So, what can be done? Well, to start, we can look at the things that people are already doing. Unless you have been living under a rock, you have likely already heard of the explosive growth of services like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other forms of videoconferencing that are enabling millions of people to connect remotely for both business and personal use. Many law firms already use this type of remote technology for things like video depositions or web conferences, but few use it on such a large scale. We all know the old joke about a simple e-mail sufficing for many long, dragged-out meetings. I strongly suspect that the reality of social distancing and working at home has opened many eyes as to just how true that saying is, and how much can be done remotely. Whether it is a regular, recurring meeting or a simple screen share to go over a document, these services can and should be used going forward to help bring people together and increase collaboration where physical meetings are not practical or even not truly necessary.
The sheer scale of how many people are working at home right now has also caused many to reevaluate just how many employees actually need to be in the office on a regular basis. This is not to say you should be thinking about reducing your staff. On the contrary, you may be able to reduce your physical office space while keeping or even increasing the number of staff you have. The expenses associated with physical office space tend to be second only to salaries in terms of a law firm’s overall overhead, so pairing down on physical space while maintaining or even improving productivity can be a very positive, very permanent outcome of the COVID-19 experience. In addition to freeing up physical space within your office, many employees value the flexibility that work-from-home options give them. This can help ease the burden on those who may need to be home due to sickness, injury, or to help care for a loved one. Whether it is full-time, or simply as a perk available to employees for part-time use, using technology to allow more people to work from more locations is definitely something that should remain when the current pandemic is over.
In addition to how you get work done and interface with your employees, the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered how many lawyers interact with their clients. Any of the virtual or videoconferencing services discussed above can also be used to meet with clients. Remote signing services and electronic notarization are similarly seeing a significant increase in usage for everything from engagement letters to settlement agreements. The use of these services doesn’t have to be a temporary thing. Certainly, sometimes an in-person meeting with a client can make the difference for getting new business, closing a deal, or just reassuring a client about their case. But the reality is that many of these same objectives can be achieved through the effective use of these remote services. Electronic signatures and, where permitted by your jurisdiction, electronic notarizations should be routine at this point, and our current situation is proving just how effective they can be. The reality is that you may be doing your clients and yourself a disservice by insisting on going back to the “old” method simply because that is how things used to be done.
All of the things discussed in this article are suggestions, and you should certainly take a close look at your specific situation to see what solutions work best for you. The reality is that lawyers around the country are adapting to the reality of practicing in the era of COVID-19. You can too. This is a very difficult time for everyone, and many people are nervous for good reason. But recognizing that you and your law firm can–and will–get through this is critical. It is far too easy to believe that you can do nothing and that you have no way to keep your firm afloat. If you believe that, you are doing yourself and all of your clients a massive disservice. Do not fall into the self-fulfilling prophecy of despair. During these challenging times, stay positive and keep moving forward. Take what steps make sense for you and your firm, and be ready to come out on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic a stronger, more adaptable law firm. In the interim, stay safe and know that you are not alone.