How to Work Remotely as a Lawyer
How to Work Remotely as a Lawyer
Working remotely as a lawyer or legal professional might seem interesting. A nice idea, but an approach that’s too difficult for the demands of an age-old profession like law.
But when one looks more closely at how to work remotely as a lawyer, how many lawyers are already doing so, and what’s really possible—remote legal work doesn’t seem like such an implausible idea after all. In fact, in light of rapidly changing situations such as that of COVID-19, lawyers and legal professionals may be looking at remote work not as a once-in-awhile perk but as an option with the potential to protect their families, their clients, and their communities.
Whether you’ve looked at working remotely as a lawyer in the past (or as a paralegal, legal assistant, legal professional) with dreams of traveling the world, or whether you’re looking into it for the first time now, this guide contains clear, practical tips for opening a remote legal practice without interruption.
10 steps to follow for successful remote work
What to do if you still need to meet clients in person
Tips for how larger legal teams can succeed when transitioning to remote work
A basic list of tools to use for remote lawyering
Examples of law firms that have worked remotely in some capacity (or are currently doing so)
Can you work remotely as a lawyer?
Before you start setting yourself up to work remotely, you might be asking yourself, is this really possible? Can lawyers work remotely?
While the answer depends on your practice area and what a typical day looks like for you, the short answer is “yes.” It should be possible to complete some or all of your legal work remotely, and even provide an excellent client experience while not in the office.
Of course, if you need to go to court, it’s difficult to get around that, but certain circumstances may render that point moot as well. For example, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 evolves, many courts are enacting partial closures or modified operations such as teleconference or videoconference hearings. Keep an eye out for alerts from any relevant courts, and make sure you know whether trials are still moving ahead in your area.
With modern technology, lawyers can draft and review legal documents, get them signed electronically (in most cases) and keep clients up-to-date—all while ensuring client and firm data is kept secure and confidential. This is simpler than many would expect: If you use any sort of computer program currently, you should be able to set yourself up to work remotely.
10 Steps to follow when working remotely as an attorney
Follow the steps below for a successful remote-work experience.
Communicate changes with clients, staff, and colleagues
If you’re opening a remote-first practice from the start, this point isn’t as relevant. But if you’re shifting from a more traditional law firm model to remote work—permanently or temporarily—it’s absolutely critical that you clearly communicate any changes and new policies.
Send an email making it clear that you’re shifting to remote work, and set expectations for which communication channels to use, how meetings will take place, and how often you’ll be contacting clients. If you’re canceling all in-person meetings, let everyone know far in advance so they can adjust their plans. Make the switch to video conferences easy by adding links to video invites within the notes section of any calendar events.
This will make the transition as smooth as possible for you, your staff, and your clients. Also, if you’re clear about why you’re working remotely, this may help clients understand and help them see the changes in a positive light.
Speak to any staff you normally work with about how you’ll work together while you’re remote, and send an email to staff making it clear whether they’re meant to work remotely as well. If you think some staff needs to come to the office to use equipment like printers or scanners, or to answer the phones, we’d recommend that you seriously explore different options that would negate this need, such as a portable scanner and printer, efiling to negate the need to print lengthy court documents, and a VOIP phone service so that phones can be answered remotely.
If you’re closing your offices, put a notice on the homepage of your website and a sign on the door (that includes information on how to reach you) so those who come knocking don’t feel like they’ve hit a dead end.
Even if you’re a partner at the firm and you’re electing to work from home independent of what the rest of the firm is doing, speak to your staff before you begin working remotely.
Get a strong internet connection
Working remotely means a lot more time in front of your computer, and as a lawyer, you can’t have the internet dropping off in the middle of an important video conference meeting. Furthermore, if you need to collaborate with clients, staff, and colleagues on important legal documents, they’ll need to be stored in the cloud rather than locally on your computer, and a strong internet connection will ensure fast and easy access to your work.
How can you tell if your internet connection is “good” enough? If you have a broadband internet connection, you should be fine. Also, this post from developer Martino Fornasa covers how to ensure the stability of your connection—another important factor.
If you’re working from home, talk to your internet provider about the level of speed and stability you’re getting with your current package, and upgrade if needed. If you’re working abroad, consider investing in a portable Wi-Fi hotspot (or use your iPhone or Android smartphone as a hotspot) to avoid troubles with spotty hotel Wi-Fi—just make sure you’re paying for plenty of data to cover your working needs.
Do you need a remote-access VPN to work remotely?
