We’ve all read numerous updates how companies prepared for and subsequently geared up to support us during the pandemic. Most law firms and corporate law departments have seemingly arrived at their various “remote working” destinations.
Now that we’ve all learned to use our hampers as desks and to mute our phones during a Zoom meeting, it’s time to shift our focus. It’s now beneficial to examine some long-term implications of our new work world, both tactical and cerebral.
The first thought that comes to my mind for me doesn’t relate to technology at all. Rather, it relates to us as humans. Sure, we all liked texting, Twitter and some of us (not me, because I don’t understand them) embraced Tik Tok and related apps. But no one expected such an abrupt shift to a near-virtual world.
And, even more importantly, certainly none among us expected to so incredibly rapidly transition into a world with serious concerns. So many are dealing with concerns like employment, mental health, loved ones and, of course, our physical health. It can feel overwhelming at times.
So, ramping this back to legal and technology, what are some topics technology leaders should consider to keep connected and maintain some semblance of morale in these times? Here’s a few thoughts.
Use the tools to facilitate communication
At my company, like most, we taught employees about our collaboration tools (teleconferencing, video meetings, etc.). Empowering individuals, learning and the sense of achievement we feel when learning is something we all take pride in.
But to truly gain the benefits, we must both train folks but also be sure they use these capabilities. One good way to do this is leading by example. Whenever possible, offer to spin up calls on issues, even if issues might easily be resolved in writing. You never know, this might be the only voice call an employee takes in their new “virtual” workday. Let’s all try to use technology to replace the old coffee station/water cooler/lunch room type interactions whenever possible. The more we spontaneously use collaboration technology, the more likely others will do the same.
Idle hands make fretful minds
In law firms, there are attorneys whose professional lives are focused on traveling to depositions, court appearances, case management conferences, etc. Those activities have pretty much ground to a halt. And in the technology world, many of my colleagues in consulting or sales functions are in the same boat. This is a radical culture shock for those whose typical workday is transient in nature.
Sure, I understand some certain things can’t be overcome. If courts are closed, they’re closed, at least until they ramp up on web meetings. If a client directs non-essential work to stop, well, those wishes must be respected. And if conferences are canceled, those interactions are also pretty much out the window.
But other activities can carry on. Over time, more depositions and courtroom proceedings will proceed online. Almost always, there are long-term projects one can address (think innovation, legal operations) given extra time. Or attorneys might even consider dreaded tasks like online CLE credits, or filing electronic work product.
Pro bono work is also a great opportunity. We all understand how the legal profession prides itself on contributing time back to society to many worthy causes.
In my world, I’ve let others know any lessons learned in our law firm’s cloud transformation are freely shared. For example, at work we use AWS Workspaces for remote desktops for employees. This is a classic use of IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) which is scalable, works well and is very secure.
I share not to boast but rather to teach. This approach to remote working—using AWS Workspaces helps organizations bypass licensing and capacity issues related to VPN or remote on-premise desktop connectivity, for example—works well for us. I hope this concept helps others.
Another awesome way legal technologists can apply our skills to help is in our communities. Work is fairly advanced, but things in volunteer organizations could be different. I tend to think youth sports organizations and civic groups might be having problems figuring out how to meet. We can help here. As an example, I watched my Parish Mass on Facebook Live this week. I have to say, seeing a familiar face was very nice (Note: I didn’t put it together, just watched). I believe there are many groups who’d love to receive the assistance of technologists, and helping others is chicken soup for the soul.
Whatever we all choose to do, staying busy and helping others are keys to maintaining a positive outlook during these times.
This is a tough one for me. Typically, I’m kind of a news junkie. Plus, there are absolutely no sports to occupy our time. And we’re home all the time with our cable boxes just begging to be turned on.
But my advice to people, if you can tear yourself away, is to spend less time watching White House Briefings (other than to be sure to follow CDC Guidelines) and more time on other activities. If one needs some suggestions on work-related tech activities, the first one which comes to mind is LinkedIn Learning. It’s a great way to learn. Additionally, some of the best universities in the world offer free courses (some examples being MIT OpenCourseWare or Stanford Online). Focusing on personal growth is a far better path to tranquility than waking up at 5AM to check the Dow Futures or counting how many “Coronaparties” were broken up by the local authorities today.
As this relates to legal technology, I think practitioners can continually identify to our internal/external clients relevant industry updates. One example are the changes to state CLE rules one can acquire remotely amid the COVID-19 situation. Another are the emerging trends in the use of video technology in the courtroom. And those are just the tip of the iceberg.
To close this section out, let me take a reference one of my favorite pastimes. There’s a saying in English soccer when a team is desperately trying to protect against a goal that “anywhere will do”, meaning it’s perfectly acceptable to just blast the ball away from the goal at all costs. The same concept applies here—pretty much anything productive and meaningful beats obsessing on the news.
Admittedly, this is not my area of professional expertise. But, if I could borrow from an article I wrote last week, it’s helpful to worry about what you can control and ignore what you can’t.
None of us can change our age or our medical history—that is what it is. But we can be sure we eat healthy, exercise, take vitamin C or Zinc, and soak in 15-30 minutes of beautiful Vitamin D laden sunshine whenever possible. Borrowing from the National Football League’s “Play 60” initiative, if we all spend 60 minutes a day on our health, that’s a great idea.
Another key to health is, to repeat, considering helping others. Whether you are a lawyer, legal professional or a legal technologist, you all have plenty of skills to help society. And there’s no better time to do that than now. We all can do small things. Helping a health care professional or first responder, or assisting a friend who lost their business or job are all good ideas. Whatever your area of expertise, there are things we can do to help us feel a bit better during these troubling times.
Looking into a crystal ball
A few closing thoughts. First of all, keep your head up. There are places in the world where it looks like social distancing works. And there are an amazing number of medical professionals working on treatments and a vaccine. So, keep the faith that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
And finally, consider the unexpected benefits which may come from this situation. For one, it’s an opportunity to reconnect with our families. It’s also hard to imagine a total “snap-back” to onsite office work. This could produce some downstream benefits like a reduction in rush hour traffic and workers having more flexibility.
Hang in there everyone, hopefully this too shall pass and we’ll come out the other side of the tunnel in a better place.
Kenneth Jones is Chief Technologist of Tanenbaum Keale, a boutique litigation law firm and Chief Operating Officer of the Xerdict Group, a SaaS legal collaboration software company. Xerdict is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tanenbaum Keale.