Erin Giglia, Co-Owner of Montage Legal Group, and Louise Keefe, Owner of Perspektives, will be speaking in a free live webinar on Wednesday, April 15th, at noon, put on by the Orange County Bar Association COVID-19 Task Force: “Working with a Virtual Team.” Register at Ocbar.org.
Whew. You’ve been working remotely for a few weeks now, as are all of your team members. Now what? How do you effectively run your law practice when everyone is in different places? Running a law firm involves many issues and moving parts. A law firm is also a business, so in addition to handling client matters, law firms also need to concentrate on business issues like finance, billing and collections, marketing, business development, and administration. Running a law firm is challenging under normal circumstances, but remotely? It is not necessarily easy or intuitive, but it can be done. We’ve been running Montage Legal Group for over 11 years, and we’ve never had a physical office. Members of our team all work from their own homes. With the benefit of experience, we are sharing what has worked for us, and what has not worked, so that others can learn from our mistakes.
1. Get organized
Most firms probably had a system to stay organized before this pandemic started, so that is a good place to start. But the lockdown may have affected certain team members in terms of available work hours, or it may have even affected the size of the team. Revisit firm procedures, and determine what can continue as usual, and what needs adjustment. We’ve found that breaking up tasks into large categories, and maintaining a master planning document, works best for us.
For example, we use a master “marketing plan” document that includes broad categories such as branding, networking, article writing, blog, press, website, and speaking. Each category includes strategies and tasks, which are assigned to certain team members. Because we have master planning and/or procedures documents for every aspect of our business, we always know the big picture, and the smaller tasks we need to do in order to accomplish our goals.
We normally meet about our strategic documents twice a year. Since February, we’ve had discussions about adjusting some of our processes to account for the current situation to ensure we utilize the correct tone, and also direct our efforts to assist our clients, freelance attorneys, and the community during this difficult time. For larger teams, we suggest a series of online leadership meetings first, followed by a series of online meetings with the rest of the team.
2. Clearly divide and assign tasks and leaders
One of the most important lessons we learned was that our business works best when everyone clearly knows what they are supposed to be doing, and what is someone else’s job. There’s nothing worse than spending time working on something only to find out that someone else has already done it, or scrambling to do something at the last minute because everyone thought that it was already finished. If no one knows who is supposed to do which task, then the results are (1) wasting time and resources because of double efforts, and/or (2) things falling through the cracks.
Make sure everyone knows what has to be done, and who is in charge of each task. In other words, create rules. For example, a certain team member is always in charge of finance. No other team member is allowed to participate in tasks related to finance unless they have permission and have been assigned.
Dividing tasks seems simple, but we used to waste a lot of time doubling efforts. At times, it was disorganized and frustrating. Businesses run more smoothly with these rules in place. Once we clearly divided tasks, everything ran much smoother, without doubling efforts.
3. Effectively share documents and information
Many firms have had effective document sharing systems in place for many years, allowing attorneys and staff to work remotely when needed. But many other firms had to scramble to set up a remote work environment. If your firm had to scramble, then it might be time to reach out to a professional IT resource for recommendations to get set up properly. We are not here to recommend products, so we will leave that to the IT professionals. At a minimum, law firms need a system to store documents and files electronically, and a way to securely share those documents with the team. This way everyone is using and editing the correct version of each document, and nothing gets lost.
Given our structure as a freelance attorney platform, Montage Legal Group’s management does not deal with attorney/client information or attorney work product like a traditional law firm, so our solutions tend to be fairly simple. We have a document database that we share with the team. We also have a simple CRM that houses client and project information that certain members of our team utilize. That CRM keeps us organized, maintains task lists, and ensures that we are all on the same page. We also communicate with simple email and phone calls.
4. Constantly communicate
We discussed this in our first article about remote working, but we cannot emphasize it enough. Since your team is now physically separated, constant communication is key. Never assume that your team knows the status of a certain project. Communicate! Communication is so easy, and prevents all kinds of problems, and even prevents disasters.
Our strategy has been regular, scheduled meetings (usually on the phone, but an online meeting works too), and many additional calls and meetings interspersed throughout the week. Each week, we start out by going over our weekly agenda that we constantly update and maintain. During these weekly calls, we discuss to-do items that are relevant to that week, and make sure we are on track. We continue conversations over email and phone calls daily, while updating our charts and documents to keep track of to-do items.
With everyone working remotely, clear communication is imperative. If you are responsible for a certain task, consider providing the rest of your team with regular status updates. Let your team know that you are working on the task, and give regular status updates that are appropriate for the specific project. Updates might even need to happen daily. Send the finished product to the team, and let them know that it is complete, and what you will handle next. Working in isolation can be disconcerting, so never assume that people know what you’re doing. Communicating is an easy and effective tool!
5. Keep it simple
It is easy to get overwhelmed with options, especially during stressful times. Don’t let perfect become the enemy of the good, and definitely do not over-complicate things. Life is complicated enough right now. Instead, look for simple solutions. Montage relies heavily on email and regular, old-fashioned phone calls. They work perfect well, are simple, efficient, and cost-effective. We chose a simple client records management (CRM) system because it was inexpensive and easy to use, but it gets the job done. Similarly, we determined that our preferred finance system is only available on a desktop version, but with multiple team members accessing it, we simply use a remote desktop computer instead of converting to a cloud-based system that presented numerous other issues.
6. Relax and trust your team
Once a team knows their tasks and directions, sit back and trust that the work will get done. Team members are eager to be helpful. Your team shares the joint goal to ensure the firm’s survival and success through this lockdown. Everyone will need to exercise some patience while we adjust to our new situations, but with proper organization, delegation, and excellent communication, firms can thrive.
More questions? Don’t miss the live webinar on April 15th, at noon, put on by the Orange County Bar Association COVID-19 Task Force: “Working with a Virtual Team.” The webinar’s speakers – Erin Giglia and Louise Keefe – will focus on how to engage your team, and maximize your team’s potential and productivity with an eye toward post-COVID success. The panelists will discuss leadership strategies and challenges, as well as practical tips and pitfalls for your virtual team. Register at Ocbar.org.