Legal Practice

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.


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. 


Run a 21st-century law firm with these books

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

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Run a 21st-century law firm with these books

Running a small law firm isn’t easy. Practicing law is a full-time job in and of itself, and as a result most small firm lawyers don’t have the luxury of letting others run the back-end of their law firm. Instead, they’re often responsible for many of the day-to-day tasks involved in managing the business end of their practices, whether it’s hiring employees, managing the books, invoicing and collecting payments from clients, or marketing their practice.
And then there are the administrative and IT functions that small firm lawyers take on themselves. These can include handling client intake, managing calendars, drafting documents, choosing and maintaining computer hardware, and selecting software for the firm.
No wonder you sometimes feel overwhelmed! Because you singlehandedly take on so many different roles, there’s too much to do and not enough hours in the day. You need all the help you can get! Fortunately, there are lots of books available designed to do just that: provide you with the guidance you need to run your small law firm efficiently and profitably. What follows are a few of my top recommendations.
First, there’s “Solo By Choice: How to be the Lawyer You Always Wanted to Be” and the “Solo By Choice, the Companion Guide,” both written by lawyer Carolyn Elefant. These books walk you through the ins and outs of starting your own law firm and cover everything you need to know about starting and managing a successful solo or small firm practice.

Next up is “The 2019 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide,” written by Sharon D. Nelson, John W. Simek, and Michael C. Maschke.  In this book, which is updated and revised annually, you’ll learn all about how to make smart technology decisions for your law firm. This book will help you sift through your technology choices, which range from hardware options to legal software tools designed to simplify the lives of solo and small-firm lawyers.

Speaking of technology, if you have senior lawyers in your law firm who are either resistant to technology or are struggling to keep up, make sure to invest in a copy of “Technology Tips for Seniors, Volume 2.0,” written by Ashley Hallene and Jeffrey M. Allen. This book includes a mobile device app guide and offers lots of other useful information that will help senior lawyers improve their productivity by learning about, understanding, and using technology.

Another book to consider if you’re seeking ways to innovate and stand out in today’s increasingly crowded legal marketplace is “Legal Upheaval: A Guide to Creativity, Collaboration, and Innovation in the Law.” In this book, author Michele DeStafano explains why the legal industry is in the middle of an unavoidable transformation, and provides ideas to help lawyers innovate in order to succeed in the new world order.

“How to Capture and Keep Clients: Marketing Strategies for Lawyers, Second Edition” is another book to read for advice on how to successfully market your law firm in 2019. This book is edited by jennifer j. rose and includes chapters from more than 27 lawyers and legal marketing experts who offer lots of great legal marketing ideas and advice.

As you put all of your learnings into action and your firm begins to thrive, you’ll no doubt seek to grow your firm by hiring new employees. That’s where “Effectively Staffing Your Law Firm, 2nd Edition” comes in. This book is also edited by jennifer j. rose and each chapter is written by experts - many of whom are lawyers - and covers everything you need to know about hiring staff, firing staff, and everything in between.

And last but not least, as you begin the process of hiring new employees, you’ll most likely encounter a Millennial or two along the way. If so, you may be struggling to understand your new hires. That’s where “What Millennial Lawyers Want” comes in. In this book, author Susan Smith Blakely explains what makes this generation tick and how managing law firm partners can change their outlook and embrace the many qualities that make Millennial employees a unique and valuable asset for law firms.

So what are you waiting for? Invest in a few of these books today and then put your newfound knowledge to work. In no time, you’ll be reaping the benefits of your investment and will be on the path to a successful and profitable law practice!

 

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: Secure Communication, Cybersecurity, Podcasts for Lawyers, 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 from October 2018:


Round Up: Legal Beach Reads, Alternative Fees, 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 from May 2018:

 


Round Up: Robot Lawyers, Document Management Software, Productivity Tips, & 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 Daily Record articles in the round up since I re-publish them to this blog in full). Here are my posts and articles from February 2018:


Plan for 2015 with these solo/small firm resources

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "

Plan for 2015 with these solo/small firm resources."  My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Plan for 2015 with these solo/small firm resources

 

The new year is upon us and it’s time to start planning for 2015. For solo and small firm lawyers, annual planning can be an arduous task. Not only do you have to stay abreast of changes in your practice areas — you are also tasked with making business decisions about the direction of your law firm.

The good news is that there are lots of resources out there for solo and small firm lawyers to help you stay on top of running your busy law practice. Here are a few to get you started.

First, there are lots of great books that cover the basics of running your law firm. There’s the recently updated “Solo By Choice: How to be the Lawyer You Always Wanted to Be” and “Solo By Choice, the Companion Guide,” both written by solo guru Carolyn Elefant. There’s also the more traditional stand by, “How to Start and Build a Law Practice by Jay Foonberg.” Another great book for 21st century legal practitioners is “Limited Scope Legal Services: Unbundling and the Self-Help Client” by Stephanie L. Kimbro. And, of course, I think that my book, “Cloud Computing for Lawyers,” is a great technology resource for lawyers, but then again I might be biased.

Law blogs devoted to solo and small firm attorneys are another great way to find information to help you plan for 2015. First, there’s Attorney at Work, a group blog focused on a wide range of topics focused on running a small firm practice. Lawsites is a blog written by Bob Ambrogi and covers everything you need to know about the latest in legal technology. My Shingle is Carolyn Elefant’s long-standing and helpful blog dedicated to all things solo. Finally, there’s the ABA’s Law Technology Today blog, which addresses need-to-know technology topics for solo and small firm attorneys.

