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Adapting to Remote Work: A WFH Litigator Gives Tips for a Successful Transition

March 18, 2020  |  6 min read

Globalwork

During uncertain times, we want you to know that Logikcull is here for you--and here to help. Though we realize that, for most, work culture is not top-of-mind at the moment, for many others, mission-critical work must go on. Here you’ll find more information on working remotely, productivity tips, and some words of encouragement, as well as dispatches from the field that we feel are helpful and worth passing on.

Remote work, distributed workforces, work-from-home policies, work-from-wherever plans—whatever you call it, working outside of the office is becoming a sudden new reality for many legal professionals. Motivated by concerns for the health and wellbeing of their teams and the mandates of social distancing (not to mention school closures), law firms and corporate legal departments around the world are moving their work out of the office.

For many organizations making this move, the transition can seem abrupt, even disorienting. But some firms and businesses have made remote work a hallmark of their business approach for years now, offering a model on how to excel at the practice of law with a distributed workforce.

William Delgado

We recently spoke to William Delgado, a litigator and founding partner of Delgado Tarango O'Neill LLP, a law firm with offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco and a strong remote culture. DTO was founded with remote work in mind, Delgado says. “We wanted to construct a system from day one so that if I, because I travel often, am in Chicago, Kentucky, or LA, I’d have everything I needed document-wise and tool-wise wherever I am.”

For DTO, that means taking a cloud-first approach to practice. The team uses tools that many are familiar with—Clio for practice management, Westlaw for legal research—as well as custom remote desktops through Amazon WorkSpace, the company’s “desktop as a service” product. “That means our team has all the tools and documents they need on any given day accessible to them through the cloud,” Delgado explains.

For the rest of us, who are working from home not by design, but by circumstances that may have thrown us into a remote environment suddenly, Delgado is happy to offer advice.

First, assess your needs and procure the tools you’ll require to do your job remotely. That may seem daunting, but it can be done in a day, he estimates. 

Second, adapt your law firm or company culture so that you don’t lose out on the organic interactions that make office work so valuable. 

Finally, embrace the transition. Though current circumstances may be temporary, the benefits from creating a remote-friendly approach will far outlast social distancing.


Start by Auditing Your Work Needs

Delgado recommends taking a moment to really assess your day-to-day work. If you spend the day on a landline, you’ll need to find a way to forward those calls to your cell phone or remote number, for example. If you prefer reviewing filings, correspondence, and the like in hard copy, make sure you have a printer in your new workspace.

For management, this means considering not just your needs, but the needs of your team. What tools will they need to accomplish their tasks? Software can provide the bulk of those capabilities, but “you also have to be receptive to requests for office equipment,” Delgado explains. An initial investment in scanners, printers, and even ergonomic office equipment may be necessary.


Be Intentional About Meetings

“How you have meetings will change,” Delgado says, and he doesn’t just mean getting everyone on a Zoom conference.

"Be mindful of reaching out, so you’re still having those touches that would otherwise come through organic interactions."

“The reason we even have physical offices, notwithstanding the ability to work remotely at all times, is because there is a benefit to being able to just knock on someone’s door, come in their office, and have an interaction with them, whether to whiteboard ideas of a brief, assess a transaction, etc.

“When you don’t have that physical interaction, things become more focused.” Remote teams need to “be mindful of reaching out,” he says, “so you’re still having those touches and sparking those ideas that would otherwise come through organic interactions in an office setting.”

You don’t have to do that with every person, every day—you’d never have time for anything else—but you should commit to one such interaction a day, he recommends.


Take Advantage of Video

When you do have those meetings, use video.

In terms of how those meetings are run, video conferencing is the preferred approach at DTO, as opposed to conference calls. Not only is it a more “face to face” interaction, it also smooths the conversation, allowing participants to see reactions, time interjections, and carry on a meeting more smoothly.

This move toward dispersed work may have long-term impacts on the way legal work is done, Delgado predicts, extending beyond just internal firm management to work with co-counsel, opposing counsel, and the courts.

Not only is video conferencing a more “face to face” interaction, it also smooths the conversation.

“If there’s one positive thing that could come out of this for the legal industry, it’s that perhaps we can acknowledge that, with the technology and internet speed we have today, we can move to a fairly robust video communication system.”

As the industry gets more comfortable with video, Delgado expects that in-person court hearings, travel for depositions, and other tasks traditionally requiring a physical presence could be displaced by their video-based alternatives.


Balance the Virtual With the Physical (When You Can)

For all the benefits of remote work, Delgado doesn’t expect the legal profession to become wholly distributed—at least not for DTO.

“We will never be entirely virtual,” he says. Litigators will need conference rooms to host depositions, for example, and firm members appreciate being able to change their work environments by coming into the office.

The key is to provide that flexibility. The firm’s cloud-based infrastructure aids those transitions, allowing teams to access their work whether in office, at home, or on the road.


Make the Transition Now

For firms and organizations moving to distributed work, the transition doesn’t necessarily need to be a long process.

“Do it. If you’re not on a cloud-based system, get on one. With a laptop, you’re good to go, from anywhere in the world.”

“If you’re doing everything from scratch, it might take about a day,” Delgado estimates. “Most of the tools are outside of your main environment—software and services like Clio, Westlaw, Quickbooks can all be accessed and set up quickly.”

If a team needs to access data on a desktop that isn’t set up with remote access, remote log-in to the desktop can be configured fairly quickly, as well.

With a bare-bones approach, teams can get moving quickly, while larger projects, such as setting up Amazon WorkSpaces can be rolled out over time.

For organizations still considering whether to embrace remote work, Delgado has just one simple piece of advice: “Do it. If you’re not on a cloud-based system, get on one.”

“You can offer your clients a very robust security environment for their documents and your communication,” he explains. “It allows the complete flexibility to be able to work from anywhere.”

Even outside the current disruption, Delgado says “it’s just a nice thing to have. With a laptop, you’re good to go, from anywhere in the world.”