·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary


Are Law Firms Destined to Be Remote Offices?

— October 6, 2020

Employers should not assume employees will remember and adhere to company policies while working from a casual atmosphere such as a spare bedroom.

In a recent study completed by Loeb Leadership, 67% of those working in legal offices are in favor of continuing to work from home—even after the lifting of pandemic restrictions. Though a necessary accommodation due to stay-at-home orders, it is a situation not without risks surrounding employee behavior, privacy, and security.

Lack of leadership

Senior partners content with the new flexibility the work-from-home movement offers may be reluctant to return to the office where they are needed to assist in the training and mentoring of employees after the outstanding lawyer resume and skills critical component in the education process.

On-site managers, mostly responsible for efficiency and time management, are now relegated to providing encouragement and leadership via the phone, email, or video conference. Some employees can flounder without a more structured environment, so managers must-have new types of skills and routines that will ensure success with distributed teams.

Office etiquette

Zoom, Slack, Google, and many other apps make video conferencing as easy as a phone call, but unlike a phone call, the firm’s customers will have a view into employees’ homes. Now, more than ever, in a casual environment, staff must be mindful of their appearance, language, and items, people, and pets visible in the background.

It’s essential to remind employees company policies are in force at all times, even when working from home. Employees must observe rules during both social and business events at which clients are or may be present.

Managers should encourage employees to connect, video happy hours often involve alcoholic beverages, and with that may come lax or even inappropriate behavior. Managers should be held to a higher standard and lead by example, discouraging, or handling inappropriate behavior.

Employees must conform to anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies as well. Violations from a home office are equally as severe as those that occur in the workplace. In addition to the firm’s legal liability for these infractions, employees need to understand disciplinary actions, including termination, do extend beyond the office confines.

Mitigate privacy concerns

With legal staff accessing sensitive company data and customer files through software, home internet, and Wi-Fi systems, security is a genuine concern. Without physical control of hardware and software systems, the risk of exposing confidential data grows exponentially with the number of remote workers.

Uninvited and unauthorized persons can and do interfere with video conference calls, often showing objectionable content to attendees. Employers must work closely with the IT department or IT service provider to create a more secure system using VPN, firewalls, and high-grade anti-virus scanning and mitigation.

Training should be provided so employees are knowledgeable about privacy issues and risks and how to block them effectively. Education includes establishing and exercising best practices for passwords, the number of employees in a video conference, and using the security measures provided by conferencing apps.

Managing mail

Email and mail are also potential risk points. Email security is part of IT providers’ services, but it may be necessary to remind employees to be professional at all times. Casual environments foster casual communication. Remind staff to ensure written and spoken conversations do not become so relaxed, the firm’s standards are not maintained.

Email icon in Mac dock; image by, via
Email icon in Mac dock; image by, via

Delivery of physical mail is especially tricky for businesses such as law firms that receive a great deal. Off-site digital mailrooms are companies that specialize in the receipt and delivery of a business’s mail. Correspondence, including mail and email, can be received at a secure location. The mail is opened, scanned, and routed to personnel based upon rules established by the business. The service can also include package delivery—indispensable when the entire company is represented by a collection of home offices.

A good plan

These points are not an exhaustive list of the struggles a law office can face when all or most of the firm is working from home, but it is a good start. Taking these steps, along with others, will minimize risks and help employees to remain respectful of the company’s reputation and behave in a manner that propagates professionalism. 

Employers should not assume employees will remember and adhere to company policies while working from a casual atmosphere such as a spare bedroom. Hold meetings, set goals, and outline expectations to ensure a better outcome for the business.

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