working remotely

LTRC Roundtable Discussion: Working Remotely

Working remotely has become the norm for many of us these past few months in the wake of COVID-19. This month we asked our panelists how well they have been adjusting to this new way of life.

Our Panelists:

Allison Shields (AS), William Goren (WG),  Dennis Kennedy (DK), Alexander Paykin (AP), John Loughnane (JL), Dave Christensen (DC) and Gyi Tsakalakis (GT).

Were you already working from home  (or remotely) before the Coronavirus stay-at-home orders or is it new to you?

AS: I usually work from home. Since I’m a consultant who works with lawyers and law firms around the country, most of my work was already done virtually or I would travel to my clients’ offices for meetings or presentations.

WG: I have been practicing virtually for almost 8 years now.

DK: I’ve often worked from home as an option over the years. At the time of the stay-at-home orders, I was both working at home and teaching in-person law school courses at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. The switch to online education was a big move for everyone. Tom Mighell and I wrote a book called The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies, so I’d like to believe that I was reasonably experienced and prepared.

AP:  I’ve worked virtually for years before buying my office space and am also constantly travelling to teaching engagements, so working away from the office is second nature to me…

JL: Worked occasional from home before;  but the full time experience is definitely new.

DC: Occasionally, usually no more than once every couple of weeks.

GT: We feel very fortunate to have implemented a remote-first culture well in advance of Coronavirus.

Aside from your computer or your phone, what’s one tool (hardware or software) you couldn’t do without while working remotely?

AS: Zoom has become much more important to my practice since I can no longer visit clients in their offices or do in-person presentations.

WG: Case management system. Also, a separate defined space to work apart from living quarters.

DK: Very hard to name just one. AirPods, Zoom, Teams and Slack, Office 365 suite, and a few other cloud tools. Doodle is another one.

AP: Just one?  I wouldn’t know where to start…  (a) Definitely a good all-in-one printer/scanner unit; (b) a good portable conference camera system (with built in noise cancelling full duplex speakerphone) like the Logitech ConferenceCam; (c) a digital postage printer, like the Dymo LabelWriter; (d) my dictation microphone (Philips SpeechMike) and the Dragon Naturally Speaking Dictation software (Legal Edition – much larger vocabulary of legalese and latin words and phrases); (e) my LegalBoard keyboard – has special keys for all of our lawyerly symbols (e.g. §, ¶), easy keys for inserting footnotes, adjusting formatting and just typing faster, with hot keys for frequently used abbreviations (e.g. F.2d, F. Supp., U.S.C., C.F.R., appellant, respondent, plaintiff, defendant, see, e.g., U.S., F.3d); and (f) all my key daily use software (practice management system, MS Word/Excel, Acrobat, conference systems [Zoom, Skype for Business, Google Meet], cloud storage [Dropbox, Google Drive] and QuickBooks.

JL: Definitely the second (and third) monitor. Essential.

DC: I’ll give you two. The first is Skype for Business that allows my work phone to be forwarded to my cell phone.  The second is my standup desk since my home desk setup is not ideal and the desk allows me to change positions as frequently as I want.

GT: Software, I’m going with my scheduling / conferencing stack: Calendly + Zoom. We tried a variety of video conferencing tools, we found none to be as reliable as Zoom. As for hardware, web cam. In my experience, video is essential for operating remote-first.

Do you have any other employees also working remotely? If so, how are you managing them and their work-product?

WG: No. I am a solo practitioner with a super niche practice area (Understanding the ADA so that the client understands how to comply with that law and related laws).

DK: No, unless you count my law students. Fortunately, the existing law school online tools work well for submitting assignments and other aspects of classes.

AP:  My paralegal and other support staff are working remotely and my practice management system and cloud-based storage allows each of us to do our own tasks and for me to see that all the tasks are on schedule.  I can review notes, time entries and all sorts of matter progress.  In fact, working remotely does not change how or how much I supervise my staff.

JL: All colleagues are working remotely.   All have the tools needed and are able to operate seamlessly.

DC: Yes, we have both staff and attorneys working remotely (approx. 275 total).  For my core team I touch base with them every couple of days.  For those that I know are home alone, I call frequently to check in, otherwise we communicate via email, MS Teams or Skype for Business.  Supervising of work product is the same as when we were in the office.

GT: Our whole team is remote. We use Teamwork to understand what we’re working on.

What sort of feedback from your clients or employees (positive or negative) have you received.

AS: My clients are enjoying videoconferences – I have a feeling that when this is over, videoconferences will continue with clients I would normally otherwise have visited in their offices, or for clients who previously did consulting sessions with me only by telephone. But some clients are also telling me that since so much work is being done by videoconference, they are getting “Zoom fatigue,” with too many videoconferences in one day, so we need to strike a balance.

WG: A lot of people are envious. All who contact me are quite receptive.

DK: I’ve gotten a few compliments on my audio and video quality (microphones, headsets, and webcam). That’s probably my long podcasting experience showing through. For the most part, I’m happy that people are pleased with my willingness to accommodate to their preferred platforms.

AP: My clients have not noticed the differnece, as I am just as available to them and all of their needs are being met with no gaps or issues…

JL: Clients  also are all working remotely.   Everybody is in the same position.   Phone calls and emails are continuing as normal – if anything there has been a pickup of video conferencing  whereas before the same communication may have just happened telephonically.

DC: Work with clients has not substantially changed as we meet in person infrequently, it is almost always done over the phone or via email during normal times.  Internally, we have people with a wide variety of opinions on the current work situation.  Some never want to come back to the office, others are getting cabin fever.

GT: Our team greatly values our remote-first culture. From a business standpoint, it’s help us recruit, hire, and retain top talent, regardless of location.

Will your current work-from-home experience change your “regular” work routine when “stay at home” orders are lifted? If so, how?

AS: Some lawyers will want a lot more in-person contact when this is over because they can see the value in working together without technology as a barrier. But at least most of my clients are now familiar enough with videoconferencing platforms that they won’t be afraid to use them in the future.

WG: No. See above entry on virtual practicing.

DK: The biggest change is likely to be that I want to start doing a lot more video and creating some online courses. I don’t expect to see a lot of changes, but I do know that it will take a lot to get me to go to public spaces and to travel again. I don’t see why I should take the risk when the online tools work so well.

AP: No.  I was already used to working anytime from anywhere with an internet connection…

JL: Although such orders surely will be lifted at some point, I believe some clients will not revert back to  pre-disaster routines.   Specifically, I think more people will opt to work remotely more often, avoid crowds and opt to rely  on virtual communication tools.    The new normal will be different from the old normal.

DC: I may work at home more often, there are some ways that working at home is more productive, with less distractions, than being in the office.

GT: It will be business as usual for most of us.

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