What would you consider your top three primary communication tools for home office use, and is there a different primary use for each one?
DS: The primary communication tool is an effective and reliable email and phone system.
DB: Email, telephone, client portal. Client portal is used primarily for securely transmitting sensitive documents and messages.
JC: Client portals for communications with clients. Two headsets: One that has a wired connection to computer and foam pads on the ears for those “too many Zooms” days and one wireless headset that allows more freedom of movement (same theory as a standing desk.)
LJ: Cell/main phone, email, Zoom
- Phone and email are my primary tools. Phone is for communications that do not need an archival record. I use email because I have a continuing record.
- Zoom is for meetings where documents might be involved or travel is not necessary.
RT: My top 3 communication tools are email, MS Teams, and Zoom for videoconferencing and phone. For better or worse, email is my primary form of communication. It is still the way I receive information and most documents and can respond quickly from any device. Zoom Phone replaced my console phone, while Zoom has replaced many of my phone calls. I use Zoom primarily for scheduled larger meetings—always camera on. I use Teams video conferencing for quick impromptu meetings, mostly internally. The Teams interface makes it as easy as picking up the phone to call.
WG: Bluetooth technology so that any phone conversation goes directly to my hearing aids. Zoom and its automatic speech recognition function.
What do you consider the most and least secure means of communication available to you from your home office?
DS: My home office is run through a secure connection to cloud storage and services. For me, there is no difference between working from home or the office. In general, it is important for attorneys to make sure that their home networks are secure, that they take security precautions when connecting through unfamiliar or unsecure connections (such as a hotel Wi-Fi) and that computers and documents be kept out of the view of others.
DB: Most secure: telephone for conversations and client portal for documents. Least secure: email
JC: Email is the top least secure method of communication, whether from home or office. Depending on how sensitive a discussion you are having, being overheard can sometimes be a problem. Communicating and sharing files within Teams provides more security, better record retention and superior collaboration.
LJ: I am less concerned about the means of communication than I am about the security of my hardware. I am paranoid about malware and infections that might breach my systems.
WG: Phone is most. Never had an issue with Zoom so far…
If you're not completely solo, what technological solutions do you use to manage your staff from your home office?
JC: We have a short Zoom meeting almost every morning to outline our deadlines and goals for the day.
RT: I use a combination of video, chat, and email, relying more on video components to communicate and maintain relationships.
How do you avoid the distractions of home (like the refrigerator or family members) and are there any technological solutions that help with that?
DS: Home is quiet. I am an empty nester, and my wife works. There are far more distractions at the office than at the home office.
DB: Closed office door to indicate to other people that I’m busy or on a client call. Inconvenience of having to go downstairs to get to the kitchen, plus pet gate at top of stairs. Some healthy snacks like mixed nuts or fruit are at my desk. Calendar reminders announcing due dates help improve focus as the deadline approaches.
JC: The old school method of keeping the home office door closed is my best tool. But sometimes petting the dogs has to be a priority, especially if I am walking around the house using my wireless headset.
LJ: I am physically in a different level of the house. Folks can get me if they need to, but I am sufficiently isolated that I can get stuff done.
RT: I often use the Pomodoro method—25 minutes of focus followed by 5 minutes of a planned break. Not a perfect solution but it does help.
WG: My office is upstairs, all the distractions are downstairs, and I can get very focused.
Do you allow clients and third parties (like opposing counsel) to come to your home for meetings, closings, depositions, settlement conferences and the like? If so, what if any technology helps you with this?
DS: No. Clients (with very rare exception) do not meet with me at my home in person. In person meetings are generally at my office. Virtual meetings occur all the time from my home office.
DB: Yes, clients can come to my home, provided they are vaccinated. Online scheduling software shows dates and times available for meetings. Security cameras alert to persons approaching and show who is at the door.
LJ: No. I use Zoom for such things unless a face-to-face is required. If so, we set up a place to meet or I go to the client’s offices
RT: No, this is not allowed.
Do you use online appointment scheduling software? And if so, what do you consider to be the pros and cons of the product you use?
DS: I do not use online scheduling software.
DB: Yes. PROS: Clients can cancel and reschedule appointments without having to play phone or email tag. I can block off times when I don’t want client appointments but can also override those obstacles if I choose. New or prospective clients can be required to fill out a questionnaire for an appointment. They can be required to pay a fee before setting an appointment or for certain types of appointments. Follow-up reminders or questions can be automated. Clients really like the 24-hour convenience of rescheduling. I can set appointments, including recurring appointments, in the scheduler for the client and the client will be notified. Appointment reminders by text and/or email help prevent no shows and last-minute cancels. CONS: Some online scheduling programs (Accuity/SquareSpace Scheduling) allow a prospective client to schedule an appointment without creating a password, but to reschedule they must find the previous email confirmation/reminder and click a link in it. Accuity/SquareSpace Scheduling allows a client to “register” their account and create a login and password online. The mechanism for doing that is confusing to most clients, however. Often the client creates a duplicate “account” in the scheduler instead, then they can’t find the appointment they want to reschedule.
JC: I’ve tried most of the scheduling tools. For someone just getting started with online, I’d suggest you look at Bookings in Microsoft 365 and its other scheduling tools. While they may lack some of the features you are used to at the moment, it is much improved and the integration with Teams and no extra monthly subscription cost are significant factors. And the tools will improve.
LJ: I do not. Just my Outlook calendar.
RT: We now use Calendly which we prefer over our former choice, Acuity. At first I was opposed to using this technology to replace personal interaction to set appointments, but the feedback we get from users is all positive.
WG: I schedule meetings through Outlook and sometimes just on my phone.
What technology do you see as essential for attorneys working from a home office?
DS: A reliable and secure IT system (phone system, computer system, etc). Reliability and security are huge issues. For instance, some people take calls in their backyards when neighbors are outside. That creates privacy issues. Attorneys who work from shared devices at home or at a shared home space (living room, dining room, kitchen) may have client confidentiality issues. A reliable phone system is a must. I use a VOIP system with wireless (RF) headset that is secure and almost guarantees a solid phone connection versus attorneys who exclusively use their mobile phones at home where they have connection issues.
DB: Mobile phone, computer, 2 monitors or an extra-large one, printer, ScanSnap scanner, practice management software, accounting software unless included as part of practice management software, video camera or laptop with video camera for video meetings, headphones to help keep conversations private, high speed internet connection, mobile deposit app for bank accounts, Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace, TrialPad or similar presentation software for trial lawyers, Adobe Acrobat, TextExpander, OneDrive or DropBox or Box or some other software for sharing large files, online scheduling software and/or answering service if small firm. This list assumes that we are talking about a small or solo practice. Maybe some of these are not “essential,” but they can each make a significant difference in the efficiency and effectiveness of a law practice.
JC: Easily accessible secure cloud storage that makes secure file sharing simple. Practice management software tools to organize digital client files, time capture and billing and their client portals.
LJ: The Big 3: Fast broadband, good docketing software, and online document storage.
RT: Videoconferencing with cameras on, a chat/messaging feature for internal firm communications, and cloud-based document storage with a clear and consistently enforced naming convention in smaller firms and practice groups in larger firms. I don’t think employee monitoring software is essential, as this can be better enforced through a combination of firm culture and written policies.
WG: Phone, video conferencing platform, scanner, copier, legal database, law 360, and a dog (especially if you are completely solo).