There are also a number of useful online forums available for solo and small firm practitioners. First, there’s Solosez, a free listserv for solos sponsored by the American Bar Association’s GPSolo section and where lawyers discuss all aspects of running their law firms. The Macs in Law Offices Google Group, is a great forum for lawyers who use Apple computers and devices in their law offices. Also useful is Solo Practice University, which is an online university designed to teach lawyers how to open up and run a solo practice. And last but not least, there is the Google + Community, Lawyers on G+, where lawyers gather to discuss the ins and outs of running their practices.

Finally, don’t forget about the vast assortment of legal conferences aimed at solo and small firm lawyers. These conference provide fantastic educational and networking opportunities, so why not invest in your practice and your future by attending at least one or two of these next year? First, there’s the solo/small firms conferences, which cover a variety of topics of interest to lawyers seeking to run their law firms more efficiently and economically and are always well worth the time spent attending them. The American Bar Association’s Solo and Small Firm annual conference is a great place to start. Also useful are the various solo and small firm conferences sponsored by state bar associations, And last but not least, consider attending ABA Techshow, a conference held in the spring in Chicago, which focuses on using legal technologies to run solo and small firm law practices.

So now that you are armed with law practice management resources, why not spend some time coming up with a plan to get your firm off on the right foot? Invest a little time up front and make 2015 the best year it can be!

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for the modern law firm. She is also a GigaOM Pro Analyst and 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 West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at niki@mycase.com.


Ethics of VLOs and advertising in New York

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Ethics of VLOs and advertising in New York."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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The legal profession is in a state of flux. New technologies are changing the ways that lawyers advertise and deliver legal services. Internet-based tools, including social media and cloud computing, offer lawyers more choices than ever when it comes to running their practices and reaching potential clients.

As a result, innovation in the delivery of legal services, driven by rapid changes in technology, has increased greatly in recent years, with virtual law offices (VLOs) being a prime example. VLOs — where lawyers deliver legal services using an online portal — have become much more common, both because these types of practices are very flexible and cost-effective and because new cloud-based platforms have been introduced which are designed to support VLOs.

But as is always the case when lawyers innovate in the delivery of legal services, VLOs can trigger a host of ethical issues. Last month, the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Professional Ethics addressed some of those issues in Opinion 964 (April 4).

In this opinion, the committee addressed two questions asked by an attorney who operated a virtual law practice out of her home and provided legal services and interacted with clients primarily using the Internet or by other electronic means. The inquiring attorney sough clarification regarding two different issues: 1) Whether she could use a commercial mailbox service address, in lieu of her home address, as her only office address listed in advertisements, and 2) Whether she could use a commercial mailbox service address as the only office address listed on business cards and letterhead.

The committee first addressed the definition of the term “principal law office address” as set forth in Rule 7.1(h), which provides, in relevant part, that “[a]ll advertisements shall include … the principal law office address … of the lawyer or law firm whose services are being offered.” The Committee reviewed past iterations of this rule, including the advertising rules adopted by the Appellate Divisions in 2007, which  changed the term “office address” as set forth in DR 2-101(k), the prior version of the rule, to “principal law office address” as it section now appears in DR 2-101(h), the current version of the rule.

The committee explained that it interpreted the fact that the term changed so little from one iteration of the rule to the next to mean that the Appellate Divisions’ intent continued to be that “all lawyer advertisements were to disclose the address of an office where the lawyers were present and available for contact, and where personal service or delivery of legal papers could be effected.”

Accordingly, the committee concluded that in order to avoid misleading the legal consumer, all advertising for legal services must include the street address of the lawyer’s principal office, even if that address is the lawyer’s home address, as was the case with the inquiring attorney. However, the committee also determined that so long as the attorney’s business cards and letterhead were not being used as advertising, but instead were being “used in the ordinary course of professional practice or social intercourse without primary intent to secure retention,” then a mail drop address could be listed as the sole address without mention of the attorney’s principal address — in this case, her home address.

I believe the committee’s conclusion in this case is misguided and fails to acknowledge the realities of a 21st century law practice. In fact, I criticized the requirement that a lawyer include the address of a home office in advertisements back in 2007 when the new advertising rules were enacted. As I explained in 2007, one way to avoid the risk of misleading the legal consumer regarding an attorney’s location while maintaining the privacy and safety of a lawyer with a home office is to require that attorney advertising list the county or city in which the attorney practices along with a mail drop address, but not the exact address of the home office.

This opinion surprised me, since more often than not, the New York State Bar is ahead of the curve when it comes to addressing the ethical issues triggered by new technologies. But in this case, the committee’s decision is surprisingly short-sighted and penalizes innovative lawyers seeking to serve legal clients more efficiently and cost effectively. This is an unfortunate decision that I don’t think will withstand the test of time.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and Director of Business Development and Community Relations at MyCase, an intuitive cloud-based law practice management platform for the modern law firm. She is also a GigaOM Pro Analyst and 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 West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at niki@mycase.com.


A Mobile Practice Management Infographic and a Giveaway!

First, the giveaway. Head on over to the MyCase blog to enter to win a free copy of the JuryPad app, compliments of the good folks at Bench&Bar, LLC. The JuryPad iPad app is designed to streamline the jury selection process by assisting lawyers during voir dire. Using this app you can create voir dire templates and then keep track of potential jurors’ demographics and voir dire responses using a customizable seating chart. Enter to win today!

Next, check out this great infographic that we created and published at the MyCase blog that is chock full of useful and interesting statistics about lawyers use of mobile law practice management tools. It offers lots of insight into how attorneys are communicating with their clients and managing their busy law practices while mobile and on the move.

 

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