s even more to be found in each guide. So make sure to download them and give them a read. Of course, the courts that you appear in may have videoconferencing rules or customs specific to your region so keep an eye out for similar guides that are unique to the courts in your jurisdiction, as well.

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.


New York judge weighs in on coaching witnesses during Zoom proceedings

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

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New York Judge Weighs in on Coaching Witnesses During Zoom Proceedings

It’s hard to believe that in the span of just a few short months, lawyers across the country have suddenly become technologically adept and are using a host of remote technology tools, including videoconferencing software. In the blink of an eye, interacting via videoconference is now a daily occurrence for both attorneys and judges alike, whether it’s for for meetings, court appearances, or hearings.

This unexpectedly rapid rate of adaptation to technology has been impressive, and I would argue, unprecedented. I’ve been writing about legal technology for a decade now, urging lawyers to sit up and take notice of emerging technologies. And in the process, I’ve correctly predicted a lot of legal technology trends.

But this wave of adoption? I didn’t see it coming. It’s amazing the impact a pandemic can have on what had previously been a steadfast resistance to technology adoption by many members of the legal profession, isn’t it?

Of course, now that we’re all “zooming,” as I recently heard a judge refer to it, a host of issues are beginning to arise relating to the practicalities and the ethics of using videoconferencing tools in lieu of in-person appearances. It was the former that was recently addressed by a federal court judge in the Southern District of New York.

In Joffe v. King & Spalding LLP, No. 17-cv-3392-VEC-SDA, a motion was brought before Judge Valerie E. Caproni by plaintiff’s counsel. At issue was whether plaintiff’s counsel could insist that “the remote deponent…provide, while on the record, a recording or screen-share of the deponent’s monitor.”

According to the plaintiff’s motion, the goal behind this provision was to prevent coaching of the remote deponent by defense counsel: “(A)t an in-person deposition, it is virtually guaranteed that any notes or messages passed to the deponent during the testimony would immediately be seen by questioning counsel (and by the videographer); while, at…a remote deposition, in the absence of screen-sharing it is virtually guaranteed that, e.g., emails and instant messages sent to the witness’s computer mid-testimony, could never be seen by anyone else.”

In response the motion, the defendant asserted that the plaintiff’s request to view the remote deponent’s computer screen was unwarranted and unduly intrusive. Judge Caproni agreed.

She concluded that although it was within her powers to impose a monitoring mechanism, it was not needed in this case. She explained that there was no indication that defense counsel had behaved impermissibly in the past and she saw no reason to believe he would do so in the future. Accordingly she directed defense counsel to provide opposing counsel with notice if he intended to privately confer with a witness. Additionally she required both attorneys to, “for the duration of their respective depositions…close all Internet browsers, messaging applications, email clients, or any other Internet page or computer program that could enable the receipt or initiation of an electronic communication, other than the platform used for the deposition. Ms. Moss and Mr. Fine are further directed to close any other applications that could generate any pop-up notification or window during their respective depositions.”

A reasonable compromise, if you ask me, and an interesting outcome to an interesting issue of first impression. As COVID-19 cases surge in many parts of the United States, this motion was no doubt one of the first of many related to remote legal proceedings that will be raised in courts across the county in the coming months.

It’s a brave and strange new world out there, but fortunately we have the technology we need to conquer it and ensure that the wheels of justice can continue to turn. There will undoubtedly be bumps and bruises along the way, but our judicial system will adapt and, with a little help from technology and commonsense decisions like this one, justice will prevail.

 

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.


How to get paid during the COVID-19 pandemic

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

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How to get paid during the COVID-19 pandemic

In March, life as we knew it ground to a halt as COVID-19 descended upon our country. For many law firms, this sudden departure from business as usual was an unexpected and unwelcome turn of events. As the virus quickly took hold, firms closed their doors and, to the extent that it was was possible, sent their employees home to work remotely.

With the unexpected and sudden transition to remote working came a host of challenges, not the least of which was getting paid by clients. Of course, ensuring that your firm has effective billing processes in place in the midst of a worldwide pandemic easier said than done. This is especially so if your firm isn’t already using legal billing software that is accessible remotely.

The good news is in 2020 there is easy-to-use and affordable remote billing software that is readily available and makes it easier than ever to get paid despite the pandemic. These cloud-based tools streamline the process of remotely invoicing clients and accepting online payments from clients. Here’s how and why your firms should make it a point to invest in this type of software in the near future, especially since there is no clear indication as to when life will return to some semblance of normal.

First, it goes without saying that if remote working is a necessity, then your firm needs to invest in billing tools that are easily accessed remotely, whether it’s legal billing software or law practice management software with billing capabilities. The simplest and most cost effective way to accomplish this is with cloud-based billing software or law practice management software with built in legal billing features. This software provides an out-of-the-box, streamlined billing process that makes it easier than ever to remotely track time, invoice clients, and accept online payments via credit card.

Next, simplify the invoice creation process. There are a host of ways to reduce legal billing inefficiencies, but one of the easiest is to reduce the number of steps needed to create and send out invoices. One way that most cloud-based legal billing tools accomplish this goal is by automatically providing necessary billing information, such as LEDES billing codes. Additionally, the built-in ability to customize invoices allows you to easily determine what information appears on your firm’s invoices, such as which time or expense entry columns you would like to appear on an invoice. You can create and edit those invoices from any location and then with the click of a button, send them to clients for payment.

Next, use cloud-based billing software that allows you to automate invoices reminders. With this built-in tool, you can schedule reminders when you send out the very first invoice to a client. If the invoice isn’t paid, a follow up invoice will automatically be sent to the client, reminding the client that the billed amount is still outstanding.

Finally, use make sure the cloud-based billing software allows clients to set up payment plans. By doing this you provide your clients with increased flexibility, making it easier to pay large legal bills - something that is especially important during a pandemic.

The bottom line: just because your law firm is operating virtually, doesn’t mean you can’t successfully collect payments from clients. With the right cloud-based software your law firm’s billing processes will be streamlined, and will include features that make it easier for clients to pay their legal bills. So what are you waiting for? Not only will investing in this software now make all the difference to your firm’s bottom line, it will likewise help to future-proof you law firm and ensure its continued success in the immediate future - whatever it may bring.

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.


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.


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.

*****

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.

*****

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.