Tips: How to Take Your In-House Legal Department Remote Tomorrow

Our top tips to prepare your in-house legal team for a quick transition to a virtual and remote working legal department. Bonus tips included!

The coronavirus has the world on high alert: Headlines are rife with event cancellations, school closings and quarantines. Some corporations have shuttered offices, among them KKR & Co. in London; Vodafone in Sydney; and Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook in Seattle.

In the face of a pandemic, closing an office is a safe, responsible tactic to thwart contagion. But what do you do when the work doesn’t stop? How do you continue functional legal matter management when no one can report to the office?

woman using a laptopMore likely than not, you’re operating without a plan. According to Deloitte's global survey report "A Crisis of Confidence," fewer than half of companies have crisis playbooks ready to roll – and unnervingly, one-third of companies don’t know whether they have such plans in place.

If you are among the 51 percent of companies that either don’t have a crisis plan or don’t know about one, you and your in-house legal team can still bridge to remote operation efficiently and effectively. This isn’t the time to start a comprehensive crisis planning exercise; it’s time for legal operations made simple. Below are some legal operations tips on what to do now to prepare for a quick transition to a virtual in-house Legal Department.

Legal operations tips to help your in-house legal team work from home effectively

1. Conduct an inventory

Consider what your in-house lawyers and staff need to respond to business clients. Writing for Thomson Reuters, former in-house counsel Sterling Miller provided this sample list:

  • Up-to-date laptop
  • Internet access
  • Printer
  • Smartphone or land line
  • Remote access to document management system and matter management for in-house
  • Security log-ins and patches
  • General office supplies

“Basically, work-from-home only works if the [lawyer] has access to everything he or she would need access to if they were in the office that day,” Miller writes.

2. Establish an online legal hub

It’s hard enough to know who’s doing what when your Legal Department is working under one roof; it’s downright impossible if every member of your team is working from his or her home. You want to have visibility into your legal matters.

Set up a cloud based legal management software solution as soon as possible. Centralize in-house information in one place using a simple matter management software or a shared spreadsheet. Pay extra mind to user access and version control.

3. Make contact with your internal clients easy

In his piece for Thomson Reuters, “Working from Home: Can It Really Work for In-House Counsel,” former GC Miller recommends setting clear rules and expectations.

“The legal department is a service organization, and you cannot provide that service if clients are unable to get in touch with lawyers quickly,” he writes.

Ensure every member of the Legal Department provides contact information on voicemail greetings and automated out-of-office email replies. Lawyers and staff should continue to work regular business hours and stay connected to the office – by phone, email and other collaboration tools – as they would at their desks.

Examine your legal intake and triage process to ensure you are efficiently receiving, sorting and addressing matters. For clients, making a legal request is the first point of contact, needs to be easily accessible and intuitive.

Set up a streamlined and consistent workflow by using a legal intake workflow management software or creating standardized legal instruction forms. Combined with smart queue management for these requests to manage expectations from the beginning, this will provide a better remote user experience for both business clients and your in-house legal team. Legal operations can help enable your legal department to serve your internal clients more effectively.

Other legal operations tips to consider:

  • Do your clients know where to find legal assistance? Do you have a streamlined system for receiving work from your clients? This can be particularly important when they cannot easily walk past your desk or pick up the phone. Try Xakia’s legal intake tools to bring this to life quickly.
  • Regular updates on individual matters. Ensure that you have a matter management system for providing regular updates to your internal clients on each matter so that they can keep track.
  • Share updates about legal team contribution. Particularly if your whole team is working remotely, settle on a report format and ensure that you keep your clients abreast of the work being done by the in-house Legal Department to demonstrate the value.

team communications when working remotely

4. Plan your legal team communications

You will need to establish a rhythm of frequent communication. To start, plan to touch base once a day. Think this through now, and identify a time that works across time zones and working hours.

Communication is crucial in a work-from-home scenario for several reasons, Miller notes. It maintains a collaborative atmosphere; it informs you of workflow and deadlines; and it engenders trust.

“If you know and understand what the lawyers are working on, then your ability to trust that they are doing what they need to do goes up dramatically,” Miller writes. “Further, ensure [they] know they can and should call you as needed … It should not feel any different for them in terms of access to you.”

Good team communication is important for collaborating on work and for building relationships with your in-house legal colleagues. With remote working, it is important not to lose sight of all elements of team communication, including:

  • Regular workload check-in – ensure that you have a regularly scheduled – at least daily – check-in with your team about workload, priorities, and blockages. Use your legal matter management tools as a central talking point to review workloads. The ‘Agile’ methodology of daily stand-ups can be a helpful way of creating rhythm around workload management for remote in-house teams or team members. Check out our Agile 101 guide for in-house lawyers white paper to learn more.
  • General office banter – a drawback to remote working can be the limitations on ‘casual’ communication amongst legal team members. Ensure you create reasons to touch base throughout the day and leave room for the chit-chat in your work-related video calls.

Once you have outlined communications for your in-house Legal Department, consider your other stakeholders. How can you stay in contact with the C-suite, with your business clients, with your external resources? If you are setting up remote systems quickly, no need to dally on calendar calculus; simply circulate your alternative contact information early and often.

Make use of project management tools like a kanban board and set a cadence of sending regular reports to stakeholders to visualize and maximize workflow.

5. Embrace flexibility and grace

This arrangement isn’t forever. You and your Legal Department will learn along the way. If you can remain committed to delivering excellent legal service, but stay flexible in the manner with which that’s done, chances are your team will rise to the occasion – and come back with new ideas and innovations you can put in place in non-crisis times.

Watch our webinar: Taking your in-house legal team remote

Watch the webinar now - Taking your in-house legal team remote to find out more.

Join Xakia's CEO Jodie Baker together with Beau Sylvester, Head of Legal Operations, Asurion and Chuck Watts, City Attorney, City of Greensboro, North Carolina, as they share their journey to move rapidly from office-centric to remote working legal teams over the past two weeks.

Bonus tips to working remotely for in-house lawyers

Working remotely – as an individual or as a legal team – can be a fabulous way to inject flexibility into your working environment. But it has its challenges and requires some planning. Here are some other handy tips to assist you in managing your home working environment for a fully remote in-house Legal Department, and how Xakia can help.

home office - have a well-lit workspace

1. Working space

Where you work is important. Your environment can impact how you concentrate throughout the day, your physical state, your longevity and ability to juggle multiple devices or documents and order your thoughts. When you are working from home, you don’t always have full control over your working space – the kitchen table may be all you have available!

To the extent possible, consider the following:

  • Natural light or a well-lit workspace
  • Space to spread out, away from other distractions
  • A good chair, a standing space (kitchen bench?) or ways to elevate your device to a good ergonomic level
  • If you are on your laptop, consider getting a second screen, or hooking up your TV screen so that are not looking down for long periods of time
  • Where possible, separate your working and family life. Have a working area that's away from your main living area
  • Get dressed for work. You'll set yourself up for a more focused day if you're presentable

2. Technology solutions

Legal operations is more effective with technology. There are three critical technological elements for in-house corporate lawyers to be able to work remotely efficiently:

  • Communication/collaboration technology – this includes emails, Microsoft Teams, Slack or other messaging services. Seamless team video conferencing is essential. For quick implementation, try Zoom or Google hangouts.
  • Matter management solution – one centralized enterprise legal management software of who is working on what, and for whom, when it is due and how it is being prioritized. Crucial for legal team communication when working from home and where Xakia can operate as a central tool.
  • Document management – the ability to access, edit and save documents (and emails) in a cloud-based central repository is essential. This may be SharePoint or Google Docs, or more sophisticated document management tools built for legal, like Fyler, iManage or NetDocuments.
  • Internal client portal - it's important to be able to securely share documents, collaborate and keep your internal clients updated from one central location. An Internal Client Portal will give your business clients complete visibility across their legal requests and you won’t have to waste time dealing with emails asking for constant updates.

3. Time management

Don’t work ALL day! It is very important to find ways to delineate between ‘work’ and ‘home’ to manage your mental and physical health. This might include:

  • Marking out time for work, and time to finish work, including breaks during the day
  • When you break during the day, ensure you walk away from your work space
  • Find a way to mark the end of your working day with definition. Perhaps your ‘commute’ can include a walk around the block
  • Take a 5 to 10 minute short break each hour can help keep you focused and productive

take a break when working remote

4. Kindness and empathy

Adjusting to remote working takes time, even for the introverts amongst you! A rhythm may develop quickly, or take a while to settle. In the meantime, remember:

  • Be patient with yourself and each other
  • Understand that some may want/need to touch base more often
  • At different times, you and your colleagues are juggling other commitments (ie. children, pets, door-to-door salespeople)

Monstera Deliciosa - swiss cheese indoor plant

5. Add some greenery to your home office

Make your home office a peaceful place to work with plants. Studies have found that plants can:

  • Improve concentration and productivity
  • Reduce stress levels
  • Boost your mood
  • Improve air quality
  • Improve your general wellbeing

In addition, plants can also help add some colour and brighten up a room.

