Remote Working Survival Guide – 7 Strategies for Law Firms

Law Firms Working Remotely – 8 Strategies to Keep Your Firm Moving Forward

Introduction

We live in strange times.

Working remotely, once thought of as a luxury or optional benefit, is now a requirement for many law firms, and likely many more to come.

Some law firms have had robust tools to work remotely for a long time. But many either don’t have the capability to work outside of their office, or rely on clunky tools and methods to do so (such as VPN’s, or remotely logging into your work PC from your home PC).

And in these turbulent times, your firm need to do more than simply limp along: it needs to move forward and thrive.

For that reason, we’re sharing our survival guide on how to work remotely, and how to do it effectively. We’ll cover each critical aspect of a law firm’s technology, and how to move, enhance or otherwise alter it to work in a remote-working capacity.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • 1. Your Practice Management, Billing and Accounting Software
  • 2. Your Files, Folders and/or Document Management System
  • 3. Your Email
  • 4. Your Fax Machines / Service
  • 5. Internal Team Communication
  • 6. Your Phone System
  • 7. Electronic Signatures
  • 8. Virtual Desktop Solutions

Let’s get started.

First: Resist the Urge to Implement a Quick Band-Aid

First things first: Avoid the urge to implement a jerry-rigged (but fast) way to work remotely. We get it: you’re panicked, and need a way for your staff to work from home ASAP.

For example, setting up the ability to log into your work PC from a home computer may be fast, but it’s slow, clunky, inefficient and only works for as long as your work PC is up and operational. Working remotely in this way is a bit like picking up a pile of dimes with gloves on: it can be done, but it’s a slow and frustrating process.

Similarly inadequate solutions include VPN tunnels and basic, consumer-grade cloud storage. If you absolutely must setup a quick-and-dirty remote access solution because your firm needs a solution today, we strongly advise that you do so while simultaneously developing a robust medium and long-term remote working strategy.

Related Video:

1. Your Practice Management, Billing and Accounting Software

If your firm uses web-based practice management software such as CosmoLex, Rocket Matter, Practice Panther or Clio–you already have the ability to work remotely (and probably already use it regularly). But many law firms, particularly firms over 5 total users, rely on the more robust category of premise-based practice management software. Applications like:

Each of these are sophisticated, powerful practice management platforms that are deeply ingrained into many law firms. They are not, however, inherently cloud based, and therefor don’t lend themselves to working remotely. By default.

The Solution

Each of these applications must be hosted on a server–of one kind or another. A law firm can, however, move to a private cloud.

A private cloud is a hosted platform that hosts your server-based software for you (and includes all necessary server maintenance, backups, and security). A private cloud not only allows your firm to work remotely, it provides complete remotes access to all of your firm’s software, documents, data and email.

(Beyond remote access, many law firms move to a private cloud for the enhanced security, reliability and simplicity they provide.)

Private Cloud for Law Firms

Uptime Practice is a cloud platforms that empowers law firms to eliminate servers, secure their data and work from anywhere. Contact us to learn how Uptime Practice can benefit your law firm.

Contact us to learn more:

Related:

Private Cloud solutions are used by your team via a Virtual Desktop, which we’ll cover in more detail below.

2. Your Files, Folders and/or Document Management System

Next, let’s talk about your file system. That could be a basic network drive (eg: “the S: drive,”) or specific document management software such as Worldox, iManage, or LexWorkplace.

On-premise file servers and network drives don’t lend themselves to remote access. Your firm’s S: drive (or whatever letter has been assigned to your firm’s main document repository) is available when you’re in the office, but not from elsewhere. Similarly, older, premise-based Document Management Systems like Worldox, iManage and eDocs are hosted on your firm’s on-site servers and, by default, only accessible while working from the office.

The Solution

The solution, as you might imagine, is to move your file system off of any local servers or software, and onto a cloud-based system of some kind.

If you’re a very small law firm of one to four people, this may be nothing more than a basic cloud-based file system such as:

These services will give you remote access to your files, but are largely meant for personal use and very small businesses. As a result, law firms of five people more or more tend to need a solution that’s more robust, feature-rich and made for law firms.

