When I first started practicing law 30 years ago, the fax machine was a fairly recent innovation. We did our legal research using books, oftentimes having to travel to the library at Western Kentucky University or the University of Louisville School of Law. We looked up phone numbers in phone books and called people using landlines. We kept track of appointments in paper calendars. We went to court hearings and to depositions in person. We used paper files that required significant attention to keep organized. Although we had personal computers, we had no access to our electronic files when we were away from the office. We carried our paper files around in bulky trial cases. Somehow, we managed to practice our cases successfully without the conveniences that we now take for granted.
Over years, the practice of law has evolved to incorporate new technologies. We transitioned from doing legal research in books to using our computers. Even then, the research materials were on a DVD that you inserted into your computer. That eventually gave way to online research using services like Westlaw or Lexis/Nexis.
The fax machine has been largely replaced by email. Increasingly, courts have adopted electronic filing. At SLG, we went paperless a few years ago. Electronic files stored in the cloud replaced our paper files. Our photocopying volume has dropped so much that we are still using the copier that I bought in 2009.
The iPhone and the iPad Pro have become our go-to tools for everything from accessing files to projecting a sketch onto flatscreen televisions for client presentations. Everything that comes into the office is scanned and uploaded to our Dropbox and then carefully organized using a method the keeps it all hyper-organized. This gives us quick access to our files from any place with an internet connection. If we know that we aren’t going to be in a place where we are connected, we can download files directly to the iPad in advance. To call this a game-changer is an understatement.
One significant benefit of our paperless approach to file management is that we can easily and almost instantly share documents with clients, other lawyers, and pretty much anyone else.
I share all of this background to say this: the practice of law has changed dramatically in the almost 30 years since I was sworn in. I have welcomed the technological innovations and even served as a continuing legal education presenter across Kentucky on how to utilize technology effectively. Over the past year, I have come to appreciate just how critical the effective use of technology has been for SLG in a year that has shaken the world.
At SLG, like everywhere else, we had to adapt to the COVID environment. As I look back on the year, I am pleasantly surprised by how smoothly things have gone–in spite of truly unprecedented challenges. Beyond enjoying the blessings of our Creator, SLG has done well because we were already using much of the technology that has become essential. As a result, the adjustments that we had to make we far less dramatic than for those who clung to “Old School” ways.
Here are five things we are doing at SLG to adapt to this new world of social distancing and heightened concerns for the health of those around us.
- Adaptation #1: Reconfigured Staffing. Toward the end of March, we complied with the governor’s 2-week mandatory shutdown. Once that ended, we resumed our operations in a scaled-back way. We went from having two full-time staff to have a single part-time support person. It was a big change, but we have managed to adapt surprisingly well.
- Adaptation #2: More Remote Work. Like much of the rest of the workforce, we have increased the amount of time that we work remotely–mostly from home. This has a lot of benefits, including the reduced likelihood of exposure to COVID and the increased efficiency of not having to leave home. But it does come at the obvious cost of not being physically present at the office, which leads to our third adaption.
- Adaptation #3: Increased Emphasis on Scheduled Communications. Few things are more frustrating than being unavailable to meet with a client who has dropped in. I always feel like I am letting our client down when they need to see me but I am tied up with someone or something else. So, we have always tried to work from appointments to avoid this problem.Given our reconfigured staffing and remote work, scheduling has become even more important. Thankfully, it has been an easy transition because clients have been so understanding.
- Adaptation #4: Decreased Volume. Our case volume has definitely decreased since the onset of the pandemic. That has not been a huge adjustment for us because we have never tried to be a high-volume law practice. We emphasize quality over quantity and that is truer than ever in the COVID era. The benefit for our clients is that we have less demand for our attention, so our goal of providing an excellent, individualized client experience is more readily achievable.
- Adaptation #5: Increased Use of Remote Communications. As I said earlier, we have been leveraging technology to improve our performance for a long time. The big difference now is that everyone else is utilizing it much more regularly. This allows us to participate in court hearings, to meet with clients and even to attend mediations–all by videoconference. While there is no substitute for three-dimensional (i.e. in-person) communication, two-dimensional (i.e. videoconference) is at least two-thirds as good.
The year 2020 brought with it many unwelcome changes. But in some ways, those changes haven’t been any more profound than what we have experienced over the past 30 years. The thing is that these most recent changes have been compressed into a very short period of time. In the final analysis, we have found ways to adapt and many things are unchanged. We still exist as a law firm to serve people who need help solving legal problems, whether it is something simple like updating a will or something complicated like a serious personal injury matter. We still pride ourselves on depending on client referrals for our business.
By way of reminder, here’s what we are doing these days:
If there is something we can help you with, contact us today.
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