[FREE Webinar]:
Adapt or Fail:
Industry Changes Law Firms Can’t Afford to Ignore

Since March 2020, COVID-19 has brought more change to the legal profession in the past four months than in the past decade.  Yet many lawyers still view changes such as working from home, online depositions and virtual client meetings as a temporary measure, and that the legal profession will return to normal.  That, however, would be a mistake. 

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Check out five ways MyCase can help you run your firm with zero disruption while managing remote staff and interacting with clients both virtually and in-person.

Even in this short timeframe, lawyers and staff have adapted to working from home, and clients have become accustomed to meeting with lawyers and other professionals online – and will still desire the same even when the pandemic is under control. Moreover, remote work and technology adoption helps to cut costs which is critical – since with the economy still propped up on stimulus packages, lawyers and their clients have not yet experienced the brunt of the impacts.

In this webinar, we explored how rapidly COVID has changed the profession – and more importantly, shared what lawyers can and must do to embrace these changes, and make them a permanent part of their practices.

Jump to a Topic

3:54 – The New Normal Explained

The legal profession will likely never be what it was pre-pandemic. With the genie out of the bottle — so to speak — Carolyn expounded on the major changes brought about by COVID-19 and the implications thereof on the day-to-day operations of legal professionals.

12:08 – How to Manage a Remote Team

Prior to COVID-19, Carolyn Elefant has had years of experience managing staff that had never set foot inside her offices. In this segment, she shared her toolkit for successfully managing a remote team to help legal professionals with document sharing, training, and collaboration sans the luxury of in-person interaction.

21:00 – The Needs of Staff WFH

Working in a home environment brings with it new challenges that attorneys and managing partners must take into consideration for their staff. To better support staff working away from the office, Carolyn introduces changes to policy in your firm surrounding dress code, returning to the physical office, and work-life balance.

26:30 – How to Manage Clients Remotely

Many law firms are reporting that legal clients are quickly buying into the idea of remote legal services. In this segment, Carolyn offers guidance around how technology tools will help you meet emerging client expectations in an increasingly remote climate.

31:56 – New Ways of Doing Business

As we settle into the new normal, many experts foresee a downturn in legal services to some degree. To counter this, your law firm may want to experiment with new ways to maintain financial stability such as additional payment options, fee structures, and unbundled services.

41:56 – Ethics in the New Normal

With the advent of ubiquitous remote work among legal staff, we are likely to see a shift in ethics rules governing client security and interaction. In this segment, Carolyn touches on future modifications of ethics rules to accommodate law firms broadly operating online.

Transcript

Martin Cogburn:

All right. Welcome everyone to today’s webinar on legal industry changes presented by Carolyn Elefant. My name is Martin Cogburn. I’m Content Marketing Manager at MyCase, and I’ll be your host today. So, before we jump in, on behalf of MyCase, I want to thank you all for joining us for this presentation. As we settle into, what’s often referred to as the new normal, six months after COVID first put many states into lockdown, we continue to strive to be vigilant in sharing the latest industry updates, best practices and tactics for legal professionals with our content.

 

Martin Cogburn:

So, a quick note about participating on Zoom, the webinar control panel is on the bottom of your screen. This is where you’re able to control audio, chat with us and submit any questions you have. And today’s webinar is hosted by MyCase. So, I’d love to take just a few seconds to give you a quick overview of who we are and what we do.

 

Martin Cogburn:

MyCase provides a complete practice management software solution that helps law firms solve the key challenges of running a business, like getting paid on time, coordinating with clients and staff, e-signature, case organization, and a lot more, all from the office, from in court or from your home. Beyond that, we really enjoy hosting educational events for professionals in the legal industry. And this is why we’re all here today. If you’d like to learn more about MyCase, you can do so on our website at www.mycase.com.

 

Martin Cogburn:

So, for those of you who are just joining us today, we’ll be hearing from Carolyn Elefant. And before I hand things off to her, let me tell you a little bit about our presenter. Carolyn Elefant is owner of The Law Offices of Carolyn Elefant, a national energy law practice in Washington, DC. She’s also the creator and publisher of myshingle.com, which was launched in 2002, and remains the longest continuously running blog and online resource dedicated to solo and small law firm practice. In addition, she authored Solo By Choice, the most comprehensive book on starting a modern law practice. And through writing and speaking nationally for more than 15 years, Carolyn has inspired, encouraged, and empowered thousands of lawyers to find personal professional and financial success by starting their own law firms and innovating the practice of law. So, thank you all for being here today. Take it away, Carolyn.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

