May 15, 2020 | by Wong Fleming
We are fortunate to live in a time where technology makes telecommuting both feasible and near synonymous to working in a physical office in terms of accomplishing what needs to be done in an efficient and effective manner. In some cases, working from home can provide even greater benefits including fewer distractions, less stress from commuting, minimal office politics, and a personalized work environment. It comes as no surprise that 85% of businesses confirm productivity has increased since implementing flexible work policies.1
While remote work positions are commonplace in certain knowledge-based work, such as software engineering and accounting,2 adoption of this trend in the legal industry has lagged behind. With recent pressure from the COVID-19 crisis, law firms have had to quickly adjust and embrace the implementation of procedures to permit working from home, and this has become critical in ensuring that firms may continue to protect clients’ interests when faced with a crisis.
The switch to remote legal work, whether temporary or not, presents attorneys with new challenges. Like any significant change, there is an initial learning curve. However, attorneys who take the time to adjust to remote work arrangements will find their experience to be immensely rewarding and beneficial to their practice. Below are some tips attorneys may find valuable during this time:
1. Create Accountability
An attorney’s ultimate accountability is to clients. However, when working from home, attorneys must also keep themselves accountable and take proactive measures to establish trust and credibility with clients and supervisors. Your conversation with clients in connection with working remotely should reassure the client that working remotely will not alter the effectiveness of the firm’s representation or the attention that has always been provided. There is no such thing as over-communication in remote work, and it’s important to continue to share your work regularly to show you are progressing in line with any targeted deadlines.
2. Set Boundaries
The most common challenge in working from home is that family, significant others, and roommates may have the perception that you are not working the entire day, or that because you are home, it is okay to distract you with other matters. To combat this, it is helpful to explain to those living with you that you cannot tend to other things during your work hours and shouldn’t be distracted unless it is important. If possible, establish a separate work space that is quiet and contains everything you need, including internet, computer, phone, office supplies, etc. It is even better if this space may be closed off when in use to limit distractions from commotion elsewhere in the house.
It’s imperative to differentiate between the conditions surrounding the workers portrayed in studies that claim productivity increased through the adoption of remote practices, from the conditions imposed upon attorneys forced to work from home during a crisis. Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford economist widely known for his research showing the benefits of working from home, explains that the coronavirus creates a completely different landscape due to four factors: children, space, privacy, and choice.3 Empathy should be shown for attorneys that must also serve as a teacher to their children, for those that lack an efficient workspace separate from common living spaces, for workers who are limited from engaging in their usual face-to-face meetings which are essential to developing new ideas, and the fact that personal choice is absent in these indefinite work arrangements.
It remains an attorney’s professional responsibility to represent clients vigorously despite formidable circumstances, including an international pandemic. Doing everything possible to ensure an attorney adapts to these circumstances and is provided the proper resources to do so will help them uphold their responsibility and greatly benefit their practice in the long run. Whether it is a crisis or a new technology that alters the current landscape for the legal industry, adaptability will be key to securing success.