Using Team Communication Tools to Make Remote Work Effective for Law Firms
Remote work is not exactly a new concept for law firms. Even before the pandemic, team communication and collaboration tools were a necessity for busy lawyers who had to coordinate with paralegals, investigators, and office staff while working from the courtroom or while traveling for clients.
However, the rapid spread of “work from home” policies in the wake of the pandemic has transformed the way all businesses work—and law firms are no exception. ALM reports that “more law firms are hiring remote associates” although “hybrid arrangements dominate” the legal landscape.
What Is Driving the Shift to Remote Work in Law Firms?
There are many driving factors behind the shift to remote work and hybrid work models amongst law firms. Different law firms may have different reasons to shift to a remote work-friendly policy, such as:
- To Reduce Overhead for Office Space. Office space, especially in New York City, can be extremely costly. For example, a Class A office space can easily cost $100 per square foot a year. If you follow the modern average of 500 sq. ft. of space per attorney in your practice, that would mean spending $50,000 per attorney per year on office space alone. So, a 10-attorney firm would spend half a million dollars just on office space for attorneys—there would still need to be space for support staff, conference rooms, document storage, and server rooms on top of this. By encouraging remote work, law firms can cut down their office space requirements and free up budget for covering other costs.
- To Attract More Attorneys and Support Staff. According to SHRM, 48% of the U.S. workers they surveyed said that “they will ‘definitely’ seek a remote position for their next job.” So, by limiting positions to “in-office” only, firms may be limiting their pool of willing applicants. Additionally, by enabling remote work, law firms can attract new staff that would otherwise not reasonably be able to make the commute.
- To Reduce Staffing Costs. Another insight from the SHRM article is that employees may be willing to remain in an onsite role… if they’re offered a pay raise. For employees with a 30-minute commute, SHRM stated that an annual pay increase of 20% was a common demand. Employees with a 15-minute commute requested pay increases of about 15%. Meanwhile, hybrid employees with a 30-minute commute were willing to take a pay increase of 10% to keep working the same role. By offering remote work solutions, law firms can improve their chances of keeping their current staff without the need for significant pay increases.
- The Increased Reliability of Internet Infrastructure. In recent years, the global infrastructure for telecommunications tech has improved significantly. When the world wide web was first introduced, dial-up internet was limited to a speed of 56 kbps—meaning that a single 3.5 MB file would take upwards of ten minutes to download (Source: Entrepreneur). Today, the average internet speed in the U.S. is 119.03 Mbps (Source: highspeedinternet.com). Since one megabit (Mb) is equal to 1,000 kilobits (kb), this means that the modern internet infrastructure is over 2,125 times faster than it was in the early-to-mid-nineties. Modern remote work solutions can leverage this increased speed to make sharing files and collaborating on tasks remotely easy and affordable. Remote work solutions that would have been untenable just a decade ago are now easy to implement because of the reliability of the modern internet infrastructure.
Overhead costs, talent acquisition, and talent retention are just a few of the reasons why law firms are adopting remote work. However, it takes more than just allowing employees to work from home to make a remote work policy effective. There are certain technology tools and measures that need to be leveraged to ensure maximum productivity and results from remote work.
Using Team Communication and Collaboration Tools for Remote Work
For any remote work policy, it’s important to have the right resources in place to ensure that employees can effectively communicate and collaborate with one another. It isn’t enough for lawyers, paralegals, and other support staff to simply have a cell phone and each other’s numbers. They need to have resources in place that make it easy to share work, set up reminders, and drive accountability.
Some examples of team collaboration and communication tools that law firms might find extremely useful in remote work environments include:
- VOIP and Teleconferencing Systems. Voice over internet protocol (VOIP) phone systems have been around for decades. However, the applications for VOIP as a team communication and collaboration tool have improved significantly since their inception. Now, internet-based communications can relay not just spoken words, but also live video of speakers as they talk. This helps to overcome one of the major communication hurdles of remote work environments—the lack of “face to face” time between team members. With videoconferencing tools like Webex achieving near ubiquity in modern workplaces, many in the workforce are already familiar with how to use these tools.
- Cloud Collaboration Tools. Cloud-based team collaboration tools have become a must-have for law offices that have team members working remotely. Online document management solutions that allow two or more people to edit documents live are particularly helpful for making it easier for remote staff and in-office staff to collaborate on tasks like assembling legal briefs or motion filings. Team communication apps like Slack make it simple for lawyers and support staff to shoot quick memos to one another or share important files and links in a centralized location.
- Cloud Productivity Tools. Cloud-based tools can be an excellent way to keep remote team members as productive as possible while maintaining accountability. For example, centralized task and time-tracking software helps law offices confirm billable hours for client work in an open and transparent way that helps avoid disputes over legal services.
Tips for Remote Work as a Law Firm
1. Keep Your Solutions as Streamlined as Possible
When choosing remote work solutions for your law firm, it’s important to keep your overall tech stack in mind. For example, are there already solutions in your firm that can help with employee communication and/or file sharing? If so, then adding another solution that does the same thing may not be the best idea, since it forces lawyers and support staff to check multiple channels to find items that may have been sent to them.
However, if one tool can replace multiple communication and collaboration apps, then it might be worth adding to your remote work strategy since it can help streamline your processes.
Why? Because, having too many solutions to track or logins to remember can cause friction with your remote work tools. By simplifying your list of tools as much as possible, you can improve user experience—thus increasing technology adoption and efficiency for your whole organization.
2. Create a Document Detailing All of Your IT Infrastructure and Software Tools
What you don’t know can hurt you. In any organization, it’s important to have a solid idea of what hardware and software solutions are a part of your network so you can properly account for them in your operational workflows as well as your cybersecurity strategy.
Having unknown assets on your network can be costly—especially if you’re paying for software licenses that you aren’t using or have buggy, unpatched assets that may be more vulnerable to illicit access.
Creating a document detailing of the IT assets (hardware, software, and cloud-based) that your organization has is crucial for ensuring that you can limit waste while meeting all of your collaboration goals.
3. Provide Training on Cybersecurity for Remote Work
Because of the sensitive nature of the information they store and process, law firms need to be constantly vigilant against cyber threats. However, remote work means providing remote access to important files and software assets. Access that, if abused or usurped by a malicious actor, could result in significant monetary and reputational damage to the firm.
To keep the firm’s sensitive data safe, staff working remotely need to be cognizant of the best practices for safe internet use. This often means providing ongoing training to remote employees that covers topics such as:
- Avoiding free public Wi-Fi connections (unsecured Wi-Fi is often rife with threats like malware or man-in-the-middle attacks).
- Using virtual private network (VPN) connections to anonymize traffic.
- Recognizing phishing attempts designed to steal data.
- Not sharing passwords under any circumstances.
Even the most basic cybersecurity best practices are well worth reiterating to staff working remotely, as it’s all too easy for anyone to forget about the basics when they’re busy or get distracted by everyday life.
Need help setting up your own remote work strategy? Reach out to Converged Technology Group today to get started. Our managed IT services for law firms help lawyers get more out of their IT investments while meeting industry best practices. From picking the right remote work tools to trouble-shooting your IT infrastructure, we’re here to help.