Okay. Thanks, Martin. So, hi, everybody. I know you can see me. I can’t see you. So, I feel like the candidates at the Democratic or the Republican convention where they’re talking into the void, which I find a little bit challenging, but I have done enough Zoom calls by now. I’m sure you’ve all done enough of these calls by now or these presentations or webinars by now, that you’re used to it. So anyway, I was really excited when MyCase invited me to speak on this topic of the changes in the legal profession, because that’s the kind of thing that’s really, I consider that my jam. Oh gosh. That’s one of the things that I love to talk about and love to make predictions about. And of course, who would have made predictions about the situation that we find ourselves in today.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

So, anyway I want you to start with this little quote, there’s nothing permanent except for change. And I think that even the legal profession is learning that. We are a profession that’s built on precedent, and typically we have always thought that there would always be things that would stay the same. I mean, who would’ve thought six months ago in some jurisdictions that you might be able to do a status call on the phone instead of in-person. I mean, revolutionary, right? And so, today I’m going to be talking about some of those different changes and what you can look forward to and what you can position yourself to do in order to be competitive going forward.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

So, I know that we keep talking about the new normal. And I guess, one thing that I feel fairly certain about is that we won’t be going back to what we consider to be normal post-pandemic. I don’t think we’ll ever be going back. If we do go back, it’s going to be a very, very, very long time. So, I guess you can call it that we’re in a new normal or a post-normal. But the types of practices in the profession that we woke up to and engaged in six or seven months ago, I think are completely gone. I mean, and we’ve seen that in the past few months, we’ve seen changes that lawyers have been waiting for 10 or 15, or 20 years. So, a lot of the change that we’re seeing has been happening by necessity. But these are some of the reasons why even now, when courts are starting to reopen and people are starting to feel a little bit safer, these are some of the reasons why I think that we are probably going to be looking at a profession that looks very different.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

So, first of all, it’s just COVID-19 is very unpredictable. Again, this is something that’s very different based on jurisdictions. And some jurisdictions things really seem to be on the upswing and getting back to the old routine. I think there are other places where the numbers are still going up. But we don’t know what’s going to happen. And many experts are saying, we’re going to see another surge of this. So, what we went through in March could revive itself going forward. And so, I think at least for another year, we’re always going to be living in this state of constant limbo, not knowing what is going to be happening.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

So, the next thing is, is that I think we have reached a point where many lawyers, and I won’t say all lawyers, but many lawyers are finally ready to work remotely. And in MyCase survey that I cited in an ebook that will accompany this presentation, the survey found that 80% of attorneys had transitioned to remote work within just a day or two. And I think what’s more is that remote work is becoming more accepted. So, it’s not a situation where, “Oh, I want to take it easy today and work from home.” People are realizing that they can actually get the job done at home. And now for many of you, for those of you who are using MyCase, I imagine that you’re very forward-looking anyway, somewhat cloud-based. And so, many of you have probably already worked at home. But I practice in a very traditional conservative practice area where people typically came to the office and worked on site. And so, this has been a real revelation.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

I think the other thing that’s different is that many clients have grown accustomed to dealing with their attorneys online. And not just that, but they’re enjoying the convenience. I mean, if you think about it, whoever wanted to take two hours off from work to come to their lawyer’s office to talk about a trust or a will or their impending divorce, it was always a hassle, you’re always losing time. You’re not only paying your legal fees, but you weren’t even getting paid on the job. So, I think that clients in particular are getting very much accustomed to these online appointments to attorneys, perhaps being more flexible. Because, look, many attorneys and rightly so, don’t want to meet with clients on the weekend and spend time apart from their family. They don’t want to meet with people at night and be out late. But if you can do these things from the convenience of your home, it isn’t that bad. And so, I think attorneys are becoming more flexible with scheduling time and clients are getting accustomed to that too.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

And the last piece of the puzzle is that the technology is finally ready for prime time. I have had some really bad experiences with webinars. I was doing webinars back in 2007 on this platform called Dimdim, which was actually really, really good. And then it was bought by another company. And the three different platforms I tried after that, either went down in the middle or people tried to dial in and they couldn’t get in. And obviously, that’s not the kind of thing that’s going to work in a professional environment. But now we have Zoom. We have a whole array of different technologies that we’re able to use, in order to communicate. We have cloud-based technologies. And so, a lot of this remote work can be seamless. We really can replicate the physical office online.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

And so, again, a lot of futurists were wondering why we weren’t doing this 10 years ago. I wondered that myself. But then I found at the flip side, there still were some glitches in the tech, which maybe wouldn’t have made it ready for professionals to use.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

