When we started our firm in 2014, we used many online resources to avoid physical infrastructure. Our primary objective was saving money, but we quickly realized that many of these online resources made it possible to run our entire firm and handle all legal work o virtually…on an iPhone. When we aren’t in the middle of a global pandemic, it gives me the power to handle everything on-the-go in between school drop off, family dinne and bedtime routines. But during this incredibly uncertain time, it’s what is keeping my firm operational.
Within hours, almost any firm could start the transition if not totally tranfer online. Below are my tips and resources for creating a virtual law firm.
Step One: Commit.
It’s not easy an easy transition, but it’s possible and once completed, it is life-changing.
Step Two: Invest in the devices for you.
The apps recommended below are all iPhone and iPad compatible. I recently bought the iPad Pro and Pencil and it’s coming in handy for my efforts to be not only virtual but totally paperless. The iPad Pro (with the pencil, the protector and the case) is essentially a touch-screen laptop and works similarly to a laptop. But you can always just use a laptop.
A fast scanner is crucial to this process also. I recommend this one. I don’t recommend an all-in-one printer/scanner because you can get a fast printer with toner (which is what you want so you aren’t paying the big bucks on ink) and a slower scanner, and a very fast scanner and still save money for an all-in-one that does what you really need. I recommend this printer and this generic toner.
An external hard drive is useful for backups.
Finally, high-speed internet is with the ability to forward calls. We use the Comcast Business phone and internet, which has an app that can give you the ability to make calls in the app that appear to come from my office. You can also forward calls to your cellphone.
Step Three: Move to the Cloud
There are many options include Google Drive for Business, Dropbox and more to store your files (and back up onto your external hard drive. You can even sync your files with your computer files so you would access them just as you would a file save on your desktop. Just like your email being in many different places, so too can your files be saved and updated in a variety of locations contemporaneous to the work.
Step Four: All the Apps
As lawyers, good case management software is crucial for this process. We use Clio Suite (Grow and Manage) which gives us the ability to intake our cases with virtual intake forms, task sets, electronic signatures on contracts and excellent record-keeping abilities for notes, tasks, a designated email for every matter and a designated synced Google Drive folder for every matter.
To manage your human resources, we used Gusto. To manage the staff, we use Slack to communicate in a secure environment, and Monday.com to track productivity.
To manage your finances, Quickbooks Online has been vital (also check out Quickbooks Self-Employed to track mileage and other expenses).
To manage marketing and ads, we use Instagram, Facebook, Facebook Business Manager, Facebook Ads Manager, Facebook Pages, Clips, Planoly and Canva. A good iPhone is all you really need with these apps.
Step Five: The Mail
Mail is probably the most difficult part of this process. We have asked one staff to go into the office during this time to receive the mail. We are lucky to have reliable staff, but it’s daunting for that person to go to the office. Another option is to temporarily forward mail via USPS and get a FedEx or USPS account to intercept deliveries and reroute to your home.
To send mail, a Stamps.com address is easy to set up and you can have all of the tools to weigh and meter your outgoing mail.
Step Six: Stay Connected
To stay connected with staff, daily or weekly check-ins via Zoom are helpful. There are many similar platforms (GotoMeeting, Google Hangout, Office) but Zoom is free for up to 40 minutes and has screen share and other features.
To stay connected to clients, good ol’ phone calls, and emails are still the perfect way to connect! Google Voice allows you to call from a number that is not your own, but some phone providers, like Comcast Business has an app that you can call from that appears to be your office number.
But you can always connect with clients on similar video platforms. In fact, you can have full-blown court hearings, mediations and calendar calls and many courts, mediators and firms are already doing this.
To stay connected with potential clients, use social media, emails or hand-written letters. People are desperate for information to break up the monotony of quarantine.
Step Seven: Make Space
Running a law firm from home is not easy. Space is the key to making all of these tools work together for you.
Physical space to spread out and work is obviously vital. I recommend that you find a space that is only for work so that you can mentally come to the table ready to work.
But space also means setting boundaries and expectations. You are not working 8am-5pm without interruption if you live with other people, so don’t sell that dream to yourself or others. This time feels a lot like law school to me (lots to do, lots of time to do it, the ability to work at all hours, but many distractions). Just like when you were in law school, you have to figure out when, where and how you work best. You have to carve that uninterrupted time out and make sure that your whole household is on board. Be firm, be gracious, but be clear.
Running a law firm from home is not easy. But if you are committed to keeping your casework and rainmaking going. We will be back in the office before you know it, but until it’s over you can do this.