By Erin Giglia and Laurie Rowen

We are now experiencing unprecedented times, and we are practicing social distancing due to Covid-19. This virus has resulted in unplanned school closures, business closures, and many other closures. We are being asked to cancel or postpone all non-essential human contacts, including office work.  Time magazine stated as early as February that “The Coronavirus Outbreak Has Become the World’s Largest Work-From-Home Experiment.”

What does this mean for law firms? It means that we are all going to need to adjust to remote working. Luckily for the legal industry, it’s less of an experiment than it is for many industries because many lawyers are already working remotely.

Montage Legal Group has been working remotely for over 11 years, and have built a company built around the virtual work concept. Even while we were still at our law firms, most of us worked remotely every night. Not much has changed. Montage Legal Group is proof positive that it can be done. We are 99% remote. We have U.S.-licensed attorneys who are working remotely all over the world, and have been doing it successfully for years.

We are here to help law firms, and we are happy to share our strategies for what has been working for us for over a decade.  What are our best practices for remote work?

1. Be Patient

Be patient with yourself, and with everyone around you.  With all schools and most offices closed, we are all going to need to adjust our expectations. Most people are going to be working from home, and many of us will now have children out of school and at home during business hours. Childcare is likely not available. Rest assured that everyone is going to do their absolute best.

Take this time to cut yourself, and everyone else, some slack. People may not be immediately available. Your legal assistant or associate may need a day or two to get organized and prepared to work from home with kids at home, and make sure he or she knows this is okay with you.  Schedule calls. Switch to email. Expect longer turnaround times, and that people may be working off hours. But we are still working, just like before. The work is the same, but the location is slightly different. Remember that a little bit of patience, understanding, and a kind word can go a long way.

2. Create a Dedicated Workspace

Most people work best in a dedicated workspace. If you do not have a home office already, try to create one in the most private place possible. This might mean taking a folding table out of the garage and setting it up in a guestroom or your bedroom. Do whatever works best for you. Make your workspace as comfortable as you can.  Many people have been doing this for years, so take their advice instead of recreating the wheel.  Do your own research to find articles like “6 Steps to Create the Perfect Workspace at Home,” or try a few different methods until you find one that best meets your needs.

3. Create a Schedule

Create a schedule for yourself, and stick to it as much as possible. This may be difficult with school closures, and limited (or nonexistent) childcare options. But lawyers are all very smart people. Come up with a plan.

While your calendar for work may have been sufficient to schedule your business meetings and depositions, when working from home, you may need to add personal items to your schedule like making lunch for your family, putting your toddler down for a nap, or taking your dog on a walk to get some fresh air.  If you like using technology to organize your life, check out “The best appointment scheduling apps” which has an extensive list of scheduling apps, including ratings.

We recommend including fitness in your daily schedule.  “But my gym is closed!” you might say.  Health experts have known for years that outdoor exercise can be better than indoor exercise, because it adds additional benefits for the mind, body, and mood, so go outside if possible and embrace nature.

Consider including your family when you are scheduling so everyone knows what to expect. Work together as a team to come up with what is most realistic for everyone.

4.  Communication is Key

Communication is the number one imperative when working remotely. You do not have the luxury of physically seeing everyone working, or having team meetings in the conference room, so it is more difficult to know exactly what is happening. There are easy solutions, and they all involve extra communication. If you receive an email that does not require a response, the sender will appreciate a simple “Received” in response. If someone calls and you cannot pick up, send a quick email with your anticipated call back time. There is nothing worse than being isolated, and not knowing what is happening.

You might consider using a shared Google Sheet, or other virtual task list, so the team has access to the same information. Perhaps everyone can email the team with their daily and weekly task plan, so everyone can anticipate plans. At the end of every day, email the team with the status, and include a to-do list for the next day. When you finish tasks, send updates.

In addition to extra communication using shared task lists and emails, don’t forget that technology provides many options for team meetings. Try to speak on the phone, FaceTime, Skype, or use Zoom for meetings as much as possible. These tools may also help prevent social isolation, which may be an issue for some.

5. Relax, and Realize That Everything Will Get Done

Running a virtual freelance attorney company for over a decade has exposed us to some interesting lawyer behaviors and psychology. Law firms frequently request a freelance attorney who is located geographically nearby, “just in case they need to come into the office,” or they insist on working with someone in-office because their law firm is “special.” Here’s the reality: Every law firm can operate virtually with the right tools in place. Yes, you can trust that your associates are actually doing the work that needs to be done, even if you cannot physically see them with your eyes. Working in an office is a preference, but it is very rarely a necessity.  For those who run a large office and are wondering how to manage it remotely, see Gallup’s guide for leaders: “COVID-19 Has My Teams Working Remotely: A Guide for Leaders.”

Use our experience as comfort that remote work is completely possible. We started Montage Legal Group in 2009, and have slowly grown to over 300 freelance attorneys. They are licensed in at least one U.S. state, but they are located all over the world. We have worked with countless law firms, and Montage freelance attorneys have handled everything from pleadings, document review, major motions, and appellate briefs, to leading mergers, drafting contracts of all varieties, drafting patent applications, and closing deals, all handled 100% remotely. Montage Legal Group has never had a physical office.  Our freelance attorneys, as well as our four employees, have all worked from our home offices this entire time. The commute is amazing.

We’ll close with a phrase that we’ve used countless times in our houses (usually about homework, but it still applies): “You have two choices: You can do this, and like it, or you can do this, and not like it. But these are your only choices, and it is 100% up to you.”

Next up: Best strategies for working from home with kids and no childcare.

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