So, anyway, so basically my view is that this genie is out of the bottle. We have now for the past six months working in this type of environment. We’ve learned more about it. We’ve learned from our mistakes. We’ve starting to learn what works in remote offices and what doesn’t. And we’re going to talk about some of those best practices when it gets to the substance of the slide. But I don’t see this genie going back in the bottle. I know, and I hear stories and they hurt my heart about some firms forcing people, especially staff to come into the office and work there on site every day, as if things were back to normal. But I think that overall we’re going to be looking at a different system just by necessity. So, I don’t think we’re going to be going back to the situation we were in.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

And, again, when I see people talking about expanding their offices and building out more space, I wonder why. I mean, it just, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me unless you’re trying to maybe create a space where everybody has their own room, so they don’t have to interact with each other.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

So, anyway, so what is this new world going to look like? What should you be preparing for? And these are the topics that I wanted to focus on. And there are other topics. And I’m certainly happy to take questions, if there’s anything that you’ve encountered. But first of all, like many other businesses we’re dealing with this world of remote work. Some of us, some law firms have employees. And even if you don’t have employees, you have clients who may have been coming to your office. So, there are two components of the remote office. There’s the internal parts of it. So, how you and your staff work remotely, how you and your team work remotely. And then there’s the forward-facing part of it, how clients or others who work with you, how they deal with you when your office is remote.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

We’re also going to be looking at changes and making money and doing business. I mean, right now the economy seems to be doing well. But again, I think there’s a lot of uncertainty. We have an election coming up. There’s always a lot of volatility. I think we’re also seeing this, I don’t want to call it a honeymoon phase, but a lot of businesses and individuals have been propped up by government loans and funds and payment programs. And when those go away, it’s hard to say what will happen to the economy.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

So, I think that lawyers, I mean, certainly some practice areas are recession-proof, so to speak. But I think during periods of recession, lawyers often do see some sort of decline. Some practices do see some declines in business, or at least in the ability of clients to pay their bills. So, we’re going to talk about different ways that you can innovate to make yourself sustainable and recession-proof.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

And the last thing is, is changes in ethics rules. And right now there’s the tail wagging the dog, the ethics rules, I think will change because of necessity. But right now things are still at least on the ethics side of things, not different, but we’ll talk about some of the things to be wary of with regard to ethics.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

So, the first thing I wanted to talk about is remote work with a team. And this is, I mean, I call it a tool kit. These are some of the features that I think are most important for the team. So, that’s my team from the summer. I wound up having three summer clerks. I thought I was going to have one, and I wound up with three because I had more work, and they had been laid off, not just by one, but by two places that ran out of money. And so, usually when I work with, so in my office, I have an assistant who has been remote for 14 years. In fact, I’ve worked with her 14 years, I’ve never met her.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

But typically with law students or with law clerks or new associates, I like to work with them on site. I find it easier to just have them look over my shoulder, if I’m showing them how to register for a website or e-file, or how a document should look, or just going through something. And so, we didn’t have that option. And so, we had to come up to speed on how to be able to give them the appropriate training and have the interaction and give them guidance. And so, like every other person in town, we were using a lot of Zoom. And so, video is one of these components or one part of this toolkit of remote work. Because I think you still, I think having that interpersonal contact, occasionally, it doesn’t have to be every day, but at least occasionally is very helpful to the cohesiveness of your team.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

The other thing of course, are the cloud based tools to collaborate and share documents. Those of you who are MyCase users, you’re already using that. You’ve been using it for a while, so it’s nothing new. But there may be ways that we’ll talk about where you can use more of the ad-ons that the product that you may have in the past been too busy to use, or didn’t think you had a use for.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

And the last thing we’re going to think about is I call them… I got that. I got to go back. Systems, trying to just look at this. I keep, just going forward. There we are. Okay. Systems for transition. Sorry about that, I quick finger. Systems for transition, which are ways that you can, when you’re working with a remote team, sometimes people come in, people come out. And so, these are different ways to keep that running smoothly, that transition in your team. Or situations where, again, we’re in the middle of a health crisis. And so, you may have a situation where one of your team members needs to take care of a family member. We also have a lot of parents, both staff and attorneys who are schooling their children at home and may need to work at different times of the day. And so, you may have to figure out how to manage your team to allow for those occasional absences. And so, I should’ve said systems for accounting for absences rather than transitions. That’s really something you need to be keeping in mind and thinking about strategically.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

