Every lawyer works from home.
For some, it’s just an occasional evening email they can’t put off answering. For others, home is a full-time office. In the 2017 ABA TechReport, 77% of lawyers reported they regularly work from home. And that number is rising—especially as flexibility-loving millennials make up more of the legal workforce.
Solo practitioners pioneered this trend. But now it’s spread to nearly every corner—even to the most unlikely (read ‘stodgy’) law firms. Even BigLaw is making space for remote work, hoping it will help attract and retain top talent at the firm.
There are real rewards for lawyers and their firms in the growth of remote work. It cuts down real estate costs, eliminates commutes, and allows for better work-life balance. After fears that workers would sit in their pyjamas Netflixing all day, research has verified that remote workers are at least as productive as their in-office peers—if not even more productive.
Whether you’re in a full-fledged virtual law firm, or you’re a committed office-dweller who sometimes faces a work-from-home emergency, you need the right tools to help your practice run. Here are 9 things that every home office needs.
9 Needs for the Perfect Home Office
1. A designated workspace.
To create the perfect home office, first forget about having the perfect home office. The specifics of the space aren’t important. You don’t need that expensive standing desk or lying-down desk, nor the room redesign to get a better view. In fact, too much focus on the right design is likely just a distraction from diving into work. All you really need is a door that closes, an absence of unnecessary gadgets and distractions, and a space that signals to you that you can focus and be productive.
2. The right hardware.
Of course you want a good computer, along with a scanner and printer. But working toward a cloud-based, paper-light office might allow you to forego some of the more traditional office gadgetry. For instance, instead of owning your own fax machine for the occasional faxing hold-out, use a virtual fax service like Filevine Fax.
3. The right software.
The most powerful tool for your home office is cloud-based case management software. Most lawyers are already using the cloud in some way to ensure continued access to at least some of their documents. But remote workers need to ensure that they have all of their files at their fingertips at all times.
Case management software can also keep your data secure and help you maintain compliance standards. It can dramatically improve your ability to collaborate with others, particularly if the software includes document sharing and editing tools. Cloud-based software helps as well with the billing and financial needs of remote workers.
4. A communication strategy
Amid all the benefits of remote work sits the danger of isolation. This goes beyond feeling lonely. Isolation can lead to burnout, loss of productivity, and even increased health risks. Everyone who works from home needs regular communication and collaboration with others. Successful legal teams create a structure of regular check-ins and status updates, along with occasional in-person gatherings to build cohesion. They make sure they have the right technology so remote workers can speak up and be heard on group calls and see all the visuals that those in the office are seeing. Wikis for sharing institutional knowledge are another important tool for remote workers.
Even solo practitioners can fight isolation through regular networking or industry gatherings, as well as using coworking spaces (discussed below).
5. An anti-interruption strategy
You already know about the drain interruptions can have on your day—and the tremendous efficiency benefits you can reap by avoiding them. The home office brings its own benefits and challenges. Some lawyers report that working from home allows them more quiet time and increased focus. For others, home is filled with distractions from kids, pets, and malfunctioning kitchen appliances. It doesn’t hurt to have a set of noise-cancelling headphones— but ultimately your ability to have a home office depends on whether others in your space can avoid interrupting you.
But it also depends on whether you can avoid interrupting yourself. Self-distractions and the urge toward multitasking can hurt your productivity more than any noisy toddler. This problem isn’t unique to remote workers, but isolation can make distractions more appealing. Experiment with tricks like blocking distracting websites or setting timers for focused work, as in the Pomodoro Method.
6. A security strategy
Even in the most traditional law offices, people often use their own devices for work. All lawyers need an explicit security protocol for these devices, and having remote workers just highlights that need.
To protect client data, remote workers need the same tools as in-office workers. These include secure case management software, encryption, 2-factor authentication, regular software updates, and password managers. All lawyers also need thorough training on data security and the latest hacker tricks.
7. Clear Boundaries
When work happens at home, the two realms can mesh together in a perpetual fog of distraction and inattention. Clear boundaries are the solution. Some lawyers recommend strict ‘office hours.’ Others let their hours shift with the day’s needs. Either plan requires discipline: both the discipline to focus on work while you’re working, and the discipline to put that work away when you’re finished. It’s easy to ‘take work home with you’ when it’s already there.
Create a routine to mark the end of the work day. This might mean turning off or silencing devices or apps, changing into different clothes, or taking a quick walk.
8. Help with the phones
Some attorneys recommend creating your own dedicated office phone line with Google Voice. You can even switch on a ‘Do Not Disturb’ setting when you need your work calls to go to voicemail. Virtual receptionists can provide fuller services for those working at home. With a good virtual receptionist service, callers get a seamless experience that increases their sense of confidence in the lawyer.
9. A ‘Third Place’
Finally, the best home offices have an escape plan.
Google recently opened its own on-campus coffee shop, dubbed “The Coffee Lab.” This comes after research showing the productivity benefits of a ‘Third Place,’ apart from the office and home. For some, coffee shops, libraries, or coworking spaces are the main venue of their practice. For others, it’s just a place to retreat to when chaos hits home.
For lawyers with no brick-and-mortar office, Third Places are particularly crucial for meeting clients or opposing counsel. While many clients will be happy to meet in their own offices and homes, lawyers can also rent office space for client meetings. There’s a growth in the office-rental industry, including in buildings that cater specifically to lawyers. And with cloud-based case management software, any room can instantly become a law office.