Once a far-flung, fanciful concept in the legal realm, remote work — and remote matter management — is now the norm for thousands of law firms across the country. When states decreed stay-at-home mandates, many firms came to unfortunate grips because they were in no way equipped to handle an entire docket from their living rooms. Lawyers resorted to giving clients their personal mobile numbers. They spent hours hunting down drafts of documents (was it on the paralegal’s desktop or the Google Drive?).
Practising law in a physical office is already an anxiety-riddled and laborious process. Remote law firm life is an entirely different beast. Australian law firms have operated in some version of a remote or hybrid structure; 54.84% of firms in Smokeball’s 2021 State of Small Law Study: Law Practice In The New Normal Study say employees currently expect to continue the hybrid working model.
But there’s a big difference between operating in a hybrid environment and thriving while working from home. The transition to successful remote work doesn’t have to be painful, so long as you utilise the proper matter management technology.
Smokeball can save the day in a hybrid law firm environment by acting as a project management tool. PM tools supply clear feedback on task owners and deadlines and can help law firm operations run smoothly through a calendar view of matter-related tasks.
Despite the pains of adapting to remote life, a huge silver lining appeared from the chaos: many lawyers learned they could truly practice from anywhere. This remote practice firm model will only continue to grow in popularity as lawyers get comfortable with cloud-based law firm software.
Below, we will discuss some common pain points of remote work and how to leverage your law firm’s matter management software as a project management software to get your firm ready for remote work — or to improve your current processes.
Pain Point #1: Communication with Staff
A commonly discussed peril of project management during remote work is the inability to quickly pop over to your colleagues desk and discuss what needs to be done on a matter. It is also hard to schedule impromptu phone calls, and email is not an ideal choice to communicate with your staff when everyone receives 200+ emails daily. The solution? Utilise your software, especially the Communicate feature if you are a Smokeball user, to collaborate with your staff and keep everyone on task. You don’t have to give clients your personal mobile number to communicate with them! Communicate allows you to directly message any user on your matter in a central location.
Pain Point #2: Monitoring Staff and Capturing Time
Many lawyers hesitate to adopt a remote or hybrid office model simply because they don‘t know whether their staff will still work (and bill) on matters like they did in the physical office. When the partner can’t pop into the lawyers office randomly throughout the day, how can they project-manage the employee’s workload? Can they truly rely on the staff to capture their time when they are working from home?
You don’t need to go full-on Big Brother to make sure your staff are doing their jobs. Instead, technology like Smokeball’s Automatic Time Tracking feature allows you to gather insights from your staff’s activity within the matter management system. You can see when a team member spent 15 minutes sending out emails to clients, or when they spent two hours drafting responses to discovery. And if certain members of your legal team are overworked or underutilised, project-manage their tasks by re-assigning through Smokeball’s Legal Tasks and Workflows.
This technology benefits not only the partner looking at profitability but also the lawyer billing on the matter. Lawyers no longer need to get behind on tracking their time and wait until the end of the week (or month) trying to recreate their hours. Instead, Smokeball tracks your work in real-time, creating a document that displays all your daily billable time. You can capture more of your hours and automatically log them for you. This is a significant benefit that helps lessen the stress of remote work.
Pain Point #3: No Centralised Information System
Let’s give you a scenario: You are drafting a custody agreement. You are almost done and need the children’s full names and dates of birth, but you cannot find them. You spend half an hour searching the firm drive until you find the client’s intake paperwork, filled out by hand and scanned into the system, containing the necessary information. Part of what makes remote work so vexatious is the lack of a uniform, centralised system from which to pull basic information.
Legal technology like Smokeball means you never have to wonder where your matter information lives. Enter relevant matter information into Smokeball (I.e., names of parties, social security numbers, date of marriage, addresses, etc.), and you never have to worry about tracking it down again. In fact, Smokeball auto-populates this information into relevant documents from the extensive form and precedent library. For instance, you filled out all of the party information in Smokeball (including the children’s information) at the outset of my matter. So, when you pull up your template for your final order, Smokeball auto-populates that basic information, saving you many rounds of Find & Replace in Microsoft Word and minimising the risk of human error.
Pain Point #4: Deadlines and Calendaring
You were notified of upcoming trial deadlines during your time at the physical office by a big, red, angry sheet of paper in your physical inbox. With frequent and multiple settings in a week, and though you considered yourself a responsible lawyer, sometimes it took an aggressive red sheet to remind you that a trial was two weeks out.
Obviously, this isn’t an option if your firm is entirely remote. Luckily, calendaring systems such as the Daily Digest one used in Smokeball’s software take the guesswork out of deadlines and managing each of your projects.
Deadline-focused tools are the one thing that must always be reliable, easy to use and organised. Especially in a remote world, it is imperative that you use trustworthy software that understands the needs of a lawyer.
Running a remote law firm doesn’t have to be daunting. In fact, it can make you more money and substantially decrease your stress load. Start looking at a complete, cloud-based legal practice management system if you truly want to level up your law practice.