So, some of the things with remote work, again, some of the best practices for cloud tools. I know again, you’ve heard the basics over and over again, the importance of security and password management and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Those are things that people who’ve been using the tools have been thinking about for a while. But one of the things that you want to be doing when you’re working, looking at this more permanent stage of remote work, is you really want to have systems in place. I personally, I hate systems so much. I’m always, I don’t document them as well as I should, but when I work with people, I just have them do it. So, if I assign a motion to one of my people, who’s working for me in the summer, I have them write out all of the different steps that go into to doing it.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

But then, again, the importance of documenting these systems is, we’re in this period of time where people may have to leave, either to take care of family issues or health issues. And you want to be able to just pop somebody right back into that person’s position. And so, unless you have systems and a consistent way of doing this, you’re going to find yourself losing a lot of time if you have these unanticipated absences. And so, I know you’ve all heard this before about documenting systems, setting up workflow. I know that MyCase has tools for setting up workflow as do most of the practice management teams. So, this is really the time to start using them. This is really the time to start doing that because of the kind of scenario that we’re going to be looking at, especially until schools go back to a regular schedule.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

The other thing that you want to think about doing is, if you haven’t started doing automations, you want to start doing them where possible. And there’s a couple of reasons for that. I mean, first of all, again, it just saves on staff time. And so, you can keep your costs down. But you can also use automation to keep clients apprised of what’s going on in their case. I mean, you can set up something in one of your systems where clients will automatically, every two weeks get just some an update from your firm about like what’s happening with the courts. If you’re practicing in a jurisdiction where people are waiting to get to court, just automating an email that goes out and saying, “This is what our court issued this month. This is what you can expect in your case.” It can be something generic, but it’s a way of just keeping in touch with them, because otherwise a lot of these cases can go into the void. And so, by automating some of these client communications, you’re at least letting the clients know that you’re providing them with information.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

And the last thing I think you want to do with these systems is also build in some redundancy. What I do with my law clerks, especially when I have multiple ones, is I’ll usually assign two to a task. Even if one of them is the lead and one of them is just backup, we try to do a lot of things together, so that if one of them is absent, the other one can step into their shoes. So, you don’t necessarily want to have staff, a project with three associates and build a client for all three. But if you can come up with ways to have some redundancy or have multiple people working together, I think it really helps, again, in the remote environment, because somebody can just step in or somebody can help somebody.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

And so, the last thing I have here is the, did video kill the internet star? Like did Video Killed The Radio Star, for those of you who are old enough to know the song. Again, I shared my bad experiences of doing webinars and video. I was never really a proponent. But I do find that it is easier to have some interaction and cohesiveness. And so, you can try using video for team meetings. And it’s not just Zoom. Zoom is the one that gets the most press. But I think some of my clients use, not Google Hangouts, it’s either Google Hangouts or Google Talk. It’s like the Google version of Zoom. And it actually does captioning while you’re talking. So, I thought that was pretty cool.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

Another thing that a lot of firms are doing is using video to do trainings. And I think, actually my assistant has started doing that with me, because I asked her so many questions about how to do something on the back end of WordPress. So, she started just sending me videos of when she does it. She’ll record it and then send it to me, so I know how to do it the next time. But if you want to do something like show somebody on your team, how to set up a workflow or how to register to court site for e-filing, you can record it.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

A lot of attorneys use Loom, which is a free system for recording training videos. You can use something called, it’s Soapbox. It’s a tool on Wistia that lets you just record right off Chrome. Or you could just do a Zoom recording and a shared screen. But that’s also another tool that makes it easy to document your systems. And it makes it easy for people to figure out what they need to do. And then, I’m just checking to see if there’s any questions. It makes it easy for people to figure out what they need to do. And then you can also even send these recordings to be transcribed, if you wants something written. There’s like AI transcribers or other services online, that’ll do transcription if you prefer to have something written as opposed to in video format.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

So, the other things you need to consider for remote work, these are really more soft topics, but I think they’re very important, especially if you’ve been accustomed to working in an office for a long time. Offices have their cultures and they have their way of working together. And a lot of people really become very attached to their team. But I think that some things that work well on site don’t translate as well to video and vice versa. And again, if you’re watching the conventions on TV, having somebody standing at a podium in front of a cheering crowd with balloons and making a speech, that works really well when you’ve got the crowd there. But I don’t think it translates that well to just speaking out to the audience.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

I found that the speeches that I enjoyed more were the ones that were more intimate, like… I am a huge Michelle Obama fan, but her talk was very, it was in a very more casual setting. She was sitting down and she was speaking to people more intimately. And I felt that that worked better for that particular context. And so, I think the same is true for remote work. And these are things you need to think about.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

So, for example, with something like a dress code, I thought I would, I mean, if my associate, if summer clerks were coming into my office, I wouldn’t let them come in in tee-shirts and flip flops. But I usually don’t have clients who come in, so otherwise we’re pretty casual. But so I thought I couldn’t have some kind of dress code, but honestly by the middle of the summer, when we were filing, the one week we had nine motions. I mean, we were all slumming in and in tee-shirts. So, yeah, you don’t want people to be uncomfortable. You certainly don’t want your staff to show up in their pajamas. But at the same time, how much of a strict dress code do you need to abide by?