Consider adding a vase of fresh flowers or a potted plant in your home office. Some of our top indoor picks include:

  • Monstera Deliciosa: also known as the ‘Swiss cheese plant’
  • Peace Lily: low maintenance indoor plant with stunning white flowers
  • Lucky Bamboo: well-known for its use in Feng Shui
  • Zanzibar Gem: almost indestructible!
  • Cactus: low maintenance
  • Rubber Plant: they will grow to fit whatever pot they’re in
  • Aspidistra: also known as the ‘cast-iron’ plant
  • African Violets: adds colour to your space
  • Succulents: comes in a variety of colours, shapes and textures
  • Snake Plant: tough and drought-tolerant plant
  • Red Aglaonema: has stunning reddish-pink leaf tips
  • Bamboo Palm: grows very well in low light conditions and will bring a pop of colour to your office
  • Devil’s Ivy: a fast-growing vine with waxy, heart-shaped leaves, it's super resilient and so easy to take care of
  • Spider Plants: the perfect choice for newbies

6. Listen to music

Keep yourself focused and relaxed with some background music, nature sounds or white noise.

7. Get rid of the clutter

A survey conducted by OfficeMax found that clutter had a negative impact on the respondents' productivity (77%), state of mind (65%), motivation (53%) and happiness (40%). The survey also found that being organized helped respondents feel more accomplished (71%) and relaxed (43%). Toss anything you don’t need and use a cloud based legal software to manage your legal matters and documents!

8. Exercises while working from home

It's important to get up and stretch every hour for about 5-10 minutes. Check out these simple exercises when working from home. These exercises can help prevent back, neck and body pains, maintain good posture and relieve tension in your muscles.

Working from home energy saving tips for in-house lawyers

If you're working from home for part of the week, it pays to consider the energy consumption in your home office. Below are some simple power-saving tips that could help keep your energy costs down.

1. Use an energy-saving power board

Consider using an energy-saving power board for all your work-related tech. Connect your main appliance, such as your laptop, to the ‘master socket’ and then connect other appliances (like monitors, printers and lamps) to the ‘slave sockets’. When you turn your laptop off, power to the other units shuts down automatically, which means that power is not wasted on appliances that are left on but aren’t being used.

2. Heat and cool your space at the right temperature

According to the RACV, heating and cooling are the biggest power users in the home, accounting for up to 40% of household energy bills.

During winter, setting your heat to 18-20°C could be one way to reduce your energy use. Each degree over 20°C uses around 10% more energy. When cooling your home office in summer, consider setting your air-con to 24°C or higher. Each degree under 24°C uses 5% more energy.

3. Natural daylight

Natural light can help boost productivity and engagement. Where possible, utilise rooms with windows in your house to reduce the need for artificial light.

legal analytics software

4. Fit energy-saving light bulbs

LEDs use 75% less energy than halogens and last five to ten times longer. Installing LED bulbs in your home could keep your energy bill down. Try using a desk lamp instead of multiple lights, or if you can, position your desk directly next to a window to take advantage of the natural light.

5. Shut your doors

If you’re working at home a few days a week, your energy bill could increase if you have the heater or air-con on all day.

According to the RACV, 15-25% of heat loss in winter is due to draughts. So, if you’re feeling the chill in your home office, consider closing the door and fitting a draft stopper.

In summer, using a fan to cool your home office could be a more energy-efficient alternative to using the air-con to cool rooms you’re not using.

Stay productive with a cloud based matter management software

Empower your team with legal operations. Download our 8 steps for your legal department strategic plan whitepaper and strategic plan template to help you plan for the year.

If you'd like to find out how our legal matter management software can help your in-house legal team work efficiently while WFH, speak to one of our friendly Xakia consultants today for a free demo.

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