For this, law firms look to cloud-based document management software. Unlike local file servers and basic cloud storage, a Document Management System does more than just hold files and folders; a DMS provides law firms with client/matter-centric organization and tools to manage documents. Tools like:

  • Full-text search
  • OCR
  • Document Tagging and Profiling
  • Version Management
  • Document Check-Out
  • Email Management / Outlook Integration

And cloud-based document management systems will securely store your firm’s data in the cloud, allowing your firm to work from anywhere.

Cloud-based Document Management for Law Firms

LexWorkplace is modern document management, born in the cloud, built for law firms. LexWorkplace keeps your client and matter date secure, searchable and organized… all while enabling your entire firm to work from anywhere.

Contact us to learn more:

Alternatively, legacy (premise-based) document management applications like Worldox and iManage can be moved to a private cloud in much the same way as practice management and billing software.

3. Your Email

If your law firm uses an email service like Office 365 or a third-party Hosted Exchange, then your email is already in the cloud and you’re ready to send and receive email remotely. As your law firm shifts to remote-work mode, you’ll want to make sure that every member of your firm:

  • Has Outlook setup on their laptop or home computer (or both).
  • Has their email setup on their smart phone

If your law firm is still using an in-house/on-premise Exchange server for email, there may be more work to do before everyone can seamlessly access email remotely. Your IT firm will need to enable and configure the necessary Exchange components to make your email accessible from outside of your law firm’s local network, as well as make your email accessible from a smart phone.

If your firm hasn’t done this already, I recommend doing it ASAP, or (better yet) shifting your firm to a cloud-based Exchange email service such as Office 365.

Many private cloud services, like Uptime Practice, also include Hosted Exchange as part of the service. You may also wish to consider implementing an Email Management System like LexWorkplace to centrally store and manage client/matter-related emails int he cloud.

4. Your Fax Machines / Service

If your law firm still uses physical faxes for sending and receiving faxes, you’ll likely find it difficult to operate when some or all of your workforce is working remotely. if you haven’t already, we seriously recommend implementing an electronic fax service. These services provide a local fax number for your firm, all faxes sent to this number will arrive to you by email, to any email address you specify.

For instance, you may have all incoming faxes go to a specific group of people within your firm. Or, you may prefer that incoming faxes arrive in an ‘Incoming Fax’ Public Folder in your Exchange/Outlook.

Electronic fax services also let you send faxes electronically, by “printing” documents to the fax software, or by sending faxes via an online web portal.

Popular online fax services include:

Related:

5. Team Communications

Another essential to any modern workplace (virtual or otherwise) is a capable internal team communication tool. Specifically, one where your employees can chat and send instant messages, either one-on-one or in a group. And something other than email.

Email is great for certain kinds of communications, but it’s terrible for short messages and ongoing group dialogues. Using email to ask a colleague a quick question, or start a discussion about an upcoming project is a quick way to get overwhelmed with email clutter.

The two predominate tools for internal team communication is Slack and Microsoft Teams.

Both Slack and Teams provide easy-to-use instant messaging (direct messages between coworkers) as well as “Channels,” which are reminiscent of 90’s era chat rooms and IRC. You can make channels public (available to your entire firm) or private (available only to select users within your firm.) For instance, you can create:

  • A private Partners channel, for the partner team
  • A channel for each Practice Group within your firm
  • A Billing channel, for all staff involved with client billing

Tools like Slack and Teams keep your team connected and significantly cut down on email clutter. And of course, you can run both applications with the installed desktop app, on your smart phone or in a browser.

Slack and Teams are both great products. Slack is the “original,” but Teams is included in some Office 365 subscriptions.

Related: PC Magazine, Microsoft Teams vs. Slack

Whether your firm needs to work remotely or not–a team messaging tool should absolutely be part of your firm’s technology toolkit.