 

Carolyn Elefant:

I was in one Facebook group where an attorney was talking about how they have these morning calls, where everybody’s got to get on and be wearing their work clothes. And that I think is just, it just makes people feel uncomfortable. It makes them feel as if they’re being checked up on.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

The other thing is, do you have to return to the office? And those are for decisions that each firm has to make. I know that there probably are some people on your team who prefer working in an office if you have a small firm. And those, again are things that you have to think about, weighing the safety consequences and the risks. And for myself, I don’t think I’ll be returning to my office for at least six to eight months just because I don’t think I’ll want to ride public transportation. But these are things you have to think about. And if you do return to your office, what can you do to make it safe? Do you have people going on, alternate days, stay in their office and is that going to be a comfortable environment? So, those are things that people need to think about.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

And then the other issues, again, there’s like COVID related issues and school issues. I think that firms really have to start being a lot more flexible, recognizing that parents are home with children, thinking about different types of staff hours. And these are things you can’t just ignore. I know that now there are a lot of parents who are under stress with children at home, and it’s often the mom, not always the mom, but often the mom who are completely stressed out, trying to get their kids schooled and get their work done. And in their offices, it’s almost business as usual, their situation or their scenario isn’t even acknowledged. So, I think you have to at least acknowledge it and come up with a plan. I think that you can come up with a plan that will work for everybody to accommodate those schedules. But it’s not something you can ignore because otherwise your team is just going to become really completely stressed out and the work is going to suffer. And it’s not going to be a happy environment.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

And the last thing you also have to ask is, if you do have staff working at home, I mean, what do they need to get the job done? Are they working from home computers? Have you provided them with office computers? Do they need lighting for Zoom calls? Are there certain things that you have in the office, a scanner or printers, do they need those things at home? I think if you can provide remote staff with the tools that they need to work from home, they’re going to be much more productive and it’s just going to be a much better working environment for everybody. So, those are the things that people should be thinking about for remote work.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

And the last thing that I would challenge you to do is, again, my theory is that, some things just don’t transfer well. I don’t think having a firm Christmas party like by Zoom is going to be as much fun as having something in-person or in the office. But challenge yourself to think of ways that you can use these technologies to make things better. As I said, like with the Democratic convention, I thought that, yeah, they couldn’t have the people in front of the crowds, but they could have the more intimate conversations. And so, think of different ways that you can take advantage of this situation to make the work environment more pleasant and more productive.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

So, the next thing is this remote work for clients, because obviously clients are going to have to buy into this if you want to keep your business around. And so, there are a lot of things that you can do serve clients remotely. I know that a lot of people have been doing that already. One of the things is just making a lot of your intake, turning that into, make that remote, have intake forms on your site. I’m pretty sure, MyCase has the intake tools, and so do other practice management systems. There’s also online scheduling tools, which allow you to set up an initial consultation and you can make those paid consultations or free consultations. And you can set them up on Zoom or you can set them up by phone. And so, that’s a good way to set something up. Instead of having somebody come into the office, you can talk to them right away with these online tools.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

It’s really going to be up to you to decide whether you’re willing to have in-person meetings or not. I mean, for time like in March and April, where things were really tightly shut down everywhere and people, clients weren’t coming into the office. I think now there are places where people do have clients coming in and you’re going to have to set things up with the plexiglass or big conference rooms or come up with ways to do it safely. But I would say that if you do decide to do the in-person meetings, I would do it at the client’s behest and not at yours. I wouldn’t force clients to come and meet with you in-person, as attorneys used to do. I would always have the remote option available. And I think that’s another thing that should be changed permanently, is always having the remote option as an option.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

The other thing is going to court. And it’s interesting because I have found that in many cases, it’s clients who push back against the online deposition or the online court proceeding. They feel that there’s some personal interaction, things that you can do in-person that you lose out on when you do them online. But again, it’s something that you have to weigh the pros and cons, does your client may want their day in court, so to speak, but do they want to wait two years before they get their jury trial? So, I think that we’re also going through a phase where we are, these aren’t just questions of technology. A lot of these are questions of strategy and really substantively our whole approach to practicing law and looking at whether, how we balance these things and how we weigh the pros and the cons of going forward versus holding a case up. And I think those are things, it’s like an added dimension to the practice that we didn’t have before.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

