Tag Archives: work from home

Lessons in “Work from Home”

As I write this column, many lawyers have left their offices to work from home (WFH) and more may follow. If, like me, your experience with working from home was using your work laptop or home PC to check emails and do a little work, the transition was a bit bumpy. As is true for many things in life, with office technology we often don’t appreciate what we have until we no longer have it.   

In March 2020, Bar members began a major exodus from the law office. If you already used a laptop as your primary work computer, you were one step ahead of the game. I used a desktop PC at the office, so I ordered a 14” Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon from Lenovo (go to www.lenovo.com/statebar for the same price Lenovo employees get). It’s a thin, lightweight business laptop. My advice has always been to purchase business or professional grade laptops direct from the manufacturer. I was fortunate to order when I did. Lenovo has a shipping facility near Charlotte and I received the laptop the next day. Lenovo, Dell, and HP are reliable brands. (I am not anti-Mac – if that’s what you want, get one – but if you’ve always used PCs, maybe a pandemic isn’t the time to try something new.) With shortages on computers, one can’t be too choosy, but be aware of significant disadvantages when buying from a retailer versus a manufacturer, including changes in the warranty.  

Don’t obsess over RAM, disk space and other specs (most business machines are more than adequate for most lawyers) but make sure it has Windows 10 Pro 64-bit. I recommend purchasing an on-site warranty for the first 2-3 years – someone will come to you if you have a problem instead of having to ship the computer off. Whether you get accident insurance is your call. 

Many lawyers now use multiple wide-screen monitors in the office, so it won’t take long before you feel frustrated doing everything on a laptop. I lasted one day before going to Office Depot to purchase a docking station. It was a J5Create Boomerang and it would not have been my first choice. Lesson learned: when Lenovo suggested adding a docking station to my online basket, I should have bought it instead of fretting about the extra money. Once I added the Boomerang to my laptop with the included micro USB cable, I was able to add peripherals from the office and home: an external monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers and headset with mic. When I need to, I can connect a Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner or small HP printer. 

Accessing your work computer or server remotely requires a VPN (virtual private network), remote control solutions, or Remote Desktop Protocol. You can find more information about these at www.scbar.org/pmap or look at reviews on PCmag.com. Remote control products include LogMeIn and Splashtop. I don’t recommend using Remote Desktop Protocol, which is disabled by default on Windows computers as it is vulnerable to breaches.   

If you only need to access your files, not software programs, there are alternatives if you plan ahead. Before we decamped our office, the PMAP Assistant and I moved files we thought we would need to Microsoft SharePoint. SharePoint comes with Microsoft 365 Business. (In case you missed it, Microsoft 365 is how you get Word, Outlook, Excel and the rest. There are 3 different plans, but as of April 21 most lawyers can choose Microsoft 365 Business Standard.) Working from home, we could go to Office.com, login and access files in SharePoint much as we would on our office’s server. In SharePoint, we work on the same files without worrying about different versions. If the files had all been in OneDrive, this step might not have been necessary, but SharePoint makes it easy to share files and collaborate. 

For phone calls, we signed up for free Google Voice numbers so we wouldn’t have to give out our personal numbers. Google Voice calls are forwarded to personal phones or you can make and receive calls from voice.google.com on your computer with a headset/mic or Bluetooth earbuds. It also works with texts – clients can text you and you’ll receive it in your Gmail. WhatsApp is another alternative for calls. These are temporary options during an emergency, not something I recommend lawyers using instead of regular phone service. Please conduct your own research before signing up with one. Lawyers with VOIP phone service at the office can take their physical IP phone home with them and receive their calls as they normally would.  

If inner office emails are crowding your inbox, ask coworkers to use Microsoft Teams (included in 365) to send chat messages, share files and links, schedule meetings, and even video chat. Video calls on Teams tends to be clunky compared to Zoom, but it’s as easy as clicking on the phone icon in Chat to call a coworker’s computer. There are options for guest access for people outside your organization, but it needs to be configured properly, so at this time I don’t recommend it. Client portals, included in many practice management software products, remain a more secure means of collaborating and communicating with clients. For non-confidential collaboration with non-clients, try Slack https://slack.com/.    

