How To Manage A Virtual Law Firm (The Complete Guide)

With law firms around the world now shifting from in-office to virtual, there’s one big challenge we’ve seen coming up time and time again—how can you confidently support your staff, your clients and your business through this change?

Whether you planned for it or not, the reality is most of your team is now working from home.

And this transition to remote work brings brand-new challenges that a traditional in-office team rarely considers. Challenges like…

  • How do you communicate with your team and clients virtually?
  • How do you keep your team on task and productive with no supervision?
  • How do you avoid approval bottlenecks when your team is no longer in the same building?
  • How do you get your team set up to do their best work from home?
  • What collaboration tools do you need to make it all work?

If you’re the firm’s managing partner, solving these challenges will often fall into your lap. In this guide, our goal is to help you and your law firm confidently navigate the potential roadblocks that come with shifting from an in-office model to a virtual law firm.

Here’s exactly what we’re going to cover:

  1. How to work collaboratively with a remote team
  2. How to keep your documents, matters and practice secure
  3. How to communicate with clients remotely
  4. 10+ tools every virtual law firm should be using

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By the time you reach the end of this guide, you’ll be in a position to manage your entire law firm remotely—and you’ll have the tools you need so that running your virtual practice is simple.

Let’s get started.

How To Lead & Collaborate With Your Remote Team

Whether you’ve been working as a remote law firm for some time or have just been thrust into it given the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the main things to consider is how you can effectively collaborate and lead a team when they’re working from home.

In this section, we’re going to share how-to’s and tips you can use to set your team up for success from the beginning.

Help your team set up their physical space to be as productive as possible

If you want your team to be their most productive selves at home, you have to equip them with the tools and technology they need to do their best work.

Start with the essentials, then tailor the checklist of supplies to include other items specific to their role and your organization. Here are a few things we recommend every remote worker have in their home office space:

  • Laptop or desktop computer (or at the very least, virtual desktop software)
  • High-quality monitor to use as a second screen
  • High-speed internet connection
  • Ergonomic desk chair or add-on to help with back and neck pain
  • High-quality headphones with a microphone
  • Standalone webcam for video calls (if their laptop doesn’t have a built-in webcam)

We’ve also created a working from home checklist specifically for law firms and their teams that covers what your team needs and how you can get them set up for success.

Set clear expectations & targets

With your firm now operating virtually, how are your monthly, quarterly and annual targets shifting across different departments? Are they shifting at all?

These are the questions your staff will be asking.

Especially in times of uncertainty like we’re experiencing today, it’s vital that you share how business, revenue and client goals are changing.

With remote work likely being brand-new to a large portion of your staff, it’s also important to clearly communicate what’s expected of them on a daily and weekly basis.

  • Are your office hours shifting?
  • When is your team expected to be online and available?
  • Are they logging hours? If so, how many hours are they expected to log?

And after you’ve communicated these key details, remember:

Over-communicate, then trust your team.

Just because you’re not working from the same location doesn’t mean you need to micromanage every employee across every task or track their screen activity to make sure they’re getting their work done. Trust that you’ve hired great employees, and trust that your team is still striving to do their best work for the firm and your clients.

Set up an easy way for hourly staff to clock in & log hours

If you have hourly workers on staff, like support or call center teams, you’ll need a way for them to keep track of and log their hours.

Two of the most popular tools for this are TSheets from Quickbooks and ADP’s time tracking feature. Both tools can be used to help hourly workers record their time every day for payroll purposes.

Another tool that’s more commonly used in the legal industry is Time Master. With this app, you and your team can log time entries and expenses, create reports and prepare invoices for the purposes of billing clients:

time master

And if you’re using practice management software with time tracking integrations as well, you can connect time entries directly to specific matters to help see how much time has been spent so far and by which people.

Be intentional about face-to-face interactions

Face-to-face communication is key to building and maintaining great relationships.

In fact, in one study nearly 100% of people said face-to-face meetings are essential for building long-term business relationships.

While you may not be able to physically meet face-to-face when running your law firm virtually, there are still tools at your disposal to create those live connections.

