7 types of tech tools to help lawyers set up virtual offices
For lawyers across the country, the concept of working remotely from their law firms became an unsettling reality nearly overnight as many governors and mayors began requiring the closure of non-essential businesses earlier this week due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re one of those lawyers or staffers, then you’re undoubtedly struggling to identify the tools your “virtual” law firm needs to get up and running quickly so that you can work remotely from home and continue to serve your clients’ important legal needs.
While this might seem like a daunting task, setting your firm up for remote work is easier than ever in 2020. Cloud-based technologies have proliferated in recent years. As a result, there is a vast array of tools available to run nearly every aspect of your law firm from any location - as long as you have internet access.
Reassuringly, using these tools in your law firm is not only convenient and affordable, it’s ethically permissible as well. In fact, ethics committees from more than 20 states have weighed in and concluded that lawyers may ethically use cloud computing software to store and transmit confidential client data as long as reasonable care is exercised in vetting the cloud provider prior to using its services.
Of course, now that your team will be working remotely it’s all the more important to establish cybersecurity security procedures for your law firm, and then provide training on those policies. Ensure that all employees fully understand the procedures and the risks, including how to avoid malware and how to recognize suspicious phishing emails.
Over the past year or so, I’ve written about nearly all the tools you need to run your law firm remotely right here in this very column. What follows is a summary of my past articles that cover the different tools or software you’ll need to remotely handle various law firm functions. Each article described below: 1) includes a description of the tool or software, 2) addresses any relevant ethical issues, and 3) provides a run down if the most popular options in that category along with the pricing scheme and other relevant information.
Many of you are no doubt grappling with how to conduct client meetings in our newfound “social distancing” era. That’s where video conferencing tools come in. Using these tools you can have securely encrypted face-to-face video meetings with clients, work colleagues, and co-counsel, among others. In this article you’ll learn about the relevant security issues you should consider along with descriptions of some of the most popular video conferencing tools available to lawyers.
VOIP Phone Systems
Reliable phone systems with conferencing capabilities are commonplace in most law firms. Unfortunately most of these systems are tied to the firm’s brick and mortar law office, which doesn’t translate well to remote working situations. That’s where VoiP (voice over internet protocol) phone systems come in. With VoIP, calls are routed over internet protocol networks; all that is required is an internet connection. The end result is that you’re no longer tethered to your law office. Using VoiP you typically can make and receive unlimited phone calls (including international calls, in many cases), conduct conference calls, receive (and store) messages in different formats, and much more. You can learn more about VoiP options for law firms here.
Law Practice Management Software
Of course all law firm staff will need to be able to easily access law firm data while working remotely. Law firm information should be located in one centralized location and will include, among other things: 1) contacts and calendars, 2) invoicing and time-tracking, 3) documents and other matter-related data, 4) internal and external communications, and 5) financial data. As you learn in this piece, with cloud-based law practice management (LPM) software you can access all of this and more. Some LPM systems even include built-in e-signature capabilities, lead management tools, integrated email, 2-way text messaging, and secure communication and collaboration tools such as a client portal.
Online Fax Services
Although online fax services have been available for more than a decade, many lawyers are unaware of their existence. That’s going to change now that most lawyers are working remotely, since online faxing makes it easy to send and receive documents in digital format. Depending on the service you choose, documents can be sent and received via email, an online portal, or via a smartphone app. And, as you learn in this post, there are a number of different services available at very affordable price points.
If your firm wasn’t already moving towards a paperless office, there’s no time better than the present! Especially since e-filing requirements are sure to increase in light of today’s “social distancing” reality. Of course, in order to go paperless, you’ll need to ensure that law firm employees working remotely have access to a reliable scanner. Here, you’ll learn about many of the different scanners and scanning apps that are available.
Collaborative Word Processing Tools
Speaking of documents, it’s also a great time to consider online word processing tools. With online word processing, you’re able to log on from any internet-enabled device and access word processing software in the cloud to create documents that can be stored online in one convenient location. Even better—there are collaboration tools built right into the software that make it easy for lawyers to work together in real time. For more on the various online word processing options, click here.
Last but not least, there’s speech-to-text dictation tools. This voice-recognition technology streamlines the document creation process, allowing you to bypass the inefficient and time-consuming back and forth involved in the traditional dictation process. Instead of dictating to a tape, which you then must physically hand off to a staff member to type, you simply speak, and the text instantaneously appears on the screen in front of you. And, as you’ll learn in this article, today’s lawyers have more choices than ever when it comes to 21st-century digital dictation tools.
The bottom line: When it comes to remote working tools for law firms, there are lots of affordable and powerful tools available. The key is to perform an assessment of your law firm’s needs and determine the types of tools your firm will need in order for its employees to work remotely. Then use the articles above to research your options and choose the options that will best streamline your law firm’s operations and allow your firm’s lawyers and staff to work remotely as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York, attorney, author, journalist and the legal technology evangelist at MyCase, legal practice management software for small firms. She is the nationally recognized author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers and is co-author of Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier, both published by the American Bar Association. She also is co-author of Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for ABAJournal.com, Above the Law and the Daily Record, has authored hundreds of articles for other publications, and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. Follow her on Twitter @nikiblack, or she can be reached at [email protected].