For lawyers across the country, working remotely became an unsettling requirement nearly overnight last spring as many governors and mayors began requiring the closure of non-essential businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the rapid shift to remote work, many firms struggled to identify the tools their “virtual” law firm needed to get up and running quickly so that they could continue to work remotely from home and serve their clients’ important legal needs.
But in the year since, many firms have discovered tools to make remote legal work easier — and have identified areas where they need to up their virtual legal work game or risk poor document management or becoming a viral meme.
Luckily, setting your firm up for remote work is easier than ever in 2021. Cloud-based technologies have proliferated in recent years, offering a vast array of tools to run nearly every aspect of your law firm remotely.
Using these tools in your law firm is also, this author believes, ethically permissible. Ethics committees from more than 20 states, including Louisiana, have weighed in and concluded that attorneys may ethically use cloud computing software to store and transmit confidential client data as long as reasonable care is exercised in vetting the cloud provider prior to using its services.
But it’s important for law firms to establish strong cybersecurity security procedures and provide their staff adequate training on those policies. Ensure that all employees fully understand the procedures and the risks, including how to avoid malware and how to recognize suspicious phishing emails.
Here are six types of cloud-based technologies that can help make remote legal work easier and more efficient.
Many of us are struggling with Zoom fatigue. But like it or not, video conferencing tools have become a staple of post-COVID life. These tools do offer important features for attorneys, such as allowing you to have securely encrypted face-to-face video meetings with clients, work colleagues and co-counsel, as well as participating virtually in remote depositions and court proceedings. Zoom has become the most common video conferencing tool, largely because it is free and easy to use, but high profile “zoombooming” incidents have raised concerns about security on the platform. Other options such as Skype and Microsoft Teams offer similar features, but law firms should also consider legal field-specific platforms such as Legaler, which offers enhanced security features and integrates with Clio – one of the world’s most popular legal client management software platforms.
But as recent blunders reveal, ensuring that your team is properly trained on whichever platform you use is essential to preventing the problems that can crop up in video conferences.
VOIP Phone Systems
Reliable phone systems with conferencing capabilities are an essential tool for most law firms. Unfortunately, most of these systems are tied to the firm’s brick and mortar law office. That’s where VoiP (voice over internet protocol) phone systems come in. With VoIP, calls are routed over internet protocol networks; all that is required is an internet connection. The end result is that you’re no longer tethered to your law office. Using VoiP, you typically can make and receive unlimited phone calls (including international calls, in many cases), conduct conference calls, receive (and store) messages in different formats, and much more. These services offer features such as:
- A mobile app so that you can answer calls from important clients even when you’re out of the office.
- Call recording, tracking, and logging so you can keep track of case details from anywhere (always check local rules on the permissibility of recording calls).
- Allowing your calls made from your smartphone through the mobile app to show your name or firm’s name so that you maintain a professional appearance and hide your private number.
Some popular VOIP options include Vonage, 8×8, and Ring Central.
Law Practice Management Software
Effective remote legal work requires being able to easily access law firm data and documents virtually. Law firm information should be located in one centralized location and will include, among other things: 1) contacts and calendars, 2) invoicing and time-tracking, 3) documents and other matter-related data, 4) internal and external communications, and 5) financial data. With cloud-based law practice management (LPM) software, you can access all of this and more. Some LPM systems even include built-in e-signature capabilities, lead management tools, integrated email, 2-way text messaging, and secure communication and collaboration tools such as a client portal.
Document Management Tools
As e-filing requirements have increased in light of today’s “social distancing” reality and as remote court proceedings and depositions become increasingly the norm, going paperless has been an imperative for legal offices. A reliable and high powered digital scanner is essential, as are tools such as online fax services that make it easy to send and receive documents in digital format. Depending on the service you choose, documents can be sent and received via email, an online portal, or via a smartphone app.
Collaborative Word Processing Tools
If your office has not yet made the switch to online word processing tools, now is the time. With online word processing, you’re able to log on from any internet-enabled device and access word processing software in the cloud to create documents that can be stored online in one convenient location. Even better—there are collaboration tools built right into the software that make it easy for lawyers to work together in real time.
Relying on non-cloud-based work processing tools such as Word can introduce formatting and editing errors to documents as they go through the process of being downloaded and uploaded multiple times. Performing all of your document creation and processing in the cloud prevents that issue and creates a more seamless process for document management. While there are multiple options for cloud-based word processing, the Google Workspace Suite, including Docs, Sheets, Slides and Forms, has been the gold-standard for collaborative document management.
Last but not least, there’s speech-to-text dictation tools. This voice-recognition technology streamlines the document creation process, allowing you to bypass the inefficient and time-consuming back and forth involved in the traditional dictation process. Instead of dictating to a tape, which you then must physically hand off to a staff member to type, you simply speak, and the text instantaneously appears on the screen in front of you. Twenty-first-century digital dictation tools can reduce the time it takes to produce documents significantly. Otter, Google Docs Voice Typing, and Apple Dictation all offer AI-enabled dictation and transcription for note-taking at meetings, interviews, and lectures, as well as transcribing videos and webinars. Rev is a transcription service that offers automated transcriptions as well as human-generated transcripts for low fees.