For example, instead of a traditional phone call, schedule a video conference using a tool like Uplink. Uplink allows attorneys and clients to easily jump on a quick video call to talk “in-person” without the client having to download software or create a user account.

Face-to-face interactions are key to staying connected and avoiding feelings of isolation while working remotely, especially during a global crisis like COVID-19 when everyone is encouraged to stay home.

 

Take advantage of cloud-based collaboration & case management tools

As we’ve already mentioned, internal communication is key when your team is distributed across the city, the continent or the world.

One of the best ways to keep everyone up to speed is to take advantage of cloud-based collaboration tools. Instead of managing cases in an Excel spreadsheet or a paper calendar, use a platform like Litify to keep track of cases, important tasks and deadlines.

Transparency is key here. Platforms like Litify ensure that managing partners have a bird’s eye view into their entire operations, know where each matter stands, how many cases each attorney is responsible for, and how they are performing against their colleagues.

These benefits trickle down to attorneys and paralegals who can see their deadlines and tasks at-a-glance, and are better equipped to meet expectations because of it.

For example, because Litify syncs with your Outlook calendar, you can add events and deadlines directly to a matter:

litify automation

And any team member who’s involved with the case and has turned on Outlook calendar syncing will see that task and deadline in their calendar:

litify tasks

Since both Litify and your Outlook calendar are accessible from anywhere and on any device, you can make changes and track case progress directly from your home office, and your entire firm can access the information they need.

By using collaborative tools with well-integrated features like this, you’ll be able to avoid the delays and bottlenecks that tend to happen when you can’t simply pop into someone’s office to ask for an update.

If you’re not using Litify today and need this functionality for your firm ASAP, we recommend looking into LitifyGo—our turnkey remote law firm solution in a quick to implement package.

Keeping Your Documents, Matters & Practice Secure Remotely

A common fear when moving from a traditional office to a virtual workplace is that you won’t be able to secure your firm’s documents and case information—or that your staff won’t have access.

  • Will your documents be more susceptible to security breaches?
  • Will your team have access to what they need, when they need it?
  • Is there an alternative to traditional on-premise storage?

In this section, we’ll answer each of  these questions. First, let’s talk about the importance of using cloud-based software to manage your firm:

Use secure, cloud-based practice management software

First things first—if your most important files, contact lists and case information are all stored on a server that lives at your office, it’s time to take a serious look at how cloud-based practice management software can help.

Not only does the on-premise approach lack the latest security features to protect your firm from serious breaches, it’s also slow and inaccessible for remote workers.

You may be asking—what actually is cloud-based practice management software?

In short, what this software can do for your firm is combine all your spreadsheets, all your thick file folders, all those siloed tools you forget you have and the many contact lists your team is maintaining into one central location.

So with a solution like Litify, you’ll now be able to:

  • Access everything from everywhere—case files, timelines, contact lists, etc.
  • Sleep easier with top-notch security in place
  • Keep track of (and automate) important matter workflows and tasks
  • Directly connect any other tools you still use into your practice management system
  • Create custom dashboards and reports to measure your firm’s performance

…and more.

litify custom dashboard

Manage your documents with accessible storage software

One of the most important aspects of transitioning to remote work is maintaining accessibility across your firm. You need to make sure your entire staff has access to all the documents they need, whenever they need them.

Traditionally, you can do this by storing everything on giant external hard drives and on-premise servers that everyone in the office can connect to. But with no shared office space, you need to adopt a more accessible solution.

And the solution you’re looking for is cloud-based document storage.

litify matters

With a cloud-based storage system, you don’t need private servers. Just as Dropbox and Google Drive can store your personal folders so they can be accessed from anywhere, cloud-based document solutions like Docrio do the same for your client documents.

This means everyone at your firm can access important case files and documents no matter where they are, whether that be…

  • On their phone
  • At their home office
  • In the courtroom
  • On the road
  • In a client meeting

In addition to making these important documents accessible, you need to do everything in your power to keep your documents secure.

Because the best cloud-based software offers key security features like encrypted data, backups and recovery, and two-factor authentication, these tools are actually safer than relying only on an on-premise server.

