The advent of the novel coronavirus pandemic has entirely transmuted the ways we used to live by previously. With crippling economies worldwide and unemployment at its pinnacle ever since the ‘The Great Depression’, a lot of individuals have been laid off from their means of living. While some employers are fortunate enough to still have a steady source of income, they are oftentimes oblivious about the technical expertise and remote working stratagems in order to shift their business model in a successful e-business archetype.
The pandemic has coerced every professional fraternity to indoctrinate a digitalized philosophy for work, it has unfortunately not answered the most important question: “How?”. One such profession to have been substantially affected by the sudden shifts in the technological spectrum is the field of Law. While law firms continue to shut their offices and individual legal practitioners learn to get acquainted with remote working approaches, it indeed is an incredibly tormenting period for the noble members of the legal fraternity.
Since a cordial relationship between a lawyer and his client is solely established on the foundation stones of trust and communication, the absence of physical presence and a formal ambient workspace can significantly diminish the prospects of a long-term relationship between lawyers and clients by wrecking the work ethic and the engaging rapport between the two parties. This is where remote working strategies come into play. Whether we come to terms with the truth sooner or later, we cannot promptly deny the fact that a large portion of employers, as well as employees, will continue working remotely, even after the looming pandemic meets its fate. Therefore, it becomes ever so exigent to deliberate on remote working strategies in order to add value to lawyer-client relationships before the ship leaves the shore.
THE VALUE OF REMOTE WORK
Thankfully, law is a demanding profession and lawyers are expectedly adept at juggling contradictory tasks as well as requirements, this tenet can be acclaimed as the ‘hallmark’ of the legal profession. With law firms around the world revolutionizing their conventional in-office model to a virtual schema, the primary lacuna affecting the efficacy of the business remains to determine the level of trust which their clients can virtually invest in their organization.
Adapting to a brand-new digitized business model might seem to be a herculean task preliminarily, but on proximate scrutiny, we might decipher that it has some significant positive upshots as well. Technology has always thrusted lawyers, judges, advocates, solicitors, jurists, as well as paralegals to incorporate a new modus operandi to their archaic working strategies and setting new standards for the legal career paths, and remote work is no exception either. Lawyers have an implicit ethical obligation to learn because it is their professional duty of competence. And part of such ‘competence’ comprises of remaining conversant with the latest technological advancements in order to fruitfully facilitate clients.
Remote work can not only enable law firms to significantly save expenses in hiring external counsels, but it can simultaneously save valuable time, energy, and logistical resources which can then be fruitfully invested in better projections. If tamed right, technology can be a lawyer’s best friend to help him cope in this digital epoch and once he embraces this skill, the horizon of opportunities available to him become virtually endless. Research studies reveal that remote workers are even outperforming cubicle workers and this trend is going to substantially assist law firms in retaining top talent and seek the required amount of vocational flexibility.
THE ANSWER TO THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION: ‘HOW?’
Having discussed about remote work and its paramount significance in the future of the legal fraternity, it becomes imperative to illuminate the path to achieve a harmonious relationship between a lawyer and his client through remote work. Enumerated below are some credible recommendations that might allow law firms as well as lawyers to strengthen their interpersonal relationship with their clients and deliver outcomes as per their expectations:
1. Strengthening Communication:
Communication can be the key factor in determining the fate of a remote business. Since distance demands frequent communication, remote workforces must strengthen their communication roles in order to eradicate the dependence on physical proximity and delegating trivial roles. Face to face virtual meetings, whiteboarding sessions, online project management tools, etc. are some reliable technologies that might assists lawyers in leveraging collaboration and propagate an effective vocal exchange to set tasks and expectations. This will eventually help lawyers to connect with their clients and gauge improved client response and receptiveness.
Communication allows a lawyer to dive inside his client’s mind and ascertain what the client actually requires. Paying attention to the mental health of clients is vital in this global pandemic and it is the duty of lawyers to be proactive in genuinely comprehending their concerns. This doesn’t only envisage the task of regularly updating clients about legal consequences but also constantly reassuring them that professional help is always available to them.
2. Setting Realistic Expectations & Targets:
The sudden shift to a virtual workspace isn’t necessarily a boon for everybody. And without prior foresight about the possible implications of such a drastic pronouncement, the results might not be necessarily in our favor. Analysis of monthly, quarterly, and annual targets across all departments in an organization and their affected variations in a virtual paradigm is a mandatory measure that all law firms must abide by. And since remote work is an unfamiliar concept to the majority of workforces, it’s important to plainly communicate to all employees that what is expected of them on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.
3. Creating a Design for Remote Office Operations:
This might be considered as the blueprint or a compilation of some key strategies which are going to be furnished in the final business model. These might include:
• Establishing a communication plan
• Fabricating Digital Payment/Payroll Platforms
• Stringent Data Policies & Protection of Client Data
• Securing and Taking Stock of Office Hardware Assets at the Earliest
4. Endorsing Cloud-Based Technologies:
Storing sensitive data and important files on physical servers are stories of the past. Due to the courtesy of cloud-based practice management software applications like Azure from Microsoft, or Amazon Web Services (AWS) from Amazon, the concept of data storage and sharing has been wholly transformed.
