Lawyers Loosen UP!
Location, Location, Location” is no longer the key ingredient for success in business, or a career. Telecommuting is a recent but very real part of some legal practices these days.
Oh sure, there are still a large number of staunch old firms that cling to only using physical paper files, limit employee and even attorney access to the internet and have no electronic video teleconferencing capacity. But I am lucky enough to be one of the founding partners in an IP law firm that protects these wonderful inventions and has been one of the forerunners to implementing their use in our practice.
Yes, that is right. I amazed a competitor colleague way back about 15 years ago when our office first went paperless. I explained to him how we scanned in all the mail, and then matched it to an electronic file, and that the paper was then recycled, except for any document where an original signature would be needed. The older gentlemen thought I was pulling his leg. He could not imagine a legal world without volumes of papers kept in rows of files in dark and dank basements. “But how do you find it again?” he muttered to himself. “It took a bit of adjustment,” I confirmed, “but now files are accessible from anywhere, by multiple users. . .” I trailed off, he was muttering to himself, “impossible” and his eyes had glazed over.
But my partners had had vision. They saw that this technology was the wave of the future, and rather than shying away from change, we embraced it. Businesses all function the same way, even law businesses: if you are not moving forward, you are losing ground.
At first it was hard to wean ourselves off paper completely; we found most attorneys printing out copies of documents for ease in editing and drafting. But in time we became adept at editing on line. Now of course most attorneys could not function without red lining and sophisticated Word® software, dictation and secretarial typing is fading away. We employ our PaperCut Protocol® to ensure that we don’t print out copies just to be discarded. We reuse paper for printing out drafts, we use recycled paper (clean new paper made from recycled paper) whenever possible and we recycle all of our discarded paper, even though anything confidential requires shredding.
And now fifteen years later, this is more the rule than the exception: even some of the dinosaur firms are jumping on board. We now would not have it any other way. I deal with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and they now prefer electronic submissions. We no longer have to file “certified copies” and originals, we must simple file “true copies”.
We have moved on to actively implement new changes, continually adjusting our policies to accommodate our technology. Our thrice weekly meeting of all the attorneys in the firm routinely incorporates our audio and video call in capability.
We were shocked when an attorney who had left us do to a relocation to another part of the country complained that her new, multi state, large law firm only had paper files, and if she wanted to work on a matter that originated in a different office, she had to wait for them to mail the file!
We now ask clients to specify – do you want us to generate paper, or do you prefer exclusively electronic communications.
And the best perk of all this push to paperless-ness and calling in? Virtual presence. An attorney can access the files s/he needs from anywhere. This enables us to access a document in meetings outside the office or in court. But more importantly it enables us to work from any location. We have a few attorneys who live in different states than New York (where our firm is located). Many days they are able to telecommute. We have had several attorneys, who for family reasons, have had to temporarily relocate, and they telecommute to work from several states away on a daily basis.
Even the United States Patent and Trademark Office has telecommuting Examining Attorneys. In fact over 64% of their staff telecommute daily, with a requirement to be in the office at certain prearranged times.
So take heart. Although it is sometimes surprising how firms stick to traditions, most firms have either chosen to or been forced to adapt to the way technology has entered into the legal profession. Of course you have to check the ethical rules in the state in which you are admitted, but technology has made it possible to practice with a firm in a state even if you are not living there. Not only are there the more traditional opportunities of employment with a firm with multi-state locations, new opportunities to telecommute should only become more prevalent.