Now, the one issue is many of us have clients who are not tech savvy, who don’t feel comfortable going on Zoom, who don’t know how to use it. Some have clients who don’t even use email. And so, those are things that can be challenging. And I think what you have to do in those cases is, I once heard somebody say, you try to meet the clients where they are. So, if somebody can’t scan you a document, have them take a picture of it. If somebody doesn’t know how to use Zoom, see if you can, if you have somebody on your staff who maybe could talk them through it or get them set up with it. See if you have people who can walk them through some of the different technology challenges. And again, for some people there really may be some limits to how much they can do online.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

But what I would say is, in this time keeping clients informed is really more important than ever before. Especially if your office is closed down, because for some clients, there’s a comfort to knowing that they can walk to your office. Even if you tell them not to, like, “We don’t accept no appointments or anything.” There’s a comfort to knowing that you’re there. And once everything goes remote, they may feel a disconnect. And so, and the other thing is, is cases are just taking longer in the jury trial that was scheduled for this month, may be a year away. And so, I think you really, again, have to keep clients in the loop of things that are going on and you have to tell them what the court policies are. Also manage their expectations upfront and let them know right upfront when you sign the client up, what they can expect and what you’ve observed has happened. And I think that that helps to, once you’ve managed the expectations they are less likely to be unpleasantly surprised. So, I think those are some of the best practices for dealing with clients.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

And of course, in communicating with clients, things like client portals are always very helpful because they can always see what’s going on in their case. But again, in addition to the portal, I would share information more frequently through the portal or through the other means that you use to communicate with them, just so that they feel that there’s some continuity.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

So, I think what we’re also looking at now is, a lot of different ways of doing business. Because it’s funny, you hear different things about how busy people are and how well a firm is doing, or whether it’s doing well or not. It’s really hard to, I’m finding it very difficult to put a handle on. I remember back in 2008 during the recession, and there were a lot of attorneys hurting and you just knew that. I mean, it wasn’t like people were going online and saying, “My firm is in the toilet.” But you just have that sense. I find it’s really difficult to read the signals now. And I just think it’s because just people don’t know.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

I mean, for a while personal injury cases had dried up because there were fewer cars on the road. There were no accidents. Now, all of a sudden you have this uptick in accidents and things seem to be moving forward. But at the same time, there’s still no jury trials. And so, I find it really hard to get a sense of where things are. But I do think that we are looking at some downturn that’s going to be coming up in the future. And so, you want to think of different ways to use any time you have now to guard against that.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

And so, one thing that I think attorneys should really be looking at are different payment options. And one of the best options I think for cases are using these financing companies. So, this is something that is different from litigation financing, where somebody is basically giving you, giving the firm, extending like $50,000 to spend on the case. And then, possibly even having input onto whether a settlement should be accepted or not. I’m not talking about those things where the company is basically getting a stake in the case. These are more like scenarios where if you’ve ever had to get dental work, cosmetic surgery or orthodonture work, or the doctor’s office may offer a financing plan, like an auto finance. I mean, it’s just like a loan and you pay it back month to month.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

Well, there are a lot of companies now that are doing that in legal. And you can make that available to your clients. Some of the companies have, there’s one called iFinance. There’s another called, I think it’s called Justice For All. So, they offer different payment rates. But essentially, you’ll you give the client the information on the company. The company will run the credit check, see what these people qualify for. And then the money will be paid to you, the attorney, as opposed to being paid to the client to pay you. And so, you’re paid the money from that. And then the client pays the company back. And so, the company is responsible for collecting the fees.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

I know some people have said, well, how’s that different from a payment plan? Well, there’s a big difference because you’re not responsible for collecting those checks once a month, the finance company is. So yes, of course the company takes a cut. I know that, I think the percentage vary, maybe it’s around 10 or 15%. But if you think about what your collection rate is and how much time you might spend running down somebody to collect your bill, rather than using the finance company, it might be something worth considering. And I think that clients are more likely to be willing to use something like that too.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

And these financing plans have several bars, I think Texas and California have issued ethics opinions approving the ethics of them. The ABA had an opinion on this that came out in 2018. I should have done the opinion number. But those are definitely an option, if you have been having… especially if you’ve noticed clients coming to your and saying, “Look, I know I need a will, but I don’t have the $1500, $3,000, $5,000 to pay for it.” These kinds of plans will cover something like that easily. So. it could be, I mean, for those plans, that’s not even that much money.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

