In 1981 or 82, because of my first job as a waiter at Chi Chi’s Mexican Restaurant, I needed transportation. My first car was a 1969 Chevy Imperial that my Uncle Eddie’s vocational rehab class rebuilt as a school project (including installing a sweet 327 engine). My Uncle Billy bought me a timing light, and other assorted tools, and he spent some time showing me the finer points of tuning up an engine. I am pretty sure that he gave me a Chilton’s manual, but that may be something I have added with the passage of time.
Nowadays If I open the hood of my Honda Accord, I can barely find the windshield washing fluid, and if I was inclined to work on the engine (which I am not) I am sure that I would need a lift and this or that special tool.
Similarly, years ago, when I reached a point where I had a home computer and an office computer, working remotely consisted of calling the receptionist to get the rundown of what was happening the office, checking my voice mail, and shuttling a 3.5 inch floppy disk between work and home.
Times have changed. Many attorneys and their staffs are learning how to work remotely on the fly. It remains to be seen what changes will be permanent. Now is a good time to pause and consider how things are going, keeping in mind the attorney’s ethical duties of confidentiality and competence, and how to improve. Some commentators, including David Ries of Clark Hill in Pittsburgh, suggest you focus on three main areas: technology, policies and procedures, and people.
If you are having trouble with your internet speed or reliability at home, it might be time to invest in a new router, your gateway to the internet. I recently bought a new entry level TP-Link router for under $100, and I can already tell a difference in speed and reliability. I was able to set up the router in about 10 minutes. If you have dead spots in your house, or if your work computer is far away from the router, consider purchasing a Wi-Fi extender, Powerline over Ethernet adapters, or possibly even a mesh Wi-Fi network. The latter is the costliest but may be the best long-term solution. Make sure that WPA2 encryption is enabled. This helps keeping your connection secure.
If you use public Wi-Fi, it is worth subscribing to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to ensure that your connection to the internet is private. A VPN essentially provides an encrypted tunnel to the internet. Avoid a free VPN. There are many good ones out there, but I use Surf Shark. It is easy to install, covers my family’s devices, received good reviews, is secure enough for my purposes, and was on sale for a couple of dollars a month for a couple of years. Also, don’t leave your computer or other devices unattended in a public place even if you are only going to be gone for a second.
There is no such thing as perfect security. The good news is that you don’t need to outwit the NSA or any of the alphabet agencies or foreign actors. Just don’t be an easy target.
Do you know where your backups are? If you used to back up to your server or NAS device where are you backing up to in your home office? What about your staff? I use BackBlaze because it is a cost effective solution for me, but some colleagues use Carbonite. I also use Microsoft 365, which is configured to provide another backup of my documents.
If you travel with your equipment, what happens if it gets lost or stolen? Make sure that you have passwords enabled for your devices. If encryption is an option, make sure it is enabled. If your hard drive is encrypted, and it gets stolen, an encrypted hard drive will be useless to the thieves.
For reviews of tech equipment, I usually start with the Wirecutter on the NY Times website and go from there. If an item is pricey, and I can wait, I will check camelcamelcamel.com for the best time to buy tech items from Amazon.com.
Personally, if I had a smart assistant like Google home, Amazon Echo, or an Apple iHome device, I would turn it off while I was working, or, at a minimum, when I was discussing confidential information.
Do you know how you sound on WebEx or Zoom? Some people sound like they are calling from the underwater city of Atlantis. All the services allow you to test your setup. If you do not like the way you sound, consider ordering a USB microphone. Play around with you lighting, and pay attention to your background when you are on camera. Test everything out before you need to do something, and, if your client needs to appear, check with them to make sure they can make the technology work.
Do you use a password manager? Now is the time to try one out. I use LastPass, but Dashlane and 1Password are alternatives. Hand in hand with this is to enable two factor authentication of your accounts.
The best practice is to use work equipment for work, and personal equipment for personal items. A remote worker should not share equipment with family members given the risk of inadvertent disclosure of confidential information. Make sure that your laptop shuts off after a reasonable period so that those around you are not tempted to check just one thing or play just one game when you aren’t around. Ensure that remote workers are not installing unauthorized programs on their work equipment and that their work-related apps and programs are updated – particularly security software. You may want to check to make sure that the remote worker’s access to the internet isn’t via hooking onto their neighbor’s Wi-Fi. Using a pair of earbuds or AirPods can keep people in your house from overhearing confidential conversations, particularly if you are prone to using a speakerphone. You may not think people in your house can hear what you are doing, but they can. (Those of us with children know how much they can absorb.)
Everyone needs to stay vigilant against hackers. It is a sad fact that cyberattacks have increased this year and there is no end in sight. Learn how to spot scam emails. There are great videos on YouTube. Start with the ones produced by Sophos, which are short and to the point.
What are you doing about paper? Make sure that the same safeguards you have at work are in place at home.
Lastly, it is easier than ever to keep up with tech and best practices for working remotely. For a start, I would recommend subscribing to John Simek’s Your IT Consultant Newsletter and the TechnoLawyer newsletter. The SC Bar website also contains a treasure trove of information. Check it out if you have not done so lately.
We’re one day closer to things getting better. That is something!
Michael J. Polk, Esquire
SC Bar Technology Committee
Belser & Belser, PA
Columbia, South Carolina