How COVID-19 Will Change Solo and Mid-Size Law Firms

Quote

A recent report by Clio assessing the impacts of the coronavirus on the legal industry and consumers found that the virus has created a 40 percent drop in the number of new legal matters opened per week. Almost half of the polled consumers said that if they had a legal issue, they would delay seeking legal help until after the virus subsided. Further, 22 percent of consumers indicated they were under the impression that attorneys stopped working altogether because of COVID-19.

From our friends at NW Sidebar.

This post focuses on how COVID-19 is likely to affect small to mid-size law firms. I encourage you to read the full post. Here are some key points of interest:

Life is different and also the same. Clients expect you to cater to their needs. Put yourself in their shoes and you will do well.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

 

Preparing to Reopen Your Law Firm

On May 7, 2020, Governor Brown announced new details on the phased reopening of businesses in Oregon. Decisions will be made on a county-by-county basis. Counties must apply to reopen and:

  • Show a decline in COVID-19 or have fewer than 5 hospitalizations
  • Have sufficient COVID-19 testing and contact tracing capability
  • Establish plans for the isolation and quarantine of new cases
  • Have the hospital capacity to handle any surge in COVID-19 cases
  • Have enough personal protective equipment for health care workers

What Should Law Firms Do?

Now is an excellent time to put your plan together for phased reopening.

Start with this very thoughtful post from Vinson & Elkins. Directed at clients, it also applies to law firms, who are – after all – businesses too.

It begins with identifying a return-to-work coordination team with the right members – HR, IT, finance, admin, and for law firms – lawyers and legal staff. As a group, the team addresses these issues:

  1. When will the office reopen?
  2. Who should work from the office?
  3. Should we screen employees for COVID-19 before they return?
  4. What new practices will be required to maintain social distancing and ensure a sanitary workplace?
  5. How will we handle individual employee requests?

The post suggests delegating responsibilities by department or floor. This could also be done based on the issue. Whatever makes sense for your firm. Most importantly, the team needs to communicate what will happen and when.

Remember the Clients

While social distancing and sanitizing will benefit clients, your return-to-work team should also consider:

  1. When will we resume in-person client meetings?
  2. What new practices will be required for in-person meetings?
  3. How should we communicate about COVID-related client procedures?

Permitting in-person meetings may mean:

  • Redesigning your reception area
  • Staggering client meeting times
  • Limiting non-client visitors
  • Requiring face coverings
  • Sanitizing client property delivered to the firm

More Resources

A Google search reveals a plethora of return-to-work resources from law firms directed at clients, such as the return-to-work coordination team described above. Three particularly useful reads are the Reopening Issues Checklist, the Checklist for Health and Safety Planning, and 10 issues to consider offered by the Society for Human Resource Management.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

 

 

Confidentiality Still Applies When Rebutting Online Reviews

We’ve chatted before about online reputations and how to respond (if at all) to negative online reviews. Defending yourself is a natural reaction, but usually the wrong call as an Oregon lawyer recently discovered.

In a case now on appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court, an Oregon lawyer was suspended for 30 days for revealing a client’s identity and the details of his criminal conviction in response to negative online reviews.

Isn’t it Self Defense?

We don’t really know.

The trial panel did not consider the “self-defense” exception to Oregon RPC 1.6, finding the lawyer did not show that the details contained in his rebuttal were “reasonably necessary” to reveal.

The bar argued the “self-defense” exception applies only to formal proceedings, such as responding to a legal malpractice claim or bar complaint.

Read the full post on NW Sidebar.

What We Do Know

  • The identity of your client is confidential.
  • Revealing details about a case can be equivalent to revealing the client’s name in a universe where people can follow the dots.
  • If you engage online, the fuel you add to the fire will likely push the negative post upward in search results.

What You Should Do

Going back to my post from 2017, here are some suggestions:

