Working remotely used to be unthinkable in the legal profession, with the most common argument being less efficiency and rapport building between colleagues as well as with clients. But according to a PwC’s U.S. Remote Work Survey published in January 2021, “Remote work has been an overwhelming success for both employees and employers.”
In the survey, 83% of legal employers say that remote work has been beneficial to their business. And this is consistent with the changes we’re seeing in the industry. As the pandemic forced firms to adopt alternative work models, technological advancements allowed flexible and remote work to evolve as a viable option without sacrificing quality of work. Innovative ideas for efficient work-from-home arrangements flourished and actually pushed for maintaining better legal services.
While there is still some legal work that is better done onsite or in person, others such as transcription and proofreading, contracts, and paralegal assistance have been successfully migrated online. Outsourcing of these jobs has lowered overhead expenses for many firms, saving thousands of dollars for firms.
As remote work became a perk that firms began to offer, they hoped to attract top talent who found this flexibility appealing. When lawyers discovered they could connect instantly from home and have the same capabilities at the office as at home, they questioned whether they might be able to work from home permanently. And with currently no end in sight to the pandemic, remote work seems to have prompted development of tech solutions that were not widely adopted in the legal sector before.
Until recently, thanks to the transformation of the internet from a novelty to mainstream service and the advent of email, communication has become faster, more efficient, and more accessible. Cloud computing and storage has made it easier to work from anywhere and decreased the need for purchasing storage hardware such as hard drives. Reaching new and potential clients jumped from a small geographical area to those outside state boundaries.
As for issues of security, virtual private networks (VPN) helped to make both legal firms and their clients at ease even as they interact remotely. Multiple channels of real-time remote communication such as Viber, WhatsApp, and Zoom allowed geographically-dispersed teams to message each other effectively. Thus the use of technology in the legal industry has made it possible for fostering a remote-friendly culture.
As discussed in the previous section, a possible downside of remote work is the possibility of unauthorized disclosure of private information. Despite VPN and security software, there are cases of breach of client confidentiality and the attorney-client privilege. Sometimes it is due to the lack of understanding or education in the use of the very same technology that supports remote work. There have been issues of forwarding of confidential information via messaging apps. In more malicious instances, unauthorized video recording or screengrabs are passed to the wrong people, seriously compromising the progress of legal cases.
There are ways to address these. To help strengthen client confidentiality, we recommend the following steps to secure your online meetings with fellow lawyers, paralegals, and clients:
Even if pre-pandemic “normalcy” returns in the foreseeable future, it appears that lawyers are looking to devote considerable time to working from home. Many are also adopting “hybrid” work arrangements where a core team will meet in person while the rest attends remotely. Firms that embrace this new, flexible work landscape will gain a competitive advantage in hiring and retaining talent, while firms that refuse to adapt will lose the same.
In addition, it is essential to maintain or exceed previous security measures to manage a client-lawyer confidentiality by keeping tabs on new technologies. Remember that the credibility of a law firm is built on upholding ethical and secure practices that clients can trust, regardless of where the lawyer works.