Whether you have considered setting up a virtual law firm before, or if COVID-19 has forced the issue, here are eight steps to help you seamlessly transition into serving your clients online.
What are the benefits of setting up a virtual law firm?
With COVID-19 closing down non-essential businesses, law firms may be left scrambling to continue serving their clients in new ways. Court systems across the U.S. may limiting their in-person hearings and trails for now, but there are still clients who will need help. Clients in need of wills and advice on tenants’ rights will be looking for firms that can pivot to remote virtual offices to help everyone stay safe.
Another sticky part of this challenging time is family law. Families with children who are moving between households have special considerations and may need to consult with a lawyer. Additionally, if a parent responsible for child support loses their job, where can they turn?
Setting up a virtual law firm ensures that you can help meet your clients’ needs, even in extraordinary times. It also positions your firm as a flexible, mobile option for people who cannot come to your office in the future. Further, it allows your team to work from home on an ongoing permanent basis or flexible schedule.
How to set up a virtual law firm
Setting up a virtual law firm helps you make sure your clients get the help they need to navigate during this global pandemic. Your firm’s tasks may be more substantial, but in general, you can start with these steps to set up your remote law firm.
1. Communicate proactively and consistently
With a physical office, location is everything, but when you are transitioning to a virtual law firm, the rules are different: communicate, communicate, communicate.
Your clients have plenty to worry about without wondering if their lawyer is available. Get your team in place quickly and lay the groundwork for becoming a work at home law firm by setting up scheduled and recurring check-in meetings.
Have scheduled daily or weekly check-ins with your team to see what’s on their agenda, where they might need support, to troubleshoot issues with technology, and to keep them updated on any changes while setting up a remote law firm.
Likewise, schedule recurring check-ins with your clients. Depending on the scope of their matter, this may be a weekly call with their attorney or it could be a monthly email to check in and update them on status.
For both, you can use check-ins to offer comfort and support right now. Your team and your clients may be struggling on many levels. It’s nice to get an encouraging word on a regular basis.
For now and in the future, remember to keep your team and your clients in the loop. Let them know that they can expect the same compassionate and expert representation no matter where you’re working.
2. Ramp up quickly with law firm technology
Unfortunately, the legal field is notoriously slow to embrace new technology. This occurs for many reasons. Most law firms struggle with a lack of technology support staff, some lawyers just prefer IRL over URL, and some just don’t know what’s out there. Others have just been too busy.
The good news is that there are plenty of tools to help you ramp up your virtual law firm technology quickly. From legal apps to organize client intake to software programs to manage documents, you’ll be able run your firm from the comfort of your home office quickly.
Missing the team? Get started with a Slack channel to manage ongoing conversations and off-topic talk. You can also use Slack to set up video sharing, chats, and document drops that your whole team can access. Zoom videoconferencing software is another way to connect with clients and give your team face-time.
3. Prepare for video conferences
So, you’ve got the technology tools in place, but there are other considerations when setting up a virtual law firm. The first is to make sure that everyone on your team has the hardware they need for the more frequent video conferences. This will include a good pair of headphones with a built-in microphone and a web camera (if not already built into their computers).
Once the hardware is in place, discuss proper video conferencing etiquette. While it’s nice to take a conference call in sweatpants on the couch, video calls and teleconferences should be treated as if they were occurring in person. Neat, professional clothes, and no eating on camera.
Not only should your staff dress professionally (business casual for clients, at least) and save food for regular lunchtimes, they should also conduct conferences and meetings in a clean and clear space in their home. Sure, the occasional animal or child may wander into the meeting every now and then, but that should be the exception – not the rule. Also make judicious muting an ongoing practice when noises do occur.
4. Set up expectations with a remote work policy
Another crucial part of setting up a virtual law firm is setting clear expectations for your employees. Consider the following questions as you outline what you expect:
Is this temporary due to COVID-19, or might you consider this a long-term situation?
What hours and days should employees be available?
What sick leave policies are in place?
Can you provide some flexibility in your expectations, especially as employees juggle home demands and distractions?
How will you determine productivity when time-in-chair will no longer do?
How will employees communicate? (e.g., email, phone calls, Slack)
What tools do employees need to perform their job (e.g., security tools, hardware, new software, training)?
How will your team stay connected while working remotely?
During the time of COVID-19, more people are handling sensitive information from their homes. Even if your law firm decides to transition to a remote office in the future, the rules for handling and disposing of sensitive information apply to law firms – even if their main office is the kitchen table.
Also, your clients’ information is still privileged, regardless of where your office is. This means it needs to be kept confidential from family members, too. Security at home means holding privileged conversations in private areas with no other people, protecting them as if they were being held behind a closed door in your office. Secure videoconferencing is possible using Zoom, so consider that the first stop.
For the basics, mandate the following:
Locked file cabinets
Secure, two-factor authentication for passwords
Secure disposal of sensitive documents
Consider each team member’s home as an extension of the office and act accordingly.
6. Use legal document software tools to seamlessly share files
We mentioned it above, but it’s worth a repeat: legal document software makes your document management tasks easier, while remaining safe and secure. Use it to share files, manage depositions, and track relevant documents as needed.
7. Transition to online billing and payments
Online, contactless billing and payments are the way to go for every firm.
Eliminate the need for paper invoices and clients dropping off checks with a billing program like Clio Connect (which connects with Clio). Clio Connect lets clients view their outstanding bills, make payments online, and gives them ongoing access to their invoices with their own unique and secure login, so you never have to worry about a client misplacing your invoice. It also delivers secure online messages to clients, something that regular email programs cannot guarantee.
Another stand-alone program for online payments is LawPay. This tool takes credit card payments through a secure third-party portal. It also integrates into Clio so that payments are automatically applied to the right client and invoice.
Even if you choose not to use LawPay or Clio Connect, consider using a secure online billing and payment system of your choice for your ongoing needs.
8. Focus on digital marketing efforts
So, your firm used to be a brick-and-mortar firm, but now you’ve transitioned completely to an online model. How will current and future clients know what you offer and how to connect?
You might as well get comfortable in this new digital landscape, as many of your meetings and initial interactions with upcoming clients will be online. Digital marketing positions you as a law firm that is flexible, adaptable, and ready to serve clients at the exact moment (and place) they are needed.
We can help set up your virtual law firm
Your law firm has a lot to consider right now. NIVAN has helped our clients manage remote law firms for years. Our legal technology specialists can help you quickly and easily transition to a virtual law firm by considering the best technology tools for your firm’s size and needs. From implementation to change management for your staff, they can help. We also provide law firm marketing services, from building out your website to actively managing your social media accounts and online reputation.
Whether your goal is a temporary solution to the current global crisis or a more permanent move to a work at home law firm, NIVAN can help. Get in touch today.