The legal profession is facing an unprecedented challenge in the COVID-19 quarantines and social distancing. Almost overnight many lawyers who depended on a brick-and-mortar, paper-driven practice are being forced to change the way they do business and for some the task feels nearly impossible. For those of you struggling to figure out how your business can adapt, or if you just wish you had a few more tools to ease the transition, I have good news: If you’re reading this, you have a computer, and if you have a computer, I can help.
VPN & Remote Desktop
Step 1 to leaving the brick-and-mortar office behind is to set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) and a remote access to your desktop. This will allow you to turn your home computer—or any computer or laptop, for that matter—into your work computer; that way you won’t have to worry about transferring files or programs from one machine to another. With a VPN and remote desktop, your home computer will sync with your work computer so it’ll be just like you’re at the office. This will require a bit of set up; if you haven’t done so already, contact your IT person ASAP to get it done. If that’s not an option, contact me (email@example.com or on social media @jordanlcouch) and I can give you some recommendations.
Grab What You Need from the Office
You and your staff may not have the setup they need to be able to work from home, so take what you need. In our office we had a few of our staff take their computers home or even a desk chair if they needed it. Do you have some files you’re working on? Take them home. No matter how good you are at running a paperless, high-tech office, you might find there are some things where you still need the analog version. I’ll confess that as tech forward as my firm is, I have to go back to the office next week to grab a folder with some printed research. We have no idea how long this will last, so take what you need and trust your team enough to let them do the same.
I can’t imagine a law firm that could exist without a fair share of people signing documents. Thankfully, there is no reason you have to meet in person (or wait for mail) to do so. There are dozens of companies that will let you send and sign documents through email; HelloSign, DocuSign, and Adobe Sign (formerly EchoSign), to name a few. (If you already use Adobe Acrobat for PDFs, it comes with its own send and sign tool.) Clients don’t even need a desktop computer to use any of these—they can sign directly on their phone with their finger. Each of these companies tracks the document and provides a certification of who signed it, when, and how.
This is less essential if you have a VPN and remote desktop; but it’s 2020, so all lawyers should have cloud-based document storage already. With your whole system in the cloud, working from home (or anywhere else) is simple, seamless, and stupendous. You can read more of my thoughts on cloud storage and other tools in “5 Tech Tools for the Innovative Lawyer.”
Video Conferences and VoIP
For those who want to take their virtual practice to the next level, it’s time to invest in some video conferencing software and a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone system. VoIP allows you to take your phone with you wherever you go (no landlines) by accessing it over the internet on a computer or phone. There are thousands of companies that offer this (personally, I use Microsoft Teams). But you’ll also want to make sure you have video-conferencing software that is easily accessible for your clients or whomever else you’re communicating. I’m a big fan of Zoom because it doesn’t require my clients to download an app, and people can call in without having to use the internet or the video options. It’s great for large meetings and one-on-one meetings with clients or potential clients.
A lot of lawyers I know are concerned with what the future of courtrooms looks like. I can tell you from experience it will be fine. In the world of workers’ compensation, virtual hearings are not uncommon. Many of my court conferences are conducted by phone. Perpetuation depositions are nearly universal. Having done depositions by phone and by video chat, here’s my main tip: Make every effort possible to have video conferences be part of any court procedures you have. Video conferences feel almost normal; phone proceedings do not.
The Road Ahead
If you want to see what else is out there, Robert Ambrogi has created an amazing list of free resources and software to help attorneys through this time. I know all of this is chaotic right now, but I promise that no matter what your practice area, you can make it through this, and even though you should close your office, there is no reason you have to close your firm. You can easily have all the tools you need to make it through.