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Finding the Right Tools Outside the Legal Space

The first collaboration-focused mindset shift to tackle is your preference for tools designed specifically for law firms.

Virtual services are a relatively new concept in the legal space. Several jurisdictions still limited virtual practice before the Covid-19 pandemic. They made quick progress on revising those rules, but the technology will need time to catch up.

So why not start your collaboration tool search outside the legal space? Thinking of your internal processes, get to know technologies that have gotten traction in many businesses: Slack, Microsoft Teams, and project management tools like Trello and Asana that you can adapt to your purposes.

Although some practice management tools have made significant progress in the last year, many are still optimized for a traditional law firm that operates in a traditional office space. You’ll need to think outside the box to find what’s right for you. Tools such as BaseCamp, Monday.com, or project management software like Asana can be used to track progress on cases and projects

Still, be mindful as you adapt. Your law firm could have needs for more advanced encryption and security options than a typical business of your firm’s size. Consider how systems will protect confidential documents as part of your evaluation process.

Onboarding Co-Workers is Key to Going Virtual

None of your new tools will increase your collaboration unless you get everyone to participate. That means you’ll need to design for those who are resistant to change.

Begin with the understanding that resistance to change is normal, but that “I’m too old/young/stuck in my ways/productive to learn this” is just self-talk. If a team member can learn to operate Facebook and Netflix, he, she or they can operate no-code tools designed to help improve firm operations.

So how can you onboard team members to new collaboration tools? Start with our article on Tips for Managing a Hybrid Law Firm. But also create a customized plan for each team member. John might be a different learner than Sally and will need a customized approach. As with online course software, you can define where your team member is now, where you want them to be in a defined period, and a realistic roadmap to get there. Avoid infatuation with a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to helping your team get comfortable with a tool. Making sure everyone is comfortable enough to actually use a solution is a big part of whether or not the investment of time and money is worth it in the long run.

If you have a large enough team, consider identifying your most passionate tech teacher and training them as a super user. Once someone is familiar with all of the features in the new tool and has used them to their full potential, encourage this person to present team trainings. Your firm’s tech ninja can create momentum that brings colleagues along.

The Culture of Going Virtual

Going virtual is both a top-down and a bottom-up process. You can’t simply dictate changes from atop a virtual mountain. To get enough engagement for real collaboration, you’ll need to consider your firm’s culture.

Two important new aspects of work culture are introduced when going virtual: lots more meetings and a much harder time managing work/life separation. Make a plan to address those realities. It’s likely a higher impact than new software in some cases.  

How, for example, do you keep from becoming a company whose primary output is video meetings? What project management techniques can you incorporate to encourage getting things done rather than just talking about the things? One suggestion is to establish guidelines for what requires a meeting versus a Slack or Teams message versus an email. Having clear guidelines will get everyone on the same page operationally and reduce risks of issues like endless video meetings for minor, one-off questions that would’ve been better in chat. If you’re using a tool like Slack, create separate spaces for different types of topics (including some for random non-work subjects). That can help prevent important things from being missed in a stream of remote watercooler banter.

What types of collaboration should be eliminated altogether (often emails) and which collaborations are so key that they need dedicated focus (often video meetings with a collaborative whiteboard feature)? Teaching your team how to communicate without constant meetings will be key.

The goal is to develop a rhythm with your team where daily communication can be optimized for your people and outcomes rather than abstract best practices.

As with communications, you’ll need to set rules for when people are on and when they’re off. Working remotely too often means working around the clock—you’re always off, but you’re always on.

If employees install every communication and collaboration app on their phone, they’ll be tempted to jump at every ding and vibration coming from their phone. As your firm’s principal, you’ll have to actively redefine that culture. Unless you specify policies that respect your team members as whole and complex people, they’ll lose all sense of balance. Appreciate them enough to teach them how to balance. Define required break times, create no-message hours or no-meeting days, and block time for deep work. If you don’t, you’ll all lose control of bigger picture success.

The Opportunity of Virtual Connection

Collaboration is part of our lives, but incorporating tools in your firm can either be a huge blessing or your most frustrating change.

Killing the commute and high office rent sounds like a dream, but you’ll need to design deliberately in order to avoid a nightmare. The right technologies and mindsets can help you serve your team and your clients better than ever before.

Check out part 2 of this series, which covers virtual collaboration with clients.