When governments imposed COVID-19 work from home orders, some legal departments and law firms were better prepared than others to support remote work.
As former Big Law litigator turned legal innovation and tech evangelist Stephen Embry recently noted, if lawyers really want to deliver value to clients nowadays, one of the best things lawyers can do is get their client’s work done competently, efficiently and with as little disruption as possible.
Technology can most certainly help achieve those goals–especially when legal teams cannot head to the office.
So, what tools do legal teams need to successfully work remotely? Not an exhaustive list, but discussed below are a few:
Legal teams working remotely cannot accomplish much unless they have hardware up to the task. That means a device with an up to date operating system and sufficient computing power to run modern programs and software.
According to Microsoft, the minimum hardware specifications recommended to run Windows 10 are:
1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster compatible processor or System on a Chip (SoC)
|RAM:||1 gigabyte (GB) for 32-bit or 2 GB for 64-bit|
|Hard drive size:||32GB or larger hard disk
Note: See below under “More information on hard drive space to install or update Windows 10” for more details.
|Graphics card:||Compatible with DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver|
(Apple users with a newer computer should be in good shape because Apple boosts performance as they release new computers to meet the needs of macOS).
Having a good internet connection is an obvious requirement for remote work, but companies and law firms should also consider requiring remote employees to use a virtual private network (VPN). Using VPN software adds another layer of security when connecting to servers remotely via the internet.
Instead of firing up a laptop at the local coffee shop and connecting directly to an app or server via public Wi-Fi, VPN connections run through a remote server (i.e. it’s like connecting via a computer somewhere else in the world rather than your own). Data sent from the remote computer to the VPN user’s device is encrypted and, if intercepted, would look like gibberish and very hard to understand unless the party intercepting it has an encryption key.
We are fans of Express VPN but there are other good VPN providers.
(Also, it looks like Google is rolling out an alternative to VPNs).
If a legal department or law firm already uses Microsoft Office 365 or Google’s G Suite, they probably have most of the software needed for remote work. The backbone of these offerings are productivity software such as word processing programs (Word and Google Docs), spreadsheets (Excel and Google sheets) and presentation software (PowerPoint and Google Slides).
Other than legal specific software particular to a practice area, having access to Microsoft’s and Google’s productivity suites will permit legal teams to get a good chunk of their work done.
Either as part of the productivity software suites discussed above or stand alone, lawyers working from home will benefit from collaboration and communication tools to work remotely with co-workers and clients. In fact, even if lawyers are working in the office, they should consider using collaboration tools.
Two popular collaboration apps are Slack and Microsoft Teams.
Slack describes itself as a “collaboration hub where you and your team can work together to get things done” and Microsoft describes Teams as “a chat-based workspace in Office 365.”
Using collaboration tools streamlines communications outside of email and enables team members to more easily collaborate rather than via “reply all”. Team members can review a single communication chain to stay in the loop. Teams create “channels” within the software (usually based on a project or legal matter) and all team members with permission can access and post to the channel.
Videoconferencing and conference call capability is also a must for remote workers, and again, lawyers may already have access to these tools if they are using Office 365 (Skype for Business or Teams) or G Suite (Google Meet).
Cousins to collaboration software are knowledge management (KM) tools. The short definition of KM is “the ability to identify critical knowledge within an organization and then leveraging it to serve up at the right time for the right purpose.”
If there is any industry well suited for doubling down on knowledge management, it is legal. Instead of re-writing that motion to dismiss on statute of limitations, drafting an indemnity provision from scratch, or doing research in an area of law another attorney in the organization already researched, the use of knowledge management tools permits lawyers to benefit from their colleagues’ prior work product and research.
A good place to start KM efforts is a searchable document management system (DMS). A DMS uses computer systems and software to store, manage and track electronic documents. Many DMS tools can track document versions and offer robust search features to help users find relevant content in the stored documents.
Other good knowledge management tools include collaboration tools (discussed above), knowledge bases with answers to frequently asked questions and forums to post questions so others may benefit from the answers.
The last few years has brought about some great cloud-based legal tools. Lawyers definitely do not need a law library anymore to conduct research or find contract templates, and with advances in legal technology and artificial intelligence, some of what lawyers do can be automated.
All lawyers are familiar with Westlaw and Lexis-Nexis, but there are great alternatives for legal research including Casetext, Fastcase and Ravel (also owned by Lexis).
While on the topic of legal research and court documents, we are big fans of PacerPro. The app permits users to easily search all federal court PACER databases, track litigation, manage case related documents and seamlessly deliver court filings to other legal team members. (It also works well with DMS systems discussed above).
Not a litigator? There is software for you too. There are many great contract analysis, management and automation tools. Apps like LawGeex, Legal Sifter, Evisort, LinkSquares, Seal and Kira Systems are just a few to check out. These tools permit users to track contract lifecycles, automate workflows and many have AI features that will take a first pass at contract drafts to highlight clauses warranting a closer look.
While on the subject of contracts, if lawyers cannot get out of the house to get documents signed for that M&A deal they are working on, there is an app for that: Doxly (now of Litera) a legal transaction management platform.
IP lawyer? Check out AltLegal, a docketing system for intellectual property. Legal teams can even make their own apps and automations with Neota Logic.
Of course this list is not exhaustive and there are many, many more great legal tech offerings, but the point is, no matter what the legal team’s area of expertise, there is likely software out there to help get the job done. (To find one, check out this great searchable list of legal tech companies compiled by Stanford Law School’s CodeX Program, or this article from law practice management software company Litify on legal software).
Another tool for legal teams to consider is project management software. Implementing project management principles into legal matters is a good idea to consider. In fact, many companies and law firms have positions dedicated to LPM (legal project management) and there is software to help with the task too. We are fans for Jira, Asana and Airtable.
Using project management software keeps legal projects on track, organized and prevents tasks from being overlooked.
Regardless of how powerful the hardware is that a legal team is using or how much great software is at their disposal, technology training is paramount. Various studies have determined that up to 64% of a software’s features are not used and, on average, 38% of the software licensed by companies is under-used or completely unused.
Underutilization of software features is easily remedied with user training. As noted above, most legal departments and law firms probably have most of the software they need to work efficiently–either in the office or remotely. They just need to take a look at what they own and make sure their employees know how to use it.
As more legal teams go remote, they must still be mindful of Rules of Professional Conduct relating to lawyers and technology.
At least 30 state and local bar associations have weighed in on legal ethics and lawyers use of the cloud and SaaS. However, regardless of jurisdiction, most opinions share common underpinnings: preservation of confidential client information and duty of due diligence to ensure that vendors or data storage services take adequate precautions to secure client data.
Here is a more in-depth look at lawyers, cloud computing and legal ethics.