Empowering Lawyers Who Must Work Remotely

By Matt James on March 24, 2020
Matt James

Matt is the Vice President of Pre-Sales at Litera, where he oversees the Sales Engineering and Evangelist teams. Matt and team focus on improving the day to day of legal professionals by eliminating challenges with improved process and technology. While advocating the needs of our customers, it’s also critical that the Evangelists balance that with challenging status quo to force change.

Litera’s business continuity series, which began last week, dives into the unprecedented challenges we are all facing and looks at how technology can help provide what law firms need to continue serving their clients, even while their teams are working remotely, unable to travel or meet face-to-face with clients, and otherwise disrupted from their regular routines.

We’re seeing some major changes within the legal industry, where the coronavirus pandemic has spurred lawyers—however reluctant they may have been before—to take a much-needed leap forward in their acceptance and use of technology, especially remote work technology. The challenge is that this change has had to occur essentially overnight. It is, as another author observed, “a massive shift in working method—operationally, technically, culturally, and emotionally..”

While the transition might be bumpy, rest assured: we have the tools we need to do this. We have videoconferencing technology to keep lawyers connected with their colleagues and clients even when they can’t sit together in person. We have collaboration and project management technology that can keep legal teams all working on the same page and enable junior associates to reach out to their mentors with questions and concerns. And we have document management technology that allows lawyers to access their library of existing content, create and check new documents, and even collaborate on those documents from wherever they happen to be working.

Will this be a tremendous challenge? Yes. There’s no sugarcoating that.

But there’s evidence that imposing limits is a powerful way to boost creativity—and, as we’re all swimming in a sea of limits right now, I staunchly believe that we’ll find new ways to rise to the occasion and emerge from this experience better than we were before.

Here’s how law firms can empower their employees—lawyers and support staff alike—to work remotely in the coming weeks.

What Lawyers Need for Remote Work

It’s not enough, as we said last week, to send people home with their computers and tell them to go about their business. We need to empower them—with technology, yes, but also with authority and support—to do their jobs.

  1. For lawyers to work remotely, they obviously need basic IT equipment—laptops, Wi-Fi access, VPNs, software access, and more—as well as communication and productivity tools. Thankfully, most lawyers now have laptops, though they may have never been on an actual lap and will need the support they require to use them effectively from home. Like other businesses, law firms must tackle serious concerns about their IT infrastructure capabilities, their cybersecurity from remote locations, their ability to maintain data privacy, and more. But law firms must also listen to their lawyers, ensuring that they have specialized technology that meets their unique needs, that is easy to use, that allows them to replicate—as much as possible—their in-office workflows, and that enables them to collaborate quickly and easily with their colleagues.
  2. Self-sufficiency. Those commodity tasks that you’ve thus far outsourced to your support staff? It’s time you learned how to handle those yourself. Whether it’s connecting to your VPN or formatting a document, lawyers are likely to find that they need to handle more as everyone on their team is stretched to max capacity. Fortunately, tools like Litera Desktop are intuitive and easy to use. Plus, with everything that’s unfamiliar, unsettling, and uncertain right now, there’s comfort in focusing on basic, familiar tools and work environments like Microsoft Word, where our entire toolbar is available. If you get really stumped, our DocER service is available to fix document errors with a rapid turnaround.
  3. Support. Lawyers need the freedom and the authority to come up with solutions and workarounds as they’re doing their work, but they need to know that a level of support is available if or when it is needed. This isn’t the time to impose more draconian policies. Staying home and self-quarantining is hard enough; support your lawyers but, to the extent possible, let them make decisions about their work as they need to.

What Lawyers Don’t Need While Working Remotely

  1. Shiny new distractions. We’re in a pain-management phase right now. Don’t worry about fancy cutting-edge technology: emphasize tools that will enable you and your staff to get your essential tasks done. Figure out how to talk to clients and coworkers and how to access your documents in the cloud.
  2. Lawyers—at every level—need to be empowered right now, not nitpicked. We’re all navigating new ways of working. Stay in touch, but don’t demand moment-to-moment updates on status or progress. Focus on what you can do to get work done and support your team, not on what you wish everyone else were doing. If you’re the quarterback, it’s not your job to make your receiver catch the ball—you just have to get the ball to the right place and trust your teammates to do their part.
  3. Even if you have a home office set up with a computer and printer, you probably don’t have the high-capacity printing capabilities you’re used to at your firm. Not having this type of technology or the ability to collect wet signatures can delay transactions. But with tools like Litera Transact, which digitizes transactions, you won’t need reams of paper or physical signatures removing the barriers to getting the deal closed. Remember that paper-free, computerized office we all thought we were moving toward decades ago, where we did everything instantly with a few clicks? We’re suddenly headed there at warp speed.

As a managing partner at one law firm in Zurich told us, “It’s a new experience for all of us, but we have accommodated it pretty well and we’ve done so very quickly. We’ve been forced to use digital and online capabilities, primarily in conferencing, which we’ve historically struggled to implement and adopt, because people prefer to work the way we have for the last 30 years. So, we’ve been able to attain the benefit of an extreme boost in accommodating remote working styles and interacting with people online, collaborating across borders without traveling. We believe these are all skills that will be essential sooner or later based on how we function as a society, not just related to coronavirus but also to other environmental problems. We obviously would have preferred to experience this under better circumstances.”

While you can’t control the circumstances, your mission is to stay calm, cool, collected, and connected so that you can support your clients as they face those same circumstances. Likewise, we are here to support you.

Please let us know how we can help.

In part three of our series, we’ll be looking at how lawyers can maintain—or even improve—their client relationships without face-to-face meetings. If you missed it, you can find the first piece in our business continuity series here.

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