Educate your staff about secure internet & its importance

When working with sensitive files and documents, the value of a secure and private internet connection is huge.

Using public and non-secure networks to access important information opens the door to hackers and security breaches—potentially costing your firm millions of dollars in damages. In fact, as of 2019 the average cost of a cyberattack is $3.92 million.

And considering TechReport 2019 found that 26% of law firms experienced some form of a security breach, it’s important to take the necessary steps to prevent any breaches before they happen—especially when your IT and operations department is also working remotely.

We’d recommend starting with the following seven tips for staying secure when transitioning to remote work:

1. Use strong passwords & password management software

Instead of using basic passwords like MyCompany123, use a password generator to create strong and secure passwords, then use password management tools like 1Password or LastPass to securely save and share them.

2. Use two-factor authentication for account logins

Anytime you sign in to your accounts, this feature will send you a text message or email to confirm it’s you logging in. If you’re currently using Litify, you already have access to this functionality directly through Salesforce. For accounts outside of Litify, you can use Okta for two-factor authentication.

3. Set up proper firewalls

A firewall is essentially a filter that prevents outside users from accessing your devices through unsecure networks and websites.

4. Use antivirus software

Antivirus software works to monitor for and prevent potential viruses from infecting your devices, potentially leading to massive company security breaches.

5. Backup your most important data

If a security breach occurs and you lose important data, having a backup to restore will save you plenty of hours and recovery costs. Again, if you’re using Litify already this backup process happens automatically through Salesforce.

6. Avoid phishing emails and websites

Plenty of hackers will try to trick your employees into clicking on fake links disguised as something common like an Amazon refund notification or bank statement that grant them access to your devices and secure data.

Bad actors will take advantage of the global COVID-19 crisis to send fake emails posing as company executives, COVID-19 education sources, and more.

7. Secure your home WiFi router

Updating a handful of settings on your home wifi router can help prevent unauthorized access from hackers. Norton—an antivirus company—has published a great home WiFi security checklist worth sharing with your team. Most of all, make sure to avoid public WiFi and use a WiFi-Protected Access network.

How To Virtually Communicate With Clients

On top of being able to successfully collaborate with your own team in real-time virtually, you also need to consider how you can best communicate with clients.

Even though you’re not working from an office building where clients can come meet with you in-person, that doesn’t mean the only conversations you have are through email or a phone call.

In this section we’ll break down how to make your video calls as high quality as you can, ways to share information with clients proactively and in real-time, and how successful remote law firms are currently tackling this problem.

Video conferencing best practices for client conversations

With your meetings now happening via video call and video conference, it’s important that your team set up their home offices to promote clear communication. If you have a home studio already, awesome—but chances are most people don’t.

Before we talk specifics on how to optimize your video call setup, the first step you need to take is actually turning on your camera. If you’re using Zoom, make sure to click “start video” when you join the call:

zoom share video

If the goal is to encourage face-to-face conversations, having your camera on is obviously a must. From there, be sure to share these three video call best practices with your team:

1. Avoid backlighting.

As beautiful as your office window may look to you, all the client will see is a shadowy figure getting swallowed up by the sunlight. Try to position yourself so the background is a white or light-colored wall and natural light is pointing toward your face.

2. Limit distractions.

And we don’t mean your dog barking or your kids sneaking in to say hello—with the current COVID-19 situation, everyone’s a little more understanding of those interruptions. What we mean here is to limit the visually noisy elements around you: disorganized bookshelves, colorful wall art—anything that will pull your client’s attention away from you when you’re speaking.

If it’s simply not possible to limit the noise and distractions behind you, you can also set up a virtual background image directly inside of Zoom.

zoom backgrounds

3. Use a clear, high-quality microphone.

There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to navigate a client call with a microphone that sounds like it was built for a 1950s radio station. Equip your staff with high-quality headsets or headphones, if they don’t already own a pair. The better your microphone, the easier it’ll be for clients to hear and understand what you’re saying.

video call setup

(Image)

Set up client portals to provide information and 24/7 insight into case status

Now more than ever, it’s important to be transparent with your clients on case progress, key timelines and next steps. We’re living through very stressful times, and the more you can do to put your clients at ease, the better.

