By Rebecca Bartlett
Part I: The Set-up
Now is the time for military spouse attorneys to adapt their legal career, yet again, to overcome the odds. Uniquely, COVID-19 has thrown the entire country right in there with us this time. So, what do we do? We adapt, we overcome, and we get it done. After all, what other option is there.
Here are some tools, tips, and tricks to transition to remote practice or incorporate into the system you already have.
Setting Up Your Remote Office:
Internet: If you haven’t already, check that your internet can support the communications necessary for a remote practicing. This means a minimum of 1.5 Mbps, for uploading and downloading. For an easy, free way to test your internet speed, just google “internet speed test.” From there, you will be given an option to run a speed test. If you aren’t at 1.5 Mbps or greater, contact your internet provide and pay for the upgrade. The last thing you need is precious moments dedicated to work being frittered away on poor internet connectivity.
Office Equipment: The easiest and cheapest solution is to bring your office set-up home if that is an option. If you will be locked out for weeks (or, dare we accept, months) you might as well use what you already have. Just make sure you log everything that anyone is taking home and do a full audit when you are able to return to the office.
If bringing home office equipment is not an option, the next best thing is a laptop. Err against using the family computer. In addition to the likelihood of a quarantine war amongst the family for screen time, you also will have serious security and confidentiality concerns for your files on a shared computer. It’s a bar complaint waiting to happen, at worst, and a file closed by little Johnny without being saved, at best.
To set-up a laptop with a second monitor you have a few options:
- Duex Pro Portable Monitor ($250-$300) or SideTrak Portable Monitor (also $250-$300): these are monitors that attach to the back of your laptop and slide in or out for storage and use. They connect to your laptop via USB port, so make sure you have the USB port space needed or purchase a USB extension. The Duex Pro comes with a kickstand, which many have used as the distinguishing benefit of the Duex Pro to the otherwise very similar SideTrak.
- If you have an iPad, you can download the Duet app ($9.99) and turn your iPad into a second monitor. Mac users can download the Sidecar app (free) for use as a second monitor with their Mac (note, older versions of Mac and/or iPads may not support the Sidecar app. In such cases, Duet should still work).
Scanning: For your scanning needs, I highly recommend the ScanSnap ix1500, which has a cult-like following from those who swear by it for its speed, auto-detection of two-sided document capabilities, and its software that allows you to scan straight to the appropriate file without any additional steps. For a paperless practice, its almost impossible to beat.
In a pinch, iPhone users can also use the Note app (already on the phone) to scan documents. To use, open a new note, select the + symbol, then select scan document. You will take a picture of the document, adjust the borders as necessary, and voila!
Team Management, Collaboration, and Communication
If you have a team that is scattered or you need to have consistent communication with your clients that email just can’t work for, you cannot go wrong with a subscription to a comprehensive communication platform. These are programs like Zoom, RingCentral, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, and Teams. If you have GSuite then Google Hangouts is already a part of your subscription. For Microsoft 365 users, Teams is already one of your apps. For those interested in trying Microsoft 365, Microsoft is doing a free six-month trial of Teams to help individuals navigate the COVID-19 outbreak. This includes their web-based programs, like Office, Excel, and Powerpoint.
With these programs you have the ability to video conference, share files, chat amongst team members, and some even include voice calls (coming soon to Microsoft 365 for an additional fee). These programs will let you break down your shared communications either by group, user, or combinations of both.
Now is the time to break free of the landline if you haven’t already. If you are stuck to your landline, for now (those contracts can be brutal), consider one of the following:
- forward your line to your cell phone. This will be a solution for incoming calls, but outgoing calls will still give out your personal cell number (yikes!);
- *69 still works! Yes, you can block your number when calling out by using *69 or the code appropriate to your locality;
- Hire a virtual receptionist (my recommendation).
A virtual receptionist can answer your phone line, the same as if they were working at a desk in your office, then transfer the call to the appropriate person or department as they have been directed. You provide the script, they provide the people. The big names in virtual reception are Smith.ai (who offers an MSJDN discount), Ruby Reception, Easybee, LexReception, and Back Office Betties. There are others, with new ones coming out all the time. Here are some things to consider and questions to ask when choosing:
- Are the receptionists dedicated to your business, or will it be anybody who answers following the script?
- What are their hours of availability?
- Do they offer languages other than English?
- What can they do other than just basic phone answering? (screen calls, schedule appointments, accept payment, etc.)
- Set monthly fee or by-the-minute?
- Do any of my bar associations or professional organizations provide a discount? Do I know someone with a referral code?
A host of programs offer the ability to collect electronic signatures where original, or “wet,” signatures are not necessary. Big names in this industry are DocuSign, Adobe Pro DC (which also serves as a comprehensive program for all your PDF needs), signNow, and HelloSign. As with virtual receptionists, more and more of these are popping up every day, so feel free to browse for what would best fit you. The client will be able to review and click to sign a release, closing statement, representation agreement, or any multitude of other documents.
If electronic signatures just won’t work for you, there is still the sign, scan, and email option or good old-fashioned snail mail.
Now that we have covered what you need to get you set-up, make sure to check out Part II: Storage and Security.