The Brave New World of Practicing Law from a Home Office

Law practice has traditionally been conducted in an office. Now, on a dime, we have to isolate and practice law from home. How can you simulate your traditional office while working from home?

Practicing Law From Home Office - SpeakWrite

How it has always been. 

Law practice has traditionally been conducted in an office. It provided the necessary personnel, equipment, afforded us a place to visit clients and conduct interviews, and allowed us to do the thinking and writing required for a successful practice.

Now, on a dime, we have to isolate and work from home.

Out of necessity, we must work from home, for an undefined period into the future. All of our traditional ways of conducting our practice must be changed as well, because not only do we work from home, we must do it alone. Fellow attorneys, support staff, and other personnel we traditionally rely upon must be home as well. A more disruptive and radical change can barely be imagined.

It’s a shock to the system.

It is always difficult and a bit unnerving to have to change your ways of doing basic and important things in any circumstance. Law practice is difficult and all-consuming enough without undermining and disrupting the routines and procedures that you have established to make your work efficiently and profitably. As a veteran of a 30-year commercial litigation practice in Dallas, I can affirm that establishing and maintaining a durable and profitable law firm is a hard slough. But here we are. Life goes on and one of the options is not to sit and wait and hope for the best.

But how different is it really?

Your clients still have needs, and your knowledge and experience (and value to your clients and your firm) are still there. The value you are offering and that your clients are seeking has not diminished. It is just necessary to find a way to adapt that to this new paradigm that lets you continue to do what you do.

What are the essential elements that have changed?

Because of the restrictions and dangers posed by COVID 19 and its associated restrictions, it is simply impractical now, and possibly for the foreseeable future, for you to be able to meet and visit with your clients. Likewise, it is virtually impossible to meet, discuss, collaborate, etc. with others in your office as you have traditionally done. Without immediate access to your existing staff, the production of documents, the capture of your creative writing, analysis, and briefing, and the creation of the other documentation regarding your filings, planning, etc. is now dramatically more cumbersome.

How can you simulate your traditional law office while working from home?

Access to legal research (as well as other factual research supporting your work) has been available online for decades. Collaboration tools and software enabling you to work with others in your office, colleagues, and clients are readily available. Online court filing, depositions, and the like are either immediately available or quickly coming online.

However, there are two key additional components to round out a complete and comprehensive at-home practice.  One is the ability to have face-to-face communications, conversations, and meetings with clients, witnesses, colleagues, and others. Personal communication is so essential to conduct your practice as to be indispensable for its success. But Zoom, and several other online video conferencing capabilities, have immediately filled that void and almost overnight, have become the gold standard. That box can be effectively checked.

The other is in regard to document production.  This is a need that has been screaming for a better way for years. In the old days, there was a staff of personnel (a personal ‘secretary’ or a “typist pool”) dedicated to the task of providing these documents as needed. 

Not only was this limited by the size and capabilities of that group during busy periods, it carried a fixed and ongoing cost to maintain them during lulls in the action. It was also expensive to maintain this pool of people, their equipment, benefits, office space, etc., and you had no way of predicting if you were going to have too few or too many for the workload. Then, offices had a brief fling with the allure of a technology – speech recognition software. It seemed sexy and full of promise, but in the end, totally inadequate to the task. Lawyers were then pushed to “type your own”, which many tried and some continue to do, but it was an obvious waste of talent, having lawyers that could charge hundreds of dollars an hour for their time, engaging in an administerial function.

This is where I found myself over 20 years ago which caused me to create a service that solves this problem. SpeakWrite (www.speakwrite.com) has an unlimited staff of highly trained legal secretaries, available to users via their smartphone, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our vetted typists will take your recorded documents, notes, interviews, and virtually anything else, and return them to you in about 3 hours. It is tailor-made for the new work-at-home world in which we all find ourselves and satisfies a very difficult need immediately and inexpensively.

In some ways, work at home is actually more productive.

To be completely candid, once the trauma of a mandatory work at home directive has been accepted, many lawyers have indicated that the ability to work from home, without the distractions of an office, but with the support and use of the tools available to them, can be exceptionally productive. No one wants to change, but there is some chance that these new requirements will force us to find new ways of addressing problems and situations that will turn out to be beneficial in the long term.

Once this is over, what can be learned or carried forward in your law practice in a new, post-COVID world?

So, one day we will be back. The mandatory requirements arising from the virus will be dropped and we’ll be allowed to return to the same old, same old. But oftentimes things have a way of happening for a reason, so maybe these new skills, new tools, and new attitudes will enable us to tighten up our practice, particularly the operational and office management side, and be better than ever.

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