One of the best ways to do this is by setting up shared client portals.

By creating a space they can access whenever they have questions about dates, progress, actions they need to take and more, you’ll be giving your clients peace of mind.

Instead of sitting on their hands waiting for your firm to call or email with updates, your clients can access this portal on their own schedule from their own home.

Be proactive & over-communicate

Of course, setting up a client portal is only one piece of the puzzle. While they may be able to see what’s happening next, expecting them to understand everything they’re seeing wouldn’t be fair.

After all, your clients aren’t legal experts—you are.

That’s why it’s important to communicate with your clients early and often.

  • If their case status changes, reach out to keep your client in the loop
  • If an action needs to be taken, tell the client as soon as possible
  • If a deadline or court date is moved, the client should hear it from you first

Show your client you’re still there for them every step of the way, even when your firm is working remotely.

Use e-signature tools to create a straightforward signing process

Too often, getting signatures from clients is far more difficult than it needs to be. If you can’t meet in-person for signatures, here’s how that process might go:

  • You email a document to your client—or worse, fax it
  • They print the document (if they have a printer)
  • They sign the document by hand
  • They scan the document (if they have a scanner)
  • They email the file back to you
  • You print the document
  • You sign it by hand
  • You scan it again (phew!)

The entire process has far too many steps that rely on you and your client having the physical tools needed to keep passing documents back and forth. The reality is, a lot of people don’t own printers anymore. And if they do, you can bet it’s running low on ink.

Instead, use an e-signature tool like DocuSign or AssureSign to capture signatures online—skipping the printing, scanning and pen-hunting steps of the process.

esignature tool

If you’re using Litify to manage your law practice, you can integrate both of these tools directly into the platform to make the process even more straightforward for your clients.

How current Litify users are communicating with their clients virtually today

With the world moving to remote-first, we wanted to talk with some of our current Litify users to see how they’ve been adapting to working from home, what challenges they’ve been facing, and their top tips for working remotely during COVID-19.

After we spoke with three law firms—HawkLaw, Daniel Stark Injury Lawyers, and Hornsby Law Group—one of the major takeaways was how they’re using tools to their advantage. In particular, they mentioned tools like:

  • Salesforce Chatter to discuss matters & documents directly inside of Litify
  • Zoom, GoToMeeting and UberConference for video conferencing
  • Calendly for easily scheduling client meetings online
  • Microsoft Teams to communicate and collaborate inside of Office 365
  • LoginTC for more secure multi-factor authentication for tools other than Litify

Most importantly though, they’re doing one thing in particular when it comes to communicating with their clients:

Reaching them where they want to be reached.

Whether that be email, phone, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, text—the firms that are successfully communicating with clients virtually are putting the clients processes and preferences first.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Litify can help your firm confidently manage the switch from entirely in-office to fully remote, request a demo of the platform today.

10+ Tools Every Remote Law Firm Should Be Using In 2020

It’s no secret that when your entire staff is working virtually, having the right tools at your fingertips can make a massive difference.

The truth is, working from home doesn’t mean managing every single conversation, project and action item through your Outlook inbox. There are plenty of fantastic tools law firms can use to encourage collaboration and keep everything moving in the right direction.

In this section, we’re going to highlight 15 tools that we believe every virtual law firm should consider adding to their toolkit.

And if you’re looking for even more tools you can use to work effectively and efficiently, check out our remote software guide with 40+ tools you can use to manage your firm remotely.

Slack / Microsoft Teams

With both Slack and Microsoft Teams, you can talk with anyone in your entire firm at any time, from anywhere. Instead of communicating solely by email (and fighting for attention in a crowded inbox), these tools give you a more efficient way to quickly discuss clients, documents, case statuses and more.

You can also create separate channels inside of your Slack organization to discuss specific practice areas, cases, etc.

slack

Zoom

We touched on Zoom earlier in this post, but to recap—instead of turning to standard phone conversations, you can use a video conferencing tool like Zoom to maintain the face-to-face aspect of your meetings.