Another thing that attorneys are looking at, so there’s another attorney who I read about who has something called a layaway plan, where essentially he will sign up a client and come up with a price for what the service or what the retainer is going to be. And the client will pay money, and when it reaches that amount of the retainer, the attorney will start work. So, I mean, I think it’s something that can be done ethically. I think it can become complicated. I mean, once a client starts paying you money, you become unhooked, start doing work for them, even if you haven’t entered into a formal retainer agreement. So, it’s just, it’s something that I read about that was interesting.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

Some attorneys are doing subscription plans with their clients. And this is something that’s typical for small business clients where they pay the firm a monthly retainer, it could be several hundred or several thousand dollars. And the firm will set out a scope of services that it’ll provide during that period. So, it might be a small business firm might review, eight contracts and talk to you three times on the phone for X dollars, or they might file two trademarks for you every month, if it’s a client who has a lot of intellectual property.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

So, and the benefit of the subscription plans is that you always have a recurring stream of revenue. And in fact, I mean, in business, like in the internet, I mean, subscription plans are the gold standard of a business. I mean, everybody wants to come up with a model for subscription plans.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

Flat fees, again, are something worth considering. I mean the benefit of a flat fee is that they’re certainty. So, I think for most attorneys who wind up getting stiffed, it’s usually in a situation where the case started out, you thought maybe the bill was going to be like $7,000, or maybe you told the client, it was going it would be $7,000 to $15,000. The client heard $7000 and not $15,000. And so, usually in the cases where attorneys wind up not getting paid is the client just runs out of money or the bill just gets ahead of them.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

So, the benefit of the fat flat fee is not necessarily, you can’t ask the client to pay it all upfront. And then depending on the jurisdiction you’re in, you may have to put it into your retainer count. You may be able to take it right away in your operating account. Those are things you have to look at with your bar. But the benefit of flat fees is that you know how much it costs. And so, if the client knows at the outset is going to be $15,000. And even if a hundred motions are filed, it’s still going to be $15,000. They know that, and they budget for it. And people usually tend to have better luck collecting the flat fees. And then if you’re more efficient and you can get the case resolved quickly, then you come out way ahead.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

So, another thing people are also thinking about, who I would think about, is unbundled services. That was a big deal for a while. I don’t see a lot on unbundled services anymore. And I think that’s because in many jurisdictions… Well, I think it’s either because a lot of clients, there’s more tools for clients to do things DYI. And otherwise, I’m not really sure why. But unbundled services or where you just do a portion of the work, a discrete part of the case. So, you might draft the pleading, but the client has to do the filing, or you might do the documents for incorporation, but the client has to actually physically send them to the secretary’s office. Or you might, a client will draft a contract and you just review it. So, there’s also unbundled services which are again, another way to make services somewhat more affordable.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

The other thing to keep in mind is, you may also, because of the way court practice is changing, in some ways your costs will also be less. I mean, if the scheduling hearings that you used to wind up billing two hours for just because you were driving to court back and forth, are eliminated. There’s also going to be more money in the budget to do substantive work for clients. So, I think that even though the economy is perhaps shaky and clients may not have as much disposable income to do the unbundled services, I think that it may be something that balances itself out.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

So, I think the other thing is that this is just a really good time to experiment with different types of services to offer to people, and different ways to present billing packages to clients who don’t want something, who don’t just want a traditional billable hours. So, I would think about different ways that you can experiment and see if there are, maybe different levels of rates. Maybe you have, if a client wants something in 36 hours, you charge them $400 an hour instead of $200 an hour, or you charge them $5,000 or instead of $3,000. I mean, there’s just a lot of different way things that you can experiment with now. And I think that clients, especially clients who are struggling would be glad to consider those things.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

So, the last component here that we have to think about and are also these ethics roles. There were some jurisdictions that required lawyers to have physical offices, where there was always somebody who could be reached at all times. I cannot see those requirements surviving. It just doesn’t make any sense given the crisis that we’ve just been through. So, I think we will see those ethics rules abating in the future.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

If you have questions about ways to operate a firm virtually, the Pennsylvania bar at the beginning of the pandemic, put out a formal opinion, 2020-300, about the ethics of operating virtually. And I commend you to the opinion, just because it talks about all of the different aspects of virtual practice. And for example, just communicating with clients online, transmitting documents online. It talks about the cybersecurity risks and precautions. It talks about the duty of technology competence. So, it just has the importance of keeping in touch with clients. So, it just is a good… It’s almost like a checklist of things that you’d want to think about if you’re operating your office virtually.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