A remote-access virtual private network (more often referred to as a VPN) is exactly what it sounds like: It allows users (e.g., lawyers) to securely connect to a private network (e.g., one at a law firm) from a remote location. If your firm uses on-premise case management software, or if your files are stored locally on your firm’s network, you’ll need to set up a VPN in order to get access to key case details and documents. Follow these steps to set up a remote-access VPN.
If you use a cloud-based practice management system like GetLEGAL Software, you don’t need to worry about a VPN: Simply log in via your web browser for safe and secure access to all of your files.
Set up remote access to cases and documents
You can’t take a filing cabinet with you everywhere. Also, mailing paper documents between yourself, staff, clients, and colleagues when not in the office will quickly become cost-prohibitive.
Therefore, it makes sense to ensure you have access to as many documents and case details as possible online if you’re planning to work remotely.
Scan paper documents
First, digitize anything you might need that’s paper-only and not already scanned into your computer or the cloud. You can do this yourself, put a staff member in charge of scanning documents, or use a service or ask if a GetLEGAL Certified Consultant can digitize existing documents for you. You’ll also need a scanner to take with you wherever you’re working from if you don’t have one already (more on that later).
Store documents in the cloud
You can’t take your law firm’s server home with you. If you’re planning to work remotely for a while, and others at your firm are as well, you’ll need to take special precautions to ensure your server is protected from potential fires, floods, power outages, or other potential problems, depending on the situation, taking these precautions may be extremely difficult. If you’re planning to work remotely full-time, you may not need a law firm server at all!
For these reasons, we recommend cloud-based document storage. Cloud-based document storage solutions allow you to securely access your files from anywhere in the world, as long as you have an internet connection. You can also collaborate easily with staff, colleagues, and clients.
GetLEGAL Manage offers unlimited document storage. Other cloud-storage solutions include OneDrive, Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive. More specifically when it comes to IP docketing, you have to stay organized—whether you’re remote or not. If you’re wondering what IP docketing is, they are filing specifically for intellectual property.
Prepare a positive remote experience for clients
Clients will be looking for you and your services whether you’re working remotely or not. Provide clear information on your website, create a streamlined onboarding process, and be upfront about the fact that you’re working remotely and the experience clients can expect, and you’ll soon have a thriving remote legal practice.
Even if you’re only working remotely temporarily, your ability to be flexible and show that you’re still available to clients could very well lead you to connect with clients who’d otherwise have a difficult time getting the legal help they need. Furthermore, your clients may want a remote experience.
Consider offering consultations over the phone or via video to create peace of mind for potential clients, and send newly signed clients a welcome letter with how best to contact you, how often to expect communications, and times you’ll be available if you’re working unconventional hours or in a different time zone. Send a modified version of the letter to existing clients as well.
To keep potential clients and new client onboarding organized, you may want to invest in a customer relationship management (CRM) and client intake solution like Clio Grow, which helps with contact organization, custom intake forms, and e-signatures. If you use a different solution for client intake, make sure you’re able to access any information about potential new clients remotely.
Communicate with clients securely
If you’re working remotely, you likely won’t be meeting clients in person. Of course, this depends on the type of law you practice, but at the very least, you’ll need to prepare to provide case updates and ongoing communications online, via text, or over the phone.
Luckily, there are plenty of options available. And as a bonus, your clients may even appreciate the convenience of different communication methods. The main thing is to make sure any channels you’re using are encrypted and secure. As a lawyer, you need to uphold your duty to keep client information confidential, and if communication channels aren’t encrypted, it’s all too easy for others to gain access to client conversations.
Tools like Skype are fine for short video chats where you won’t be discussing anything substantial, but when you’re discussing sensitive information with a colleague or client, we recommend tools like Legaler or GoToConnect, which use encryption to keep your video calls secure.
For longer messages, document sharing, and invoice sharing, email can work. However, lawyers must ensure they’re using an encrypted email service. We recommend a secure client portal like GetLEGAL for Clients for secure communications and document sharing.
Set up mail forwarding
Depending on how you’re running your practice currently, and depending on the type of law you practice, you may not be able to go completely paperless overnight!
If you’re working remotely temporarily, contact your local postal service to set up a temporary mail forward from your office to the address you’ll be working at. If you work remotely full-time and need to handle mail, consider using Casemail to mail documents directly from your computer.