  • A reasonable and measured response is key. Blasting people who give you a negative review is not a good business model.
  • You can try contacting the review site and asking for the review’s removal if you can prove the review is false, defamatory or written by a competitor. In the case described above, the lawyer contacted Google, Yelp, and Avvo to have the negative reviews removed. All three sites refused, telling the lawyer they considered the reviews the former client’s personal opinions. In another instance, the Washington Court of Appeals refused to force disclosure of an anonymous online reviewer’s identity. See Thomson v. Jane Doe, 189 Wn. App. 45, 356 P.3d 727 (2015).
  • You can respond directly to the review on the site. Be courteous and explain that due to your duty of confidentiality, you can’t address the facts of the complaint, but that you do not believe it presents a fair and accurate portrayal of the events. Make clear that you are always available to meet with former clients and address any concerns they may have.
  • If possible, try to contact the reviewer directly and seek to ameliorate the situation or explain to them further why the representation unfolded as it did. If this is successful, don’t hesitate to ask for an updated review.
  • Try to avoid further negative reviews by soliciting client feedback directly as the representation continues and in exit interviews. Try to give your clients every opportunity to air their grievances with you and your firm directly so they don’t have the need to vent in public.
  • Lastly, the best antidote to a negative review is positive reviews. Keep your profile updated and facilitate the opportunity for your other clients to post their own satisfied reviews.

We’ve all heard the old saw, grow a tough skin. If you’re a lawyer, it better be twice as thick as everyone else’s.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

Using Zoom for Video Conferencing

I love Zoom, but like any tech, there are potential vulnerabilities for new users.

Protect your Zoom account and avoid Zoombombing (aka hacking) by following these suggestions:

  • Be wary of links. Login at Zoom directly rather than using the meeting link. Enter the provided meeting ID to join a meeting.
  • Set screen sharing to host only. Doing so prevents your meeting from being hijacked by a hacker.
  • Use the waiting room feature to prescreen and approve attendees.
  • Try Zoom webinars instead (this is the method I use for all my CLEs). Webinar settings offer advanced controls, including several approaches to prescreening attendees.

Read more about these safety tips here.

Are Zoom Conferences Recorded?

Webinars

When I conduct Zoom CLE webinars, I record them. This is a setting I activate as host. It isn’t automatic.

Meetings

Zoom meetings are recorded by default. Zoom help explains this and instructs hosts on how to change settings. This is one area where the USA Today article is misleading. For information on Zoom encryption, see this.

Give Others a Heads Up

No matter what you do, it is common sense to give clients and others a heads up on how your video meeting will be conducted. Advise if you plan to record. Let attendees know if your conference is listen only, whether they can raise their hand, or submit questions.

Documenting Your File

Recordings have their place. For example, preserving the meeting as part of your file. Advanced settings in Zoom allow you to include all participant names, add a time stamp, save chat files, and automatically transcribe audio.

All in all, Zoom is a pretty terrific tool.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

How to Work Remotely

For those of you struggling to figure out how your business can adapt to the age of COVID-19, here’s the good news: it can be done!

The keys, according to Washington Lawyer Jordan L. Couch, are:

  • Setting up a VPN & Remote Desktop
  • Grabbing What You Need from the Office
  • Taking Online Signatures
  • Using Cloud Storage
  • Scheduling Video Conferences and Investing in VoIP

Read more at the link below.

via How to Work Remotely as a Lawyer: An Innovator’s Guide to Law in the Time of Coronavirus — NWSidebar.

My two cents?

VPN and Remote Desktop

Remote access allows you to get to all your office files from home. Learn more by reading this post.

Grabbing What You Need at the Office

Plan before you go. If you have staff, ask for input then make a list. Find a cardboard box, sacks, or anything you can use to carry office supplies and the like – ideally virus-free and ready to go. If you’re not sure whether the carriers you’re using to bring stuff home are good to go, then disinfect. Be prepared to do it again or to “quarantine” carriers when you return home.

  • If you were last in the office four or more days ago – everything you bring home is virus-free. This assumes no one else has been in your space and had access to files or items in your workspace.
  • If you were in the office more recently, prepare to disinfect what you bring home or quarantine it for three days. The virus lives on plastic for three days and plastic is EVERYWHERE in our offices – keyboards, mice, phones, etc. Read more here.
  • Protect yourself. If you are in a firm, office share, rent space, or pay for custodial services, assume someone has been in your space and protect yourself according to CDC guidelines.

Digital Signatures

I first wrote about digital signatures in 2012. I’m a big fan. See the heading Digital Signing Apps in this post for recommendations.

Cloud Storage

If you already have Microsoft Office 365, use OneDrive. If you have Google Apps, use Google Drive. Mac user? Why iCloud of course. Otherwise, think about Box or Dropbox Business.

Phone conferencing

VOiP isn’t essential. If you use your cell phone for business, you’re already set. If you rely on an office landline, contact your provider about call forwarding. Minimally change your outgoing message so clients know you’ll be monitoring and returning calls remotely.

Video conferencing

I love Zoom for video conferencing! All my webinars are conducted through Zoom.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis