At some point this spring or summer when half the world was in quarantine, your law practice changed. More of your staff may have started working remotely or were furloughed while you met with clients via phone calls and video conferences.
For law practices, many of these changes will likely be temporary. There will likely be post-pandemic, clients who want to meet their attorneys in person. Courts—which have already reopened to some degree—will surely return to normal capacity once the pandemic has ended. But other changes that increase efficiencies and bring law offices into the 21st century may stick around and seem, to many, long overdue.
Is the Pandemic Office the Office of the Future?
Your law practice may not look like a Silicon Valley startup, but technology is likely playing a bigger role in your office than it was at the beginning of 2020. A recent survey shows that more than 80 percent of firms see the increasing importance of technology as the greatest trend that will affect their organization in the next three years. Yet, less than a third of respondents said their firms are ready for those impacts.
Last spring, Martindale-Avvo surveyed attorneys about how the pandemic had changed their use of technology, including newly adopting video conferencing, e-signing and texting. More than a third of respondents said they were using e-signing and texting in their firms for the first time and more than 80 percent said they had started using video conferencing. While some of these tools may experience disuse once in-person meetings become possible again, many new habits—including those that courts have approved during the pandemic, such as e-signatures—will take hold in an increasingly paperless, virtual world.
Optimize Technology to Thrive Now and Post-COVID-19
Perhaps you are still working remotely or have staff working from home. Like so many businesses, law practices are finding themselves in a middle ground. Nothing is totally back to normal, nor are most businesses 100 percent remote. Instead, many lawyers operate in a hybrid practice—one that is both remote and physical. Your clients may or may not see the inside of a courtroom or your office. You may even have clients who hired you without ever meeting you in person.
Practices that will excel in this moment will leverage technology to optimize their client services and make their operations more efficient. For example, you can improve how you serve clients by ensuring your communications are protected with encrypted email and secure video conferencing. (You can research online to compare the pros and cons of various platforms and the most recent security patches for Zoom, Teams, Google Hangouts, and more.)
To improve your firm’s efficiency and, in turn, its ability to weather the COVID-19 storm, consider investing in:
- Case management software—Especially if you and your staff are working remotely, case management software helps everyone access everything they need from one place, track deadlines, access client data, and organize client communications. Is the investment worth it? That depends on how your practice is organized now, your caseload, and your bandwidth for manually tracking all the data, work product, and schedules involved in your cases.
- Live chat—Often clients researching a lawyer or firm won’t take the extra step of picking up the phone to ask a question. Live chat gives clients a low-stakes method of asking basic questions and allows you to collect valuable lead information. Can you thrive without it? Again, it depends. If your practice has already invested in technology that keeps your firm organized, live chat could be the next boost your practice needs by bringing some 21st-century functionality to your existing website.
- Automated Intake—Slow response time to new client queries can cost you business. Prospects expect lawyers to respond within minutes, not hours, and will call other attorneys who may respond faster. Potential clients can schedule an appointment, so you lock in leads on the first call without overwhelming support staff. This solution makes sense for practices that are receiving queries but not converting enough of them into clients.
Some technological changes have as much to do with outside forces—such as a worldwide pandemic—as they do with individual choices. Simply understanding the way technology is changing how firms operate and following the trends will go a long way to keeping your practice relevant and adaptable. Later, when the moment is right for you to invest in new technology, you’ll know what makes sense for your firm and your clients.