Prior to the happening of the Covid-19 pandemic, I often got questions from other attorneys about how I’m able to be away from the office so frequently. In fact, it seems to be the first thing that other attorneys ask me when I see colleagues at conferences, depositions or attorney networking events. I’ve been asked the question so many times that it prompted me to speak on this very topic at the Western Trial Lawyers Summer Seminar in Maui in June of 2019. My response to the question about how I’m able to travel, yet still manage a practice and litigate cases? It’s easy. I can work from anywhere.
I am able to work while I am away—even in remote destinations across the world—using a number of tools that our firm has put into place that allow me to remain connected wherever I go. I have the skill to be able to get things done from wherever I am. This “skill”—if you will—is now more important than ever with the Covid-19 stay at home order. Though I’ve always applied it with the intent of being able to work while I travel, all of these principles translate into how attorneys can work from home during the coronavirus crisis as well.
My takeaway from how often I get these types of questions from other attorneys is that they either do not have or are not using the right tools at their disposal to allow them to work from home or from somewhere else in the world. Personally, I think some of us have had this notion instilled in us that if we are not physically present in the office or in trial—or at a deposition or mediation—that we’re not really working or doing the best we can for our clients. But that’s just not the case.
With modern technology, you can practice law from anywhere, as long as you are efficient and have the right tools to do so. That means you can still represent your clients effectively and move cases forward while you are physically away from the office. And that means that you can do the same even during a stay at home order due to coronavirus.
Let’s be honest, you can basically do everything you need to do for your practice remotely except for arbitrations, court appearances and trials. There are, of course, some limited exceptions, but basically other than these court-mandated events, you can do everything while you’re away—including taking depositions using digital conferencing services, attending virtual mediations, crafting written discovery, meeting with clients using Zoom conferencing or Facetime, and even prep for arbitrations or trial.
So how do you do that?
Technology is key.
In order to be able to work remotely—either while traveling or while on coronavirus quarantine—you must have the ability to:
- Take and receive calls (VoIP or similar call distribution). “Voice over Internet Technology” (VoIP) allows you to make voice calls using an internet connection instead of an analog phone line
- Send/Receive e-mails and faxes using an internet-based service such as Nextiva
- Access case files on a smartphone or iPad
Now, I understand that some of these elements require planning ahead. Although you obviously can’t transition from a paper-based office to a cloud-based software program right this second during a stay at home order, if you’re still running a paper-based office I hope that the coronavirus epidemic will nudge you in the right direction so that you begin transitioning to the paperless and cloud-based world when things—hopefully—go back to normal.
Our world is moving in such a direction that you will eventually need to be cloud based and paperless, so digging your heels in the ground and refusing to adapt to this changing world will only make your practice less effective and that much more difficult to transition later on down the line. Trust me when I say if you are not running a cloud-based and paperless office now, you will someday have to make the switch and when you do, you will regret not doing it sooner.
You need to fully embrace the cloud-based practice.
I use a cloud-based practice management system, a VOIP phone system, an internet fax system, and have a mostly paperless office. All of our case files are stored on our server and in the cloud. Cloud-based tools offer more security and stability than most in-house server systems. Your case files and associated documents will be saved in one place, backed up to a secured cloud, and accessible from just about anywhere.
Because of the cloud, my data is safe from on-site fires, computer crashes, and more. And—just as important—I can truly work from anywhere, anytime. So, sometimes my office is a beach, a cabin in the mountains, a hotel room halfway across the world, or even my home.
Your office must be “paperless”.
Don’t get overwhelmed by the thought of being paperless. You must start by acknowledging that “paperless” really means “less paper” and that reducing paper in your office is always a work in progress.
When starting this process, begin with baby steps. Figure out how your firm is currently using paper and then start moving toward a digital intake process with all of the new paper that comes into your firm. Understand that this is not a process that can be done overnight, but will be a gradual transition.
Not willing to let go of paper files? No problem. You can still maintain paper files if you wish, but should simply be scanning every incoming and outgoing document that is either received or generated in a case, then be sure to add it to its corresponding case file in the cloud.
A temporary fix for this is to send out notices to opposing counsel and insurance companies that you will only be accepting correspondence or pleadings by email during the stay at home order. Call up defense counsel in each of your cases and ask them to stipulate to service by e-mail. Though there’s technically no requirement that they agree, I think most judges would frown upon someone’s refusal to work with you considering what we are dealing with because of the Covid-19 stay at home order. You too should aim to be as flexible as possible in accommodating their office’s needs during this time as well.
All you need to work paperless from your home is to have the capability of scanning paper documents. You need to either have a system in place where all mail that comes to the office still gets scanned and put into the cloud or sent to you by email, or you can buy a small scanner and scan the documents yourself from home. Any documents you generate—whether it’s discovery, letters, or pleadings—can be converted from Word to a PDF and then emailed to opposing counsel or the insurance company. If the files are too big, sign up for either Dropbox or Hightail, which you can use to send large files or multiple files by email.
Store documents in the Cloud.
The next step of going paperless is to decide whether or not to store your data in the cloud or on a server. My clear suggestion is that you need to store your data in the cloud. This is because online storage provides 24/7, convenient, secure access to all of your law firm’s documents and it’s a lot more secure than you think. You can also store your case files and documents on a server, or use a combination of server and cloud-based storage.
