For many of us, working remotely was merely an occasional convenience—a way of catching up on work in the evening or on the weekend without having to step foot in the office. Unfortunately, the current state of affairs has moved our law practices to basement alcoves, dining-room tables, or spare-bedroom desks. This disruption can shake even the most dedicated lawyer. Here are a few tips for transitioning from the brick-and-mortar office to the virtual law-practice world.
Make sure your remote office is secure.
Carefully review your remote set up to ensure you’re taking necessary security measures. Lawyers are entrusted with client confidences, which must be maintained regardless of work space. Make sure that your e-mail, work space, and internet connection are secure. Free e-mail services don’t provide the heightened security needed for a law practice. You may need to implement additional security measures so your internet connection is not accessible to others. You may also want to consider disabling devices like Alexa, Siri, and Google Home—according to some, they’re always listening.
To help ward off cyber-attacks, periodically update your home network. Changing the password to your computer, phone, and router on a regular basis is a simple yet effective way to reduce cyber intrusions. The Department of Homeland Security has some great tips for creating strong and unique passwords.
Antivirus software is programmed to detect, prevent, and search for viruses and other intrusions that could damage or disable the content of your computer. Be sure to install and routinely update antivirus software on your computer.
Another protective layer to stop cyber intrusions is a firewall, which comes in either software or hardware form and prevents unauthorized users from accessing your private network. The firewall filter flags and prevents the unauthorized access of information from infiltrating your system.
To learn more about improving and strengthening your home network, check out the Department of Homeland Security’s tip and recent alert. A publication from the American Bar Association and an article from Law Technology Today also provide some great security tips for improving and strengthening your home network.
Keep apprised of new technology.
The Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct require lawyers to maintain competence regarding not only substantive changes in the law, but also advancements in technology. Rule 1.1 states that a lawyer must provide competent representation to a client. As we noted in a prior post, the comment to Rule 1.1 explains that competent representation encompasses knowledge of existing and developing technology.
Given the current state of affairs, now is a good time to familiarize yourself with technology that you haven’t used (or haven’t set up yourself). Video conferencing with Zoom or Skype is a great way to conduct client meetings, court conferences, and depositions. By incorporating these tools into your practice, you can continue to practice social distancing and avoid unnecessary travel while maintaining progress with your caseload.
Establish a dedicated work space.
Your work product will reflect, in part, your work environment. Your work space shouldn’t be a bed, couch, or anywhere in front of a television. Select a work space that is free from distractions and closed off from other parts of your house.
Maintain your work schedule.
Don’t sleep in late, do three loads of laundry, eat breakfast at 10:30, and then wander into your work space at 11:45. Treating every day like a Saturday will hurt your practice. You should maintain your morning routine as if you plan to work at the office—wake up, exercise, shower, and eat breakfast before 9:00.
Make sure everyone in the house knows that you’re “at work” and that you’ll be available later.
Our work life is now entangled with our home life. Many of us have kids, spouses, pets, and other “co-workers” who are demanding our attention during the usual workday. You should set specific times during the day to attend to others while leaving your work hours intact.
Continue to communicate in a professional manner, even if you’re in sweatpants.
Working from home will likely bring a more relaxed atmosphere to the work day. You might trade in suits and high heels for yoga pants and slippers. But these changes should not be reflected in your work product. Phone calls, e-mails, and other communications should reflect the same level of professionalism that you’d use while working at the office.
Know the status of the courts where your cases are pending.
On March 18, 2020, the Michigan Supreme Court issued Administrative Order No. 2020-2, which directs Michigan courts to limit access to no more than ten persons (including staff), practice social distancing, and limit court activity to only essential functions. The order also encourages the use of remote activity to conduct court matters.
In response to the order, many courts have suspended non-essential business. But some courts have heeded the Supreme Court’s recommendation to utilize available technology and started conducting hearings via telephone or video conferencing to keep their dockets on track. Be sure to know how the presiding judges in your cases are handling upcoming court dates. Information on the operations and procedures for local courts can be found on the Michigan One Court of Justice’s website and the State Bar of Michigan’s website.
Be aware of deadlines.
Don’t operate under the belief that because the courts are closed, the dates on scheduling orders are tolled. That may not be the case. Courts are expected to be understanding and somewhat lenient until everything is back up and running, but this may not apply in every situation. Unless and until you receive an order from the court adjourning your deadlines, try to maintain the status quo to the fullest extent possible.
The Michigan Supreme Court has issued additional administrative orders pertaining to the deadlines associated with the commencement and maintenance of litigation. Administrative Order 2020-3 extends the deadlines for filing complaints and responsive pleadings in civil and probate matters. Administrative Order 2020-4 suspends the deadlines for all filings in the Michigan Supreme Court.
Take care of yourself.
Social distancing is, by definition, isolating. We have to care for ourselves in a new way. Schedule a conference call with friends. Organize a Zoom coffee hour. Check in on co-workers who may be frustrated working from home. And by all means, go for a walk and get some fresh air. The sunshine will do you good!
The State Bar of Michigan offers some great resources and tips for lawyers working through the current crisis. The State Bar also provides short-term counseling and referral to credentialed medical and counseling professionals through the Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program.