You can also minimize mail (and its associated costs) by opting to receive bills for any business expenses online, and by sharing client invoices online as well. For example, with practice management solutions like GetLEGAL Manage, you can easily share invoices via email or a secure client portal and include a link so clients can easily pay online via credit card.
Be reachable by phone
You may not be at the office, but your clients will still phone you! Even if you don’t have an office, it’s likely you’ll have at least some clients who want to get in contact via phone. For example, clients with limited access to technology might have an easier time phoning you than texting, emailing, or video chatting.
For temporary remote work, make sure all calls are forwarded from your number at your law firm to your cell phone, or another number you can easily access while away from the office. For permanent remote work, consider switching to a Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phone service. Such services allow you to make phone calls from your computer. There are several options, such as Vonage, Corvum, Nextiva, and GoToConnect.
It’s also worth investing in a headset for the top-notch sound quality on any calls.
Use e-filing if available
Not all courts offer the ability to e-file, but many do, and it can be a real-time-saver. Texas provides this guidance for e-filing, for example. Solutions like InfoTrack can help with e-filing.
Plan for professional video meetings
When working remotely, you may find video meetings replacing face-to-face ones with clients, co-counsel, opposing counsel, and a variety of other people. With the power of technology and a strong internet connection, you can meet anyone, anywhere, anytime!
It’s a given that you’ll need to look professional for video meetings, but with only a little bit of effort and planning, you’ll look extra sharp and create a strong, positive impression on clients and other legal professionals.
Keep your background tidy. What’s the view behind your computer? Tidy any shelves, keep the kitchen or laundry baskets out of view, and if all else fails, sit in front of a blank wall. If you have a home office, try to take video meetings there. It’s important to meet professional contacts from a professional space.
Prevent distractions. Lock the dog out of the room, give a heads up that your kids are home, and turn down the volume of other devices (or turn them off). If you’re not at home, find a quiet place to meet. It’s easier than you think to get distracted when meeting remotely.
Choose strong lighting. Harsh or dim lighting can make it appear as if something is off when you’re on video. If you can, sit in a room with stronger-than-you-think-you-need incandescent light (or LED energy-saving lights that imitate incandescent light).
Keep your video on. Best video meeting etiquette is to always appear on the video. It shows you’re present and engaged in the conversation, and gives your clients and colleagues visual cues about how you’re reacting. Of course, if you’re under the weather and toughing it out to get work done, it’s fine to turn off your video—just explain the situation to the person on the other end.
Use a headset. Today’s laptop mics are strong, but a headset will ensure crisp, professional sound quality on your calls—a critical consideration if someone on the call has low hearing.
Consider muting yourself when it’s not your turn to talk. Whether there’s construction going on down the street, or whether your family member is also working remotely and conducting a loud meeting in the next room, or whether you’re typing during the meeting, background noise is louder than you think on the other end of the video. Take stock of your surroundings, and mute yourself if needed; just be sure to give your full attention to the video camera.
Take care of your mental health when working remotely image of weights, a mind, and sleep
No matter why you’re doing it—or where you’re doing it from—remote work can be isolating. If you’re used to interacting with others directly on a daily basis, suddenly sitting alone all day can be a tough change for your mental health. To combat the downside of remote work, create a routine, and create some distance between your work and personal life. Here are some tips:
Dress like you’re going to work. A common trope of remote work is the worker who sits in pajamas all day. However, this isn’t a great look for conference calls, and won’t make you feel great either. Instead, dress as you normally would.
Set clear work hours. Without a commute and a separate space for work and home, it’s easy for your work and your personal life to blend together. It takes a tremendous amount of a self control to only work during certain hours and separate work and life. One tip that might work for you is taking a short walk at the start and end of your day to create a mental boundary between your work and personal time.
Work in the same area. Another way to create a routine is to work in the same space every day, preferably from a home office, or a setup resembling one. If you’re sharing limited space with someone else who’s also working remotely, set a clear schedule for video meetings in the most appropriate locations, and/or stake out your own clear workspaces.
Call a friend or coworker. Depending on where you are or why you’re remote, you may not regularly be in contact with others. In this case, prioritize calling or video chatting with one person each day, whether a friend or colleague. Even if it’s only for five minutes. This is a small promise to keep and can help combat the effects of isolation.
Unplug. As a lawyer or legal professional, there will always be more work to do. If you love your job, it’s easy to sit in front of a laptop for hours and hours in the name of productivity—but that’s a recipe for burnout. You need to take care of yourself in order to take care of your clients, so unless there’s an emergency, stick to your work hours and unplug outside of that time.