Hour by hour, the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is changing how our society will operate in the short term. Over the last few days many businesses have transitioned to remote operations, and have asked that employees telecommute for the next two weeks or longer. While large organizations and government entities typically have contingency plans for unexpected situations, small and/or solo law firms may not have the resources—or the need—to do such planning until they are forced to.
Solo and small law firms tend to be based on relationships with clients, and these relationships rely heavily on personal communication. There are free or affordable platforms that can assist solo practitioners and small firms in communicating with their clients and other counsel remotely, while maintaining some sort of personal interaction. Below are a few suggestions that may assist your firm in transitioning to remote work. Inherent in the suggestions below is that continuity of client service is of the utmost importance. The information below also addresses security, which is also of high importance when dealing with client communications.
Telephone & Video Conferences:
In addition to the use of regular telephone services (most smart phones offer easy telephone conferencing and video calls), there are free and/or affordable platforms for video conferencing and conference calls that will be helpful as small/solo firms necessarily limit their face-to-face interactions. These platforms can be used within the firms for employee-based meetings, and outside the firm with current and potential clients. All of the platforms offer varying levels of encryption.
Google Hangouts allows for easy teleconferencing and conference calls. Clients have the ability to call in to a designated telephone number or click on a Hangouts link to join a virtual meeting. All parties must have Gmail accounts in order to access Google hangouts. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Google is providing, to all G Suite customers, free access to advanced Hangouts Meet, which allows for live streaming and the ability to record meetings and save them to Google Drive.
Encryption information for Google hangouts is available at https://support.google.com/a/answer/7582940?hl=en.
Google provides information on how to set up and start using Hangouts at https://support.google.com/hangouts/answer/2944865?hl=en&ref_topic=6386410.
UberConference offers a good short-term solution for low-overhead firms; users get free unlimited 45-minute conference calls and clients can call in to the dedicated phone number without having to enter a PIN number.
Account security information is available at https://help.uberconference.com/hc/en-us/articles/115001553666-Account-Security.
A video overview of UberConference is available at https://www.uberconference.com/features.
Zoom offers a free plan that includes unlimited 1 to 1 meetings, video conferencing, and SSL encryption.
Most law firms, even small ones, require constant communication among staff members. This can be more difficult to do if employees are apart and working from various remote locations. The following platforms allow for employee management and intra-office communication.
The Slack platform works as a cross between email and texting and allows employees to communicate in real time via “channels”. Slack has small employer-friendly pricing that begins at $6.67 per user per month.
For more information on plans, go to https://app.slack.com/plans/T5FNLR2GG/.
Slack’s security standards are available at https://a.slack-edge.com/a214f/marketing/downloads/security/Datasheet_English.pdf.
A Slack introductory demo is available at https://slackdemo.com/#Team.
Microsoft Teams offers similar real-time communication options, as well as video conferencing and teleconferencing options. Their plans start at $5.00 per user per month.
Safety standards are available at https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoftteams/security-compliance-overview.
For a video tutorial on how to use Microsoft Teams, go to https://support.office.com/en-us/article/video-welcome-to-microsoft-teams-b98d533f-118e-4bae-bf44-3df2470c2b12?wt.mc_id=otc_microsoft_teams&ui=en-US&rs=en-US&ad=US.
Because much planning may be happening last-minute, clients and employees may end up being home-based without the necessary equipment. In order to continue the easy transfer of signed documents, there are apps that allow you to use your smart phone as a scanner.
TurboScan is a $4.99 app capable of scanning multipage documents, notes, photos, etc. Users can quickly scan the documents and either store or send them as PDF or JPEG files. Information on TurboScan is available at https://turboscanapp.com/index.html.
For a completely free option, AbbyyFinescanner turns your phone into a scanner capable of scanning and saving documents as PDF or JPEG files. To learn more go to https://www.finescanner.com/en/.
Adobe Scan is another free option (paid upgrade required for some additional functions) allowing you to use your smart phone as a scanner. You can easily transmit these documents securely through adobe or as attachments. For more information, check out: https://acrobat.adobe.com/us/en/mobile/scanner-app.html
By: Andrea Solan, Esq., MSBA Legal Content Editor