6. Your Phone System

Many law firm still have on-premise phone systems, also known as a PBX. This means that the firm’s phone system is analogous to an on-premise server: A piece of equipment that physically sits within the law firm’s office, and that must be maintained (like a server) and doesn’t provide out-of-the-box remote working capabilities (also like a server).

Using mobile phones as a working-remotely strategy probably will suffice for solos and very small law practices; however, this will begin to fall apart for firms of 5 or more people.

We recommend implementing a hosted PBX solution for your law firm. Not just because it enables your law firm to work from anywhere (which it does), but because hosted phone systems bring the same flexibility and reliability that cloud computing does for technology.

With a hosted PBX, everyone in your law firm, whether they’re working from your main office, a satellite office, or home, functions as if they were in the office. For example, if you’ve configured your firm’s main number to ring three specific people, a hosted PBX will do just that–regardless of where people are any given day.

Voicemails come in to your email inbox. Users in your firm can use a physical phone at their desk (just like normal) or a soft phone, telephone software that turns your computer and headset into a fully-functional office phone.

Popular hosted PBX services include:

7. Electronic Signatures

Your firm will need to continue to conduct business and obtain signatures on various documents. If you haven’t already adopted one, I recommend implementing an electronic signature platform.

These solutions allow you to upload documents (in almost any format), drop a signature field (or other fields) onto the document, and circulate the document for signatures. Recipients receive the document by email, and simply click a link and can sign all documents electronically. Most electronic signature applications provide an additional layer of authentication and security by recording the IP address and other identifiable information, making electronically-signed documents legally enforceable.

Electronic signature applications are great beyond simply working remotely; they provide an easier way to circulate, sign and track documents.

For instance, if you find yourself sending the same document for signature again and again (say, a client retainer agreement), you can save that document as a template, and then send to anyone for signature in just a few clicks.

Popular electronic signature platforms include:

8. Virtual Desktop Solution

Finally, our last solution for working remotely as a law firm may be the most valuable, and the one that ties your work-from-home law firm together: the Virtual Desktop.

A Virtual Desktop is a desktop, like the Windows or Apple desktop you log into and use at home and work, that is hosted in the cloud, and that you can access anytime, anywhere. Typically, your Virtual Desktop will have the software that you need every day, like Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, along with your law practice management software, accounting software, even your document management software.

The Virtual Desktop makes your law firm’s software, which is otherwise only available from your work computer or while connected to your office’s servers, available from any computer in the world.

Virtual Desktop solutions are sometimes also referred to as “Desktop-as-a-Service,” or DaaS (analogous to “Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS).

Behind-the-scenes, the Virtual Desktop solution is powered by servers, in the cloud, managed by a professional Cloud Service Provider. Typically this means that the Cloud Service Provider manages all system maintenance, software updates, backups and security… and all you (and your team) have to do is log into your Virtual Desktop, and log out when you’re done.

With the many clear advantages of using a Virtual Desktop for law firms, the question becomes: What software applications can run within a Virtual Desktop?

Virtual desktops can host virtually any Windows-based software. This is especially useful to law firms who run Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat, WordPerfect, and a myriad of practice management, case management, billing, accounting, and document management applications.

This includes today’s most popular law practice management and document management software. Traditional, premise-based practice management applications in particular tend to be more robust and feature-rich than their web-based counterparts. Virtual Desktops enable law firms to take advantage of the benefits of cloud computing, without abandoning their software for more basic, “watered-down” alternatives.

Quite a few software packages used by law firms can be run in a Virtual Desktop, including:

  • ProLaw
  • PCLaw
  • Time Matters
  • Tabs3
  • PracticeMaster
  • Needles

  • TrialWorks
  • Worldox
  • Microsoft Office
  • WordPerfect
  • QuickBooks
  • Timeslips

Learn more about Virtual Desktops for Law Firms:

Closing the Loop

And with that, we’ve covered how to address working remotely with each of the 8 main areas of your law firm’s technology. Perhaps the biggest take-away is that implementing these tools and methodologies isn’t just good during times of crisis, but forever.

The more that members of your firm can work from home, from a client site, from the courthouse, the more effective they’ll be in the near-term and the long-term.