If you’re an attorney managing a law firm of any size, you’re very likely managing remote employees.
My firm, Gerben IP, has been remote since it opened in 2008. Since then I’ve established five pillars for managing a remote workforce, as well as a tech stack that makes remote work a little more personal.
How to Manage a Remote Law Firm
While the pandemic reshaped the legal industry, leading many founders to reconsider the day-to-day operations of their firms, I knew from the start that I wanted the freedom to work from any location I wished.
This approach wasn’t just about avoiding the sterile confines of traditional office spaces, but about flexibility and living life on our own terms. The ability to work from different locations, even with the reality check of family commitments, has been a game-changer for me and my team./
For many legal professionals, the concept of a remote law firm is not only appealing but a significant factor when considering joining a practice. Even if your firm is not fully remote, you’re likely dealing with at least a few remote workers.
Five Pillars for Managing a Remote Workforce
1. Conduct Daily Video Check-Ins
While many people are resistant to video calls, they offer a wealth of non-verbal communication, especially when a team is primarily remote. Video calls allow for a deeper understanding and connection with team members, which is essential in a remote setting where you don’t get daily, in-person, face-to-face meeting time.
By scheduling daily five or ten-minute calls with your team, you start to build familiarity with them and they with you. You and your team will build a clear understanding of each individual’s mannerisms and will find it much easier to get on the same page for any work that needs to be accomplished.
This way, if a problem arises or if you need to communicate through different channels, your team is already familiar with you and your mannerisms.
You may also find that you just don’t have the time to communicate regularly with every employee via video. And that’s ok, we only have a finite number of hours in the day.
However, if you are not communicating via video with your employees, be sure to have a system of cross-pollination set up at your firm so that every team member has some sort of human interaction in their daily work life.
2. Inspect the Work
Regular oversight of work is crucial. My dad had a friend who taught me this important business lesson: “You get what you inspect, not what you expect.”
This is absolutely true, especially in a remote work setting. If you’re not examining the work that your team is producing remotely, you really don’t have any understanding of the work that is being produced.
Inspecting the work isn’t just about the final output, but also about understanding day-to-day operations and client interactions. This process helps identify areas needing improvement or additional training.
Any one of these items are very natural issues, that would need to be addressed in any organization, let alone in a law firm where the work product is so important. If you don’t have a way to inspect work at any point in the pipeline, I strongly encourage you to come up with a system and then implement it.
It’s easy for this task to drop to the bottom of your to-do list. However, by making it a priority, you can ensure that your team is doing the work you expect, and if not, you can address any items before they become large problems.
3. Provide Direct and Timely Feedback
Providing direct and timely feedback is challenging but vital. Addressing any issues in your team’s work in a timely manner prevents small problems from escalating and ensures continuous improvement in work quality.
This is also how you help your firm members hone their skills and continue to deliver better quality work each time. By failing to give your team direct feedback in a timely manner, you’re actually doing them a huge disservice.
If you can’t tell your team what you are looking for, how do you think you’re going to get it?
I understand that it can be difficult to provide feedback, especially if you are concerned with hurting someone’s feelings. I’ve made it a point to be as kind as possible when providing constructive feedback. Of course, I’m only human, so it might not always come across that way, especially in a remote setting.
However, if you’ve implemented daily video check-ins, your team will be more comfortable with you and understand that you are merely looking after the business’s best interests and that your feedback is not personal.
4. Create Incentive Programs
Incentive programs can be hugely beneficial for any remote law practice for a variety of reasons.
We all know that when working in a law office setting, the concept of “face time” is important.
But, in a remote setting, you have no idea when your team is actually working, because you don’t see them in person. And this can cause breakdowns in the culture and morale of your firm.
If your employees know that another team member is just phoning it after a certain time of day, it can cause them to ask, “Why am I working so hard then?”
I’ve found that implementing an incentive program can combat these feelings. The way I do it is this:
Set the base pay for your attorneys.
Whether it’s based on billable hours or something else, they all receive $X for a set amount of work.
Create a way for team members to make more money on top of that base pay.
If you can provide an incentive for an employee to make more money because the extra work they’re doing adds value and increases the bottom line of your firm, why aren’t you doing it?
Make sure there’s real buy-in for the program.
Once you believe that you’ve created a program that is going to incentivize your team, ask them. If it doesn’t work for them, it’s not going to work for you.
The bottom line is we’re all here to make money and an incentive program can be an excellent motivator for the members of your firm, as it gives them something extra to work towards that benefits both them and the firm overall.
5. Set Clear Expectations
Setting and communicating clear expectations regarding availability, project deadlines, and performance standards is fundamental. This clarity helps avoid misunderstandings and ensures every member of your team is on the same page.
It also allows you to set your employees up for success. They aren’t inside your head, so they don’t know exactly what you’re expecting from them.
Setting clear expectations also allows the opportunity for you and your team to discuss your expectations. If a team member knows what your expectation is and that they can’t meet it, they can now have a discussion with you about it.
Suggested Technology for Remote Law Firms
One of the other crucial aspects of running a successful remote law firm is leveraging the right technology for a seamless work experience. These are the four most useful tech platforms, that I’ve implemented at my own firm and recommend to any other remote law firm:
1. Google Workspace
For cloud-based, secure, and reliable operations, Google products are the way to go. And that doesn’t mean that your email address ends with @gmail.com. You can set up your own domain (just like you would for Microsoft products), it’s just run by Google.
Google is super secure and there’s never any downtime. Also, by using Google Workspace, you can pick up any laptop anywhere in the world, log in to your firm account, and start working remotely, which is invaluable.
Streak is a customer relationship tool that seamlessly integrates with Google Mail. We’ve adapted this tool to become our client file for everything.
Essentially, with every outgoing email, you can see any notes, upcoming tasks, or deadlines assigned to that particular client. This is especially useful in a remote setting, as all the client data is right there for every attorney or paralegal to see.
Gather is a fantastic tool that serves as a virtual office for our firm. Every team member gets their own customizable office and avatar that they control.
The best part about it is that you can “walk” into someone’s office and ask them a question, all without sending meeting links or scheduling time on the calendar.
SnagIt is a screen capture service that is incredibly useful for sharing detailed visual instructions. Sometimes, when you’re giving feedback on a project, it’s easier to visually show someone what you are looking for, rather than to type it out in an email.
And if you can’t be in the same location as the person you’re talking to, you can pull the project up on your screen, explain what you’re looking for, and send them the video via link.
This process is also incredibly helpful when recording standard processes for your firm or even explaining a complex legal situation to a client.
Managing a remote law firm is a dynamic journey full of many ups and downs. I hope these insights from my experiences starting and growing my firm, Gerben IP, can help you navigate this ever-evolving world of managing a remote law firm and workforce.