In the past few weeks, it’s been impossible to read the news without seeing mention of coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19. The virus is now present on every continent, with more than 96,000 confirmed cases and over 3,000 deaths globally. Beyond the public health impact, as companies restrict travel and close offices (sometimes for weeks at a time), COVID-19 is testing the very foundation of how businesses today operate—and law firms are no exception.
The Impact of Coronavirus on Law Firms
Lawyers are notoriously risk-averse—so it’s not surprising that many law firms have restricted travel, cancelled partners’ retreats, and even closed entire offices in response to the spread of COVID-19. Some high-profile examples include:
- Baker McKenzie closing its London office on February 27, where more than 350 of its attorneys are located, as a precaution, after one of its employees returned from a trip to Italy displaying symptoms. The office was reopened on March 2 after the employee tested negative
- Latham & Watkins, Duane Morris, and Orrick cancelling or postponing their partners’ meetings
- Paul Weiss suspending non-essential business travel to and from Mainland China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Italy. Shearman & Sterling also issued a travel ban to China and Hong Kong and limited travel to Italy, Japan, and South Korea
- Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman asking employees to self-quarantine at home after returning from high-risk overseas locations.
Despite the multitude of measures that law firms are taking to keep their lawyers safe, there is a nagging concern—and that is that many firms are not prepared for so many employees to work from home for such long durations of time. An article published in Legaltech News notes that many firms only give their lawyers laptops, meaning that other staffers may not have any capability to work remotely. Other law firms make it difficult for both lawyers and staffers to access data, resulting in an inability to work from home even in the case of an emergency.
One lawyer in the U.S. has already been reported to be in serious condition from COVID-19, resulting in the closure of his firm’s office and synagogue, as well as his son’s university and his daughter’s high school. More office closures are imminent, and law firms must keep in mind the worst-case scenarios in order to ensure that business goes on as usual.
How Your Firm Can Prepare for a Coronavirus-Necessitated Office Closure
Below are some ways to evaluate if your firm passes the coronavirus test. If it does not meet all of these criteria, think carefully about how to ensure that these milestones can be reached. Your firm’s business may depend on it.
Are employees at your firm—both lawyers and staff—equipped to work remotely?
Law firms have been expanding remote working policies for a number of years, as the surrounding technology improves and millennials demand greater flexibility in the workplace. Your firm displays good remote working hygiene if:
- All employees are given laptops (not just lawyers) and other necessary equipment (such as a high-quality headset for conferencing and a strong WiFi connection).
- There is a formal remote work policy on the books.
- Your employees are trained on how to access the available remote access technologies.
- Accessing firm systems and documents from home is quick and seamless. The technology employees use from home should be as fast and secure as what they have in the office.
- Communication amongst employees is regular, enabled through the usage of relevant technology.
Does your firm’s tech stack include collaboration software?
In cases where law firms are forced to close, there must be technology in place to ensure that employees can communicate with each other in real-time. It is no coincidence that companies like Zoom, which provides video conferencing services, and Slack, the most popular enterprise chat software, have seen their stock prices soar in the past few weeks.
Key collaboration technologies to have during a period of office closure include:
- Document management systems (like iManage, NetDocuments, OpenText, or Worldox) or other file-sharing software (such as Sharepoint) to ensure that employees have access to critical documents and can share them with colleagues or clients
- Video conferencing software (such as Webex or Zoom) to enable meetings
- Instant messaging services (examples include Skype, Slack, and Microsoft Teams) to facilitate real-time communication
- Platforms that facilitate client collaboration (like High Q)
How much can your employees accomplish from their mobile devices?
Despite an increasing reliance on smartphones to work both in transit and from home, as Alex Babin, ZERØ’s CEO, wrote in a recent article for Texas Lawyer, “most phones are poorly equipped to effectively manage specialized legal tasks with the efficiency of desktop tools, and with the rigorous data security that firms and their clients insist on.” For law firms, this means that their employees may struggle to access critical functionality from their devices. This shortcoming extends beyond periods of office closure—for example, law firms lose productivity and revenue because of the inability of lawyers to file emails from mobile devices and capture the time they spend interacting with those emails.
Smartphones have the potential to function as command centers for lawyers looking to organize and manage their lives, but few tools exist to help them realize this potential. ZERØ was built to fit into this framework. Our mobile-first allows lawyers to seamlessly file emails into their DMS from their iPhones or iPads, and its AI-powered predictions ensure that filing occurs with either a single tap or completely automatically. In addition, ZERØ also captures the time that lawyers and other timekeepers spend interacting with client-related email from their smartphones, ensuring that this time can be billed for and preventing thousands of dollars in revenue leakage per lawyer. And built with an edge-computing architecture, ZERØ never sends user data outside of the device for processing, ensuring that all data is retained within a law firm’s security perimeter.
Is your law firm ready for the coronavirus challenge?
Office closures are not the only reason that some law firm employees will need to work from home. In current hotspots like Washington, schools have closed, meaning that many parents will be required to work from home even if their offices are open. In addition, employees at many firms are required to self-quarantine after returning from travel (whether abroad or domestic). So regardless of where they are located and how the outbreak is progressing in that region, law firms need to be prepared to see more employees working from remote sites—yet few, if any, will meet all of the criteria laid out above.
If your firm is evaluating solutions to help its employees work from home more effectively, contact us today to see a demo of ZERØ’s mobile email management solution.
To learn more about COVID-19 and how to protect yourself, see the CDC’s website.