If there’s a “Tech Word of the Year” 2020’s might be “videoconferencing.” At this writing, Signal and WhatsApp are popular options to use for one on one calls, which are easier to secure. Videoconferencing with larger groups, such as mediations, require more sophisticated software, such as Zoom and GoToMeeting. Educate yourself on how to properly use all products (not just videoconferencing) for better security. There is no such thing as perfect security and privacy on the Internet.  

***Due to the rapid rate of change, please research all products mentioned in this column thoroughly before using  

By: Courtney Troutman, Director
Practice Management Assistance Program
South Carolina Bar

Overview of Client Relationship Management Tools

THE PITCH:  After a potential client takes some form of “conversion” action (initiating a phone call, submitting a message via a contact form, subscribing to an email list or downloading educational material).  What tech tools are available to ensure your potential clients convert to becoming paying clients?  Without a Client Relationship Management Tool (CRM), the burden is on you to follow-up with all your potential clients, schedule them for a consult, and follow-up with them on signing their retainer agreement.  And, if you don’t follow up with them, they are much more likely to go with another law firm.   

That is essentially the marketing pitch made by CRM software companies.  So, let’s take a quick overview of the CRM tech tools available for lawyers.  

Gedney Howe, III had a very simple, no tech method for maintaining client relationships.  His method was to call several clients on Sunday afternoons and tell them he was in the office working on the client’s case.  The Sunday afternoon call is a great idea for communicating with your clients and letting your clients know that you are actively working on their case.  But how can you achieve what Gedney knows about clients, that they want to hear from you and feel you are moving forward on their case. A CRM offers that opportunity using automation and the internet. 

While CRMs are more commonly known for their use in sales teams, many law firms are now implementing a CRM tool.  While there are several CRM solutions for businesses, now there are solutions developed specifically for lawyers.  Some examples of these solutions are:  CloseSimple (real estate closings), Clio Grow (by Themis Solutions – all areas of practice), Case Status (litigation), Shape (most areas of practice), and InterAction (by Lexis/Nexis – all areas of practice). 

There are other general applications available that can be tailored for a law firm as a CRM solution on a smaller scale: Microsoft Bookings (online booking of appointments) and Microsoft Forms (easy to use for client intake form that can be quickly sent to a potential client after initial contact).   

You might use two-way texting as an alternative and quicker method for communicating with a potential client after the initial contact or later for regular client communication.  Zipwhip is an application that lets you use an existing business line to create client communication.  You can create reusable text message templates so you can quickly send standard messages.  Dynamic fields allow you to personalize every message – even group texts. You can schedule text messages in advance to remind a client of an appointment or as a follow-up to a potential client.  The link to a form created with Microsoft Forms can be sent to the potential client by text to gather the basic client intake information on a smart phone. 

Themis Solutions now has two new names for its new CRM application and for its established practice management application.  The new names are Clio Grow and Clio Manage.  Clio Grow can be purchased on a subscription basis as a stand-alone CRM tool, but the intake information can be seamlessly added to its practice management application.  There are tools for automatic email and document generation for quick communication with the potential client.  The Zipwhip application can be integrated with Clio Grow to add the use of text messaging to communicate with a potential client.  For example, after the initial telephone conference, a scheduled email or text message can be set up for a short follow-up.  The message may say: 

Hi Jim, thank you for taking the time to meet with us!  We will be in touch soon.  If you have any questions in the meantime, please do not hesitate to reach out.  –Best, Bill 

The matter pipeline dashboard of Clio Grow shows several columns for you to navigate and monitor your efforts to obtain a new client.  The main columns show intake status, hired, and not hired. 

The Case Status application was started by a South Carolina attorney who worked for a large plaintiff’s firm.  A client portal is created for communicating the status of the case.  Case status can automate communication and send real-time updates to the Case Status mobile app.   

So, automation of the client intake process can save important time you need for other existing clients and may impress the potential client enough for the prospect to establish a relationship with you.  Other benefits include converting more prospects to clients, eliminate the paper intake form which will eliminate the double data entry, and most importantly being prepared for the client. 

Here are links to some of the CRMs mentioned in this article http://www.closesimple.com, www.setshape.com/legal, www.zipwhip.com, 
http://www.clio.com/grow, www.casestatus.com, www.interaction.com.   

By: William E. Booth, III
Booth Law Firm
West Columbia, South Carolina
SC Bar Technology Committee

David P. Stasaitis, President and CSO
Charleston, South Carolina