Cloud-based technologies allow law firms to store data virtually and permit access to specific datasets to designated individuals in an organization. Moreover, it requires significantly fewer hardware utilities to set up a cloud-based service and law firms can even hire third-party services to look after the maintenance and administration of the virtual servers. Cloud-based technologies will allow law firms to:
• Access data from anywhere without any residential constraints
• Secure the vulnerability of confidential data by ensuring military-grade ASL encryption technology
• Navigate through any modifications as well as to automate tasks to regulate workflow
• Interlink any external practice managements tools/utilities to work prolifically
• Create exclusive dashboards and progress reports to track individual as well as collective team performance
5. Increasing Accessibility via Social Media:
In the words of Stacy West Clark, former attorney at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius:
“For improving client satisfaction, do a hard check on how easy it is to reach you right now. Check how many rings it takes to get into your voicemail and once in it, how helpful is your message?”
While telephonic conversations and e-mail exchanges are classic methods in approaching established business organizations, the current world scenario pushes boundaries beyond those outdated resolutions. The gamechanger in this regard is ‘Social Media’.
Social media is a well-equipped contender in aiding communication of business organizations directly with their potential customers. Social media allows real-time interaction in a familiar environment and allows for engaging clients in things of their particular interest. Eminent social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and the like, can help law firms as well as individual law practitioners to reach out to the masses and elevate the quality of customer service. This also helps in generating constructive client testimonials that help in increasing the overall brand awareness as well as the reputation of the organization in its respective fraternity.
6. Generating an Online Client Review Platform:
Law firms should generate surveys, questionnaires, and performance-related emails to their clients on an annual basis to evaluate their customer satisfaction ratio. This will enable law firms to determine their strengths as well as their shortcomings and will help them formulate an unbiased opinion about themselves. Reflections on self-performance might be uncomfortable to endure initially but it is way better than taking cognizance of the blind spots before a valuable client is lost. Law firms can be in a position to provide value only when they devote their necessary time in hearing out the opinions of their clients.
In this pandemic-stricken society, lawyers are acutely believed to resolve issues, and not exacerbate them. And in order to fruitfully solve a legal issue, lawyers are expected to adhere to an implicit code of ethical policies. Compliance with ethics is an eternal hieroglyph of the legal fraternity and remote work must not overshadow its due significance.
While telecommuting was once a pipe dream for a majority of lawyers, it has now been turned into a dwelling reality, courtesy: COVID-19. But, if remote workforces begin relishing the liberty of transgressing ethical obligations while working for their clients, it will eventually lead to the contravention of the good old notions of equity, justice, and fair conscience. Therefore, to uphold the sanctity of good faith and establish a robust lawyer-client relationship, lawyers must emphasize the inclusion of a “3Cs” work-model to successfully tackle any ethical enigmas.
The 3Cs represent:
(1) Competence: Lawyers might be expected to give advice or perform services oblivious to their knowledge every now and then. Therefore, a lawyer must possess a keen sense of duty towards expanding his/her aptitude and professional skillset in all contemporary domains of law to exponentially increase his efficacy and individual potential. For instance, even during a worldwide pandemic like the Novel Coronavirus, a lawyer is compelled to exercise due diligence such as ensuring the identity of their clients and say, certifying their testamentary capacity to make a will, whether it be remotely or in person.
(2) Communication: It is a prudent obligation of a lawyer to keep his/her clients well informed about the current status of their legal matter and promptly notify them in case of any fresh developments. Moreover, a lawyer is also supposed to abide by any reasonable requests for information by their clients and proceed in relentless accordance with their clients’ objectives. Telecommuting attorneys are liable for meticulously advising their clients on the modus operandi to be envisaged in order to accomplish their desired objectives. Remotely working attorneys shall also attend to text messages, e-mails, and courier packages at the earliest possible for a seamless work-from-home experience for both parties.
(3) Confidentiality: Dependence on technology raises concerns for breach of sensitive data. Careful utilization and disposal of extraneous client data are of paramount importance and lawyers must be extremely vigilant regarding the same. On top of data security, lawyers working remotely shall abstain from sharing their workspaces or computer devices with others to sustain all precautionary measures to protect client-attorney privilege and vindicate their privacy. Attorneys must treat classified information such as phone numbers, bank account credentials, electronic evidence, etc. with added care and they should testify that such data is securely encrypted on a separate hard drive or a cloud-based digital storage service.
In a world where webinars have become more mainstream than seeing the faces of people without masks, it is evident enough that virtual presence has indeed overshadowed physical juxtaposition for the time being. Working in a remote work culture might indeed be challenging, but adversities are an indispensable element of life, and working remotely is certainly better than being unemployed.
There are plenty of people who are now proficient in working successfully from the comfort of their homes and might be even willing to continue the same for the rest of their vocational tenures. Though we may like it or not, we must learn to adapt to our remote work profiles, at least till the end of this lethal pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic affects us all and it’s our collective responsibility to ensure that we come out stronger, sharper, and better out of it. Sanguinely, that day will arrive soon when we can go back to our workplaces and start cursing ‘Mondays’ all over again. Until then, lawyers must appreciate the value of remote work and instill all necessary measures for the welfare of their clients with a bona fide intention.
To surmise in the fitting words of Winston Churchill :
“Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
Dependence on technology raises concerns for breach of sensitive data. Careful utilisation and disposal of extraneous client data are of paramount importance and lawyers must be extremely vigilant regarding the same. On top of data security, lawyers working remotely shall abstain from sharing their workspaces or computer devices with others to sustain all precautionary measures to protect client-attorney privilege and vindicate their privacy.