And the same goes for client meetings. With Zoom, you can set up video calls that your client can join without needing an account of their own.

Using Zoom, the entire Litify team can connect face-to-face, even though many of our team members have always worked remotely:

litify team

Drift Video / Loom / Soapbox from Wistia

Sometimes it’s easiest to explain things in person.

When you’re working remotely, you don’t necessarily have that luxury. That’s where tools like Drift Video, Loom and Soapbox from Wistia come in handy.

loom video

With each of these tools, you can record your screen and talk through a case or project briefing, explain a problem you’re seeing, walk new hires through a specific process—pretty much anything you could do in a face-to-face conversation.

The primary value of these tools is the time and effort your team will save by not having to write out long, complicated requests and explanations.

Salesforce Chatter

Salesforce Chatter is an internal social network built directly into the Salesforce platform.

Using this social network, your entire organization can easily relate conversations to specific matters or case documents. You can tag colleagues like you would on a Facebook post and subscribe to updates on specific channels, groups or matters.

salesforce chatter

Litify

Litify is the platform solution successful virtual law firms are using to manage their entire law practice from one central location and run their firms as efficiently as possible.

The Litify platform includes:

If you want to dig deeper into how all-in-one practice management software can benefit your firm and what a tool like Litify can do for you, check out our Definitive Guide To Law Practice Management Software In 2020.

law practice management software

LastPass / 1Password

Two tools we mentioned in the previous section—LastPass and 1Password—are two of the most popular password storage and sharing applications.

Each program allows you to store login information for any tool, website or account, then securely give access to any member of your team without having to share the actual password. The password remains private, your team has the access they need, and you can later revoke access if a team member leaves or no longer needs it.

1password

Aircall / 8×8 Call Center

If your firm employs call center or phone support staff, virtual call center software like Aircall or 8×8 can help them stay productive without needing to use a personal phone.

Aircall operates just like a standard phone would (i.e., you can make and receive calls) but adds tracking functions to help your staff keep track of how many hours they’ve spent on the phones and who they’ve talked to.

aircall

8×8 is more popular in the legal industry, and it allows you to integrate an entire remote call center without needing to set up specialized infrastructure or dedicate IT resources.

8x8

Expensify / Concur

Managing expense reports and expense tracking spreadsheets has always been tedious and typically results in your accounting team having to nudge the rest of your staff to fill out forms and submit receipts.

This process becomes even more difficult when managing a remote law firm, since these receipts and expenses have to be scanned and shared digitally.

Instead, we’d recommend setting up a tool like Expensify or Concur. Both are cloud-based expense management systems that your team can use to track expenses, capture receipts and share them with your accounting department with far less hassle.

expensify

QuickBooks

You may already be using QuickBooks or similar accounting software. If so, great! But if you’re still managing your firm’s books and billing through a combination of spreadsheets and outdated tools, give QuickBooks a serious look.

With their software, you can bill clients, keep track of time for hourly employees, measure billable hours for attorneys, manage costs across your firm and more—all from wherever you happen to be in the world.

And if you’re using Litify as your all-in-one practice management software, you can integrate with QuickBooks to keep track of all things related to your firm from one location.

quickbooks for law firms

If you’re looking for even more actionable how-to’s specific to running a remote law firm, check out our Remote Work Resource Hub for virtual law firms. It’s a collection of our team’s best tips, tricks and industry-leading advice for managing your firm remotely.

Time To Take Action

Whether your law firm has been remote for a while now or you’ve been forced to quickly adapt to the current situation, we hope this guide can serve as a great resource to help you navigate the transition from in-office to remote.

Let’s recap a few of the key takeaways:

  1. Set your team up for working-from-home success by equipping them with the technology and physical tools they need to do their best work.
  2. Always over-communicate and set clear expectations.
  3. Be intentional about maintaining face-to-face interaction.
  4. Follow video conference best practices to create the best experience possible for you, your team and your clients.
  5. Cloud-based tools can and will be your greatest asset when managing a remote law firm.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Litify is empowering law firms of all sizes to do their best work from anywhere in the world, request a demo to see Litify in action today.