Maintaining a server-only practice, however, means that you either have to be physically present in the office to access the files, or you have to use a service like LogMeIn to access your computer at work remotely. Though this is an option, its cumbersome and often doesn’t work as efficiently as being able to access the information directly from the cloud. My clear recommendation is to store documents in the cloud.
Establish a paperless workflow.
Then you need to establish a paperless workflow. This workflow will be used by all employees whenever a new document arrives or is created at the office. If it’s a handwritten document, such as notes, it’s important to determine how it will be handled once it’s created.
We essentially have a rule in our office where everything that is generated for a case—whether it gets sent out or not—needs to be scanned and put into the appropriate folder in our trial management software, which is then stored in the cloud. So if a document goes out, it gets scanned beforehand. If we receive something in the mail, it gets scanned once it comes in. If we write handwritten notes on a case, it gets scanned and put into memos.
This is only manageable if you have a good practice management software though. Examples of cloud-based practice management software are:
In choosing a cloud-based practice management software, look for those that are well-organized and easy to use, robust enough to be capable of storing everything, and—most—importantly—accessible from anywhere.
We use TrialWorks, after making the transition from Abacus about four years ago. Admittedly, it was not the most seamless transition, but the further you get away from making the switch, the easier it is. You may encounter some hiccups—namely, finding documents that are not stored in the digital file—until the older files are phased out, but eventually once the older files are gone and after your employees have mastered how to properly save documents in the appropriate places, you will find that it is a much more streamlined process.
We made the decision to go with TrialWorks because we wanted the ability to not only access the files remotely but be able to pull up a case file from our phone or tablet. TrialWorks has an app that allows me to pull up the docket, memos, notes and other relevant documents in a case from wherever I am—whether I am away traveling or standing in front of a judge in a trial setting conference comparing schedules—using an app on my phone. Though accessing your files from an app isn’t necessary for working remotely, I would strongly encourage you to find a software management company that has such a feature.
Trial prep from anywhere.
Yes, you can prep for trial on the beach (or from your home during the Covid-19 stay at home order)! I’m completely serious. Now, although the most ideal scenario includes having a paperless practice management system so that you can access everything from the cloud, even if you DON’T have a paperless system you can still do this with a little preparation. Just scan critical documents or depo transcripts and put them in your Dropbox folder. Most court reporting firms these days will email you digital transcripts to begin with, and some will even include the .txt file, which you probably thought was completely useless until I tell you this life hack:
You can use those .txt files (in addition to the PDF files) to read, review and mark up your depo transcripts on your iPad.
Take advantage of trial software like TranscriptPad.
There are dozens of trial apps and software programs out there that allow you to upload case-specific documents into the app or software program and use these tools to both organize your documents and prepare exhibits to be shown at time of trial. I like to use TranscriptPad for reviewing deposition transcripts prior to trial.
Here’s what’s also awesome: you can search for keywords, and issue code in various colors. So for the super OCD people out there like me, you can color code various issues so that you can quickly and easily find the testimony you are looking for.
You can even create callouts to add to a PowerPoint or Keynote at time of trial and mark up the transcript using a pen on your iPad. There are so many ways to highlight, color code or write on these documents—meeting just about everyone’s individual learning or organizational styles.
Whether you’re prepping for mediation, arbitration or trial, you can use apps and cloud-based systems to have everything you need at your fingertips without bringing a single piece of paper.
Staying connected—ensuring you always have an internet connection.
Now, a lot of what I talked about requires that you have internet. You obviously need a Wi-Fi or cellular data connection to access cloud based software management programs or even your Dropbox folder. As we all know, most places we all travel to will have very easily accessible Wi-Fi, meaning you can still work while you’re away. And all the competitive cell phone companies offer decent pricing on international data plans these days. And I’m sure you have internet at home, so you are able to stay connected during the Covid-19 stay at home order. But what do you do if you’re not at home, or you’ve decided to work from a more remote destination? What then?
There are devices out there from companies like Skyroam that allow you to bring your own portable Wi-Fi hotspot for international travel. And if you don’t travel enough to warrant purchasing the device and having a regular plan, you can even rent the device.
The cost is actually pretty reasonable: the device itself is $150 and then you can choose between unlimited Wi-Fi for $100/mo or 1 GB of data for $9/mo. Those interested in purchasing the device can use code “SKYROAMISTHECURE” for 10% off your purchase.
Though this device is primarily used for traveling, I will share with you that I use it much more often that when I am abroad. You can take this little gadget to the beach, the park, or just about anywhere you can think of where you need to get an internet connection and can’t—or don’t want to—use your phone as a hotspot. My husband even takes it to open houses, which often don’t have internet set up, so that he can work while he is waiting to do showings. The possibilities—as you can imagine—are endless.
Another great option is to simply use your cell phone coverage to act as a personal hotspot. Though I wouldn’t recommend doing this on a long-term basis (because it can get expensive and use up your data, later putting you at risk of having reduced data speeds), it’s great in a pinch if you need to get your computer connected quickly to send off an email or upload documents to the cloud.
That’s it! As long as you have a Wi-Fi connection, a phone, computer or tablet that has access to your cloud-based practice management software, and a paperless system in place at the office, you truly can work from anywhere, meaning you can stay productive and represent your clients effectively during the coronavirus stay at home mandate. Good luck to you all and, as always, don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly if you have questions: firstname.lastname@example.org.