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How to navigate working from home during time of COVID-19

We’ve all been adjusting to the lifestyle changes brought on by the spread of the coronavirus in the United States. One big switch was the abrupt transition of a large part of the workforce to working remotely. For lawyers, that shift has included the loss of face-to-face meetings with clients, a new awareness of cybersecurity risks and the wellness challenges posed by isolation.

For help in dealing with our new reality, YourABA turned to Sharon D. Nelson, John W. Simek and Michael C. Maschke, authors of the updated “The Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide,” who have kept lawyers informed on the fast-changing digital tech options that can be crucial to their success. The authors also run Sensei Enterprises, a digital forensics, information technology and cybersecurity firm in Fairfax, Virginia.

Here’s what we found out:

What are some of the most frequently asked questions you’re getting from clients since we started working from home?

The most asked question is, “How do I work securely from home?” Few firms, especially solo and small firms, were prepared for the sudden shift to a work-from-home environment. The primary goal was to have a computer connected to a home network that would access firm data. Very little consideration was given to cybersecurity. A recent study shows that when compared to corporate networks, home networks are 3.5 times more likely to be infected with malware.

We gave an ABA webinar last month, "Working Remotely and Securely: What Lawyers Need to Know in a Time of COVID-19", where we explained, among other things:

  • Using current, updated endpoint protection
  • Multiple tested backups (i.e., in the cloud, locally, online, on thumb drives, external hard drives, etc.)
  • A Wi-Fi network encrypted with Wi-Fi Protective Access 2 (WPA2), an extra level of data protection and access control
  • Enable multifactor authentication (MFA) to grant log-in access
  • The importance of not reusing passwords and using strong ones

Is it okay to use my home Wi-Fi network for work or should I do something differently?

Our preference is to avoid using your home Wi-Fi since you will be competing for bandwidth with your family members. Consider using the hot spot on your smartphone as an alternative. The hot spot may be a bit slower, but it is an encrypted connection from your device to your carrier.

If you connect to your home Wi-Fi, make sure it is encrypted with WPA2 and has a strong password. Also, change the default log-on credentials for your home router and disable any remote administration. Instead of connecting to the Wi-Fi, consider using an Ethernet connection to the network. If your home is not hard-wired for Ethernet or you are too far away from your router for a patch cord, use a powerline Ethernet adapter like the TP-Link AV1000.

We’ve all been participating in lots of videoconferences. What are the risks of using software like Zoom and how can we make video meetings more secure?

Many states have adopted a change to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to state that lawyers should be competent, especially with technology. That means being competent with all the software a lawyer uses, including videoconferencing. Zoom is easy to use for both lawyers and clients. However, there are some things you need to do in order to use Zoom in a more secure way:

  • Zoom has changed the default to require a password for all meetings. That’s a good thing. Lock the meeting once all participants have joined.
  • Turn off screen sharing for all participants except for the host.
  • Do not allow the host to record meetings.

These are just a few of the configuration and usage items that lawyers should consider when using Zoom.

Hundreds of thousands of lawyers working from home seems like it would tempt hackers and increase risk in cyberattacks. What should every firm and lawyer working remotely do to secure their work?

Phishing and ransomware attacks have increased significantly during the coronavirus pandemic. Security awareness training is even more important to make sure law firm employees are aware of the latest techniques used by cybercriminals. Participating in awareness training via webinar is a great way to stay educated while working from home. Hopefully, you are using a firm-issued computer that has appropriate security software installed. If you are using a home computer to access the firm’s network, consider extending the firm’s security environment to the home machine. That means the home machine would be managed in the same way as the computers in the office.

Due to the economic fallout resulting from COVID-19, how can lawyers stay afloat during these tough times?

Lawyers should be careful to get adequate retainers up front and perhaps make their engagement agreement evergreen — when the retainer runs out, it must be replenished. It’s often helpful to get an agreement to charge a client’s credit card a fixed sum each month if they owe you money and are having trouble paying.

It is always true that the more you “touch” the client, the more likely you are to get paid. You can send out a gracious email reminder a few days before payment is due, reminding them that interest will accrue if the bill is not paid on time. You can also send out a note a few days after payment was due reminding them that they have a past due balance.

In these times, with the USPS under a lot of stress and running out of money, it is prudent to encourage clients to pay by credit card. LawPay is an online service often used by lawyers and it meets all the ethics requirements. It integrates with most law practice management solutions.

It’s a scary, uncertain time. How can lawyers prioritize their wellness and mental health?

Every lawyer should be thinking about maintaining their wellness — it’s a stressful time. In addition to keeping to a routine, giving of yourself to others and focusing on those aspects of your life that you control, keep these in mind:

  • Never stop marketing — certainly not now, when many clients are seeking legal help at a cheaper price. There is opportunity here. Planning your way out of the mire we are in is a healthy way to spend some of your time. Think creatively and try to plan for the day when the business world opens up again.
  • Let clients know how to reach you. Make sure a sign is on your law firm’s door and on your website telling clients and potential clients that you are still operational and how to get hold of you. Ditto for voicemail messages.
  • Up the ante on your website. Add new content (Google penalizes you if your content is stale). Make sure your “Google My Business” listing is completely up to date. So many marketing tasks fall by the wayside when we’re busy working. If you have some downtime, catch up on those important tasks.
  • Use state lawyer assistance programs. They are wonderful resources. You will also find a list of wellness resources at almost every state bar site. For mental health issues, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has an excellent COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide. And Patrick Krill wrote on about how we’re all feeling during this time in “Law Firms Need to Say It’s OK to Be Human Right Now.” 
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