Law Practice: What were the most significant challenges for you in taking some or all your office remote? How did you solve these challenges?
Lance G. Johnson: When I established my firm, I had no desire to incur a large, continuing overhead cost of a physical office since the vast majority of my clients were outside the D.C. metro area. I set up, from day one, as a remote practice that relied completely on cloud-based applications for document storage, docketing/billing and accounting. This allowed me to use part-time service providers that were not necessarily located near me for my paralegal and bookkeeping needs. When the COVID shutdowns came, I was already remote. However, I did rely before the pandemic on travel and conventional face-to-face meetings for meeting new clients and maintaining my existing client relationships. Zoom helped me transition, while also cutting the costs of travel. That system is so easy to use that it has become part of my standard toolkit.
Mary E. Vandenack: The reason that I left a big law firm in the early 2000s was because I wanted to use technology to deliver services more efficiently and cost-effectively. We have long focused on process automation, document automation, web-based services and apps to connect with clients and provide innovative approaches to legal services. While most of our attorneys are able to work remotely, we are in a state where rural internet can be spotty at best. Some of our attorneys and staff live in remote areas. As a result, it is difficult for some attorneys to work remotely. Additionally, some of our paraprofessionals had never worked remotely.
We had to adapt. For our attorneys and staff with poor internet, we gave them in-office priority. For those who had never worked remotely, we had to resolve issues of equipment, security and learning to effectively work remotely. Because our server is currently in the cloud, we purchased laptops, with cameras and microphones, for our remote workers to avoid the use of personal equipment. We divided into teams. Each team leader held a morning huddle, a mid-day huddle and an end-of-day huddle using Microsoft Teams. Each remote worker provided a daily work plan for review. (This practice was so effective in terms of productivity that we have continued the practice as we returned to the office.) We also held a weekly computer training/issues meeting once a week where every employee could identify issues with working remotely so that we could work to resolve the issues.
Kim Ess: The biggest challenge was making sure everyone had access to needed technology for remote work. Our attorneys and paralegals were accustomed to working remotely, and all had firm-issued laptops and were accustomed to working in our firm’s virtual environment. But other staff, including legal administrative assistants and administrative staff, did not have laptops and had not previously worked from home. Some staff were able to access our virtual environment from home computers; others received laptops and other equipment including monitors and scanners for their use at home. We acted quickly, getting ready a week before Minnesota’s stay-at-home order went into effect, which allowed ample time for everyone to bring equipment home. In addition, we needed to ensure everyone had access to and was trained on using videoconferencing technology from their computers. Our new office space (which we moved into just five weeks prior to the order) includes integrated Zoom conference rooms, so many employees had been trained on the use of Zoom but did not have much opportunity to use it. To transition to working from home, we made sure that everyone had the Zoom technology installed on their laptops and then we provided directions on how to schedule and host a Zoom meeting, as well as other videoconferencing tools.