While initially a necessity during the widespread pandemic shutdowns, remote work is here to stay. More and more law firms are getting on board and embracing remote work — even as far as entirely virtual offices — but with certain disadvantages of remote working, it’s not for everyone.
Discover the advantages and disadvantages of remote work at law firms, including the major challenges and solutions to create a well-oiled remote machine.
Why More Firms Are Working Remotely
The legal industry has long been one of the most resistant to the changing landscape of the workforce, including remote work. But once the pandemic forced businesses to adapt to remote work practically overnight, more law firms and lawyers saw the benefits of incorporating remote work into their practice.
Why Do Law Firms Struggle with Remote Work?
Law firms face heavy compliance rules and confidential data that creates additional challenges in supporting remote staff. Law firms are taking a more customized approach, such as a hybrid model with partial remote and in-office work or a completely virtual firm with no physical office.
Collaboration is another sticking point, as it’s crucial to the day-to-day operations in most law firms. This is particularly apparent with older lawyers that are more accustomed to in-person meetings and interactions with clients and support staff.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Remote Work for Law Firms
Remote work isn’t ideal for every firm. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of remote work for law firms.
Increased Flexibility and Work-Life Integration
One of the biggest benefits of remote work is the flexibility in schedule. Lawyers and staff can manage their schedules at the times that work best to balance the responsibilities in their personal lives, leading to better work-life integration.
Expanded Talent Pool and Access to Remote Expertise
Talent is hard to come by, especially if location is an issue. Allowing remote work significantly expands your talent pool and gives you an opportunity to recruit the best and brightest for your firm, rather than relying on who’s in the immediate area.
Cost Savings and Reduced Overhead Expenses
Virtual law firms often go without a physical office or significantly reduce office hours. While this doesn’t work for every firm, having less in-office time means fewer overhead expenses and operational costs.
Potential Impact on Teamwork and Collaborative Dynamics
Remote work limits face-to-face interactions between staff members and clients, taking a toll on communication and teamwork. While virtual communication tools can help, more traditional lawyers and clients who prefer in-person interactions may struggle with the change.
Difficulty in Maintaining Work-Life Balance
Some remote employees feel like they never clock out and suffer from the blurred lines between work and home. Work-life balance is tough enough to achieve in law, let alone with a remote work schedule and no clear separation between work time and leisure time.
Limited Access to Physical Resources and Facilities
Not everyone is technologically sophisticated. It’s easy for staff working remotely to miss communications or struggle with the technology to support remote work. For example, a VPN may limit access to a matter, creating security risks or limitations on staff.
Tips to Optimize How Your Firm Works Remotely
Considering remote work for your law firm? Follow these tips to optimize your remote processes:
Establish Clear Communication Channels and Protocols
Clear and consistent communication is essential when working remotely. Establish communication channels like email, messaging, and video conferencing with clearly defined expectations for response times and availability.
Implement Effective Project and Task Management Systems
Software tools designed for remote collaboration and task tracking are crucial to keeping your team on track. Implement systems to assign and track work, set deadlines, monitor project progress, and enable communication between staff.
Foster a Culture of Trust and Accountability
It takes dedication and autonomy to thrive without the direct supervision of an in-office environment. Foster a culture that values trust and encourages staff to take ownership of their work. Once you set clear expectations for performance and provide feedback, entrust your staff to manage time and meet deadlines.
Prioritize Cybersecurity and Data Protection
Cybersecurity risks are one of the challenges for remote work in the legal industry. You need robust cybersecurity measures in place to protect sensitive client information and confidential data, including secure internet connections, strong password policies, regular software updates, and regular staff training. Your team should have VPNs and multi-factor authentication (MFA) for an added layer of security.
Encourage Regular Check-Ins and Virtual Team-Building Activities
Teamwork and collaboration are important for a productive remote environment. Encourage periodic check-ins with one-on-one meetings or team video conferencing to provide support and facilitate camaraderie. Virtual team activities, such as online games and happy hours, help staff bond and boost morale in a remote environment.
Finding the Best Tools to Work Remotely
Remote work is the new normal, even for the legal industry, but it’s important to have tools to support lawyers working from home – including legal practice management software.
For example, time tracking, which is already a challenge in the office, can be more difficult for remote teams. Automated timekeeping with legal practice management software saves time with inputting and minimizes errors while providing clear, seamless communication about the time spent on cases and legal billing.
Working remotely as a lawyer presents challenges with document management, but cloud-based documents allow all pertinent staff to see updates and make changes as needed to keep work flowing. With tools like access control, you can restrict access to documents to “need to know” only. Document management with Bill4Time also integrates with your current tools, such as Google Docs or Microsoft Word.
Another important tool is a communication and collaboration platform. Once remote staff has clear expectations, a centralized communication platform helps lawyers and support staff feel more connected and simulates an in-office environment. It also sets clear boundaries with availability for better work-life balance.
For client communication, a client portal enables secure, rapid communication between lawyers and clients. All conversations can be connected to a client’s account or case to ensure nothing is lost in the shuffle.
Final Thoughts on Remote Work
There are pros and cons to remote work – for both the firm and the staff. If you’re considering remote work for your firm, it’s important to have a plan and systems in place, including legal practice management tools, to provide support and encourage accountability and productivity.