How A Small Law Firm Adapts To Remote Work

By David Kwartler
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Law360 (April 10, 2020, 12:53 PM EDT) --
David Kwartler
David Kwartler
Much to the disappointment of many fans, including myself, the NCAA announced that it was canceling 2020 basketball tournaments as of March 12. The organization made this decision after several colleges, including Duke University and the University of Kansas, announced they would not send their teams to these games. The previous day, my hometown basketball team, the Philadelphia 76ers, defeated the Detroit Pistons in a sold-out home game. By the time the teams hit the locker rooms after the final buzzer, the NBA announced an official suspension of all games for the foreseeable future.

I mention these incidents because this is when it really hit home for me that things were changing, and changing rapidly. This unexpected shift means small firms like mine need to adapt quickly to keep moving forward and providing the high quality of service our clients are accustomed to.

For a little background, my office is located in Center City, Philadelphia, with six lawyers and approximately 14 staff members. The practice focuses exclusively on representing injury victims.

Our leadership has taken this period of time as chance to really pause for analysis and take a deep dive into the processes at our small firm, and we advise others do the same. Break down every part of the business and dial in on bottlenecks to improve the experience for both your firm and clients. Through this process, and the adoption of technology, we feel poised for our business to come out of this situation stronger than ever. Other small firms can do the same to confidently see themselves through this struggle.

Many businesses are applying for Paycheck Protection Program loans in the hope of keeping lights on and employees paid, my business included. It has been extremely frustrating, as guidelines from the U.S. Small Business Administration evolve every day.

The best guidance we've received from the SBA is that "banks and bank agents like us, cannot advise clients on what information to fill out in the required documents. We ask that you thoroughly review your documents and consult your tax and payroll professionals as needed. All of this is based on maximizing the forgiveness of your loan."

They also advised that nobody should be submitting documents at this point; documents will only be accepted through a portal which will be made accessible as soon as possible.

Our best takeaways from this experience is to keep tabs on SBA announcements and apply for a loan through as many banks as you can, no matter how irritating. This will increase the odds of you receiving a loan. It is also notable that many forms we've been completing online do not have the ability to save, and information is cleared if there are any issues with the browser. We recommend that you appoint a trusted individual to manage these applications, and have them write down all necessary information on paper for reference.

The compulsory stay-at-home orders have been surprisingly advantageous to workflow, as our associates get more done while working from home. This is a practice that many managers, including myself and my partner, felt reluctant to tolerate in the past, thinking employees would just sit at home and watch television. However, this is simply not the case.

Not only do attorneys tend to get a larger amount of work done, they seemingly do it more efficiently. While at the office they're being bombarded by constant interruptions, working remotely provides the ability to focus on tasks and give casework their undivided attention. Our output from the last few weeks has convinced us to authorize remote work going forward, a practice we think would benefit many other small firms.

Technology has been one of our greatest assets in these times as a small business. For years, we discussed the concept of going paperless and some of its ensuing challenges. This is a goal for many firms, as digitally stored files are far more secure and accessible than paper ones. The lockdown necessitates that change come sooner rather than later, which affords the opportunity to work through more complex issues while there is less overall activity in the firm.

Video conferencing technology makes events such as depositions and arbitrations more accessible to all involved. This is especially advantageous to the multitude of our clients with injuries that make travel extremely difficult. Additionally, this practice saves the countless minutes normally spent sitting and waiting in a courtroom, freeing up valuable time to spend working on cases and speaking with clients.

There are, in fact, many legal processes that can be done virtually. This includes time-consuming status conferences required in Philadelphia and other counties, where attorneys meticulously negotiate discovery deadlines and other such details. If permanently adopted, video conferencing will also allow practices to take cases further abroad in the state, as the distance will not be an issue.

Virtual faxing, another technology we've embraced after this crisis began, enables team members to continue communicating through that fundamental channel. The ability to fax documents is essential for most firms, as many insurance companies, health insurance organizations, courts, and other attorneys still communicate using fax machines and/or carbon copy paper. The practice of virtual faxing also saves time, increases efficiency, and is far less arduous than continuously getting up and walking to a machine in order to fax a document.

In the next week or so, our practice will have fully migrated our fax number to an email, so we will never need a physical fax machine ever again.

There are also specific technologies that we incorporated in the past year that have been indispensable to our small firm, and would most likely benefit others. Transitioning to Voice over Internet Protocol phone technology enables every member of the firm to take their desk phones home. This gives our team a better opportunity to serve our clients and work with insurance companies without missing a beat.

Our client management software has been important in enabling us to collaborate as if nothing has changed. The software permits us to track activity on cases and make sure things are getting done. It has also been essential to have a strong IT partner; we have had no issues accessing any shared files.

The initial shock we felt in the first few weeks of this crisis has turned into excitement about the opportunity to address problems and improve processes at our firm. When this ends, we hope firms like ours are better positioned than ever to give clients the justice and excellent customer service that they deserve.

David E. Kwartler is a partner at Kwartler Manus LLC.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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