And I think the other thing that we may start seeing is, many of you may have heard that in some jurisdictions like Utah, California and Arizona, the regulators are looking at ways to either allow… I guess, we’re not supposed to call them non-lawyers. People who, either don’t have a law degree, are paraprofessionals, to be able to take on certain legal tasks unsupervised, or to fill out documents, or maybe even in some instances guide clients in court. In Utah, I know that there was just a proposal that was approved that would allow for a law firm to pay a non-lawyer a referral fee. And I don’t know if that was set up for some of these online internet referral services or to encourage it on lawyers to go out and set up websites to get clients, and then get referral fees. I’m not sure. But a lot of bars are really experimenting with these things.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

In some of these initiatives I think are positive. They may reduce increased competition, which I think is a good thing, even though… It’s a good thing because, if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, you shouldn’t be afraid of competition. But I think that, it remains to be seen what the impact of this is, but I think that, ultimately it could potentially have the opportunity to reduce the cost of legal services.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

The other piece of the puzzle that I haven’t talked about as much, because it’s unique to practices is of course, just really staying abreast with court practices. I’ve been reading more and more that a lot of jurisdictions are starting to have online hearings and arbitrations. I’ve done telephonic mediations. And I’ve done a whole ton of Zoom depositions. I probably did, probably about 14 of them this summer. But it’s really important to keep your skills fresh. Again, it depends on your area. If you’re not a litigator, you don’t really have to worry about something like that. But I think it’s very important to take the time to keep those courts skills fresh. And so, I’ve seen that there are a lot of webinars online on holding, conducting a hearing in court. You can also watch some of the hearings on YouTube and actually see how it was done.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

And so, I think that, it behooves you to take the time to be able to figure out what you need to do, because then if a case comes through the door where you need to be able to go remote quickly and do a remote mediation or arbitration, that you’re all set up to do it. So, I don’t know. I’m just seeing what time it is.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

What is the profession going to look like five years from now? I think the answer I would give you today is very different from the one I would’ve given you a few years back. Of course, with the lawyers, you never know, because there’s always people who want to go back to the way things were. But I think that, also because of the pandemic, there may be people who are just don’t want to bother to learn this whole new set of skills, and would just rather leave. And I think that’s a good thing because that lets the rest of us move forward.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

So, I am hoping that the outcome of this pandemic, which has caused stress and change of plans and all kinds of terrible things, I would hope that out of this, we can look ahead to five years and see a profession that is maybe a little more tolerant, kinder, and gentler profession. And not in court, don’t get me wrong. I actually, I am not necessarily an advocate. I feel like if you’re in a deposition room, if you’re in a courtroom, it’s no holds barred, you can be as rude as you want to the judge, you fight for your client, you fight to the death. I’m just talking about other little courtesies of somebody working in a law firm. Do they really have to show up in a suit every day? Are people being willing to be a little more casual? Or if somebody comes into the courtroom with a child, treating them with respect. I’m talking about little things like that.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

And then we also be looking at ways that we can improve access to justice and reduce the cost. And I think if that’s the ultimate outcome, then I think that we can say that something good will have come out of the pandemic.

 

Carolyn Elefant:

So, that is the end of my presentation. I know that there is an eBook that is going to be circulated as part of this. And that has some of the results of some of the surveys that MyCase has done. And you can look at some of the statistics, which are interesting. But I think we still have some time, so I’m happy to answer questions, or if you want to share your own experience and what was successful for you in dealing with the pandemic. I’m always interested in learning about people’s best practices. So, I am just going to these different places to see if there’s anything coming up. So, I am not seeing questions right now. But yeah, I’m willing to take questions if anybody has them.

 

Martin Cogburn:

Carolyn, do you have any contact information in case someone wants to send you some?

 

Carolyn Elefant:

Oh, yes. Yes. Oh my gosh. I forgot to put it on the slide. And you can email me at just carolyn.elefant@gmail.com, or you can find me on Twitter at Carolyn Elefant, or if you go to my blog, myshingle.com, you can also find information about how to come in touch with me there. Because I don’t know what I… Oh, you know what? I did put it on the slide, but the link is blue and it blended into the background. That’s what I did.

 

Martin Cogburn:

Well, agree. Again, I want to thank you again, Carolyn, for partnering with us on this presentation. We really appreciate that. This was a lot of great information to really digest and unpack for the future. It’s really remarkable how drastically COVID has accelerated so much change in the legal industry. And thankfully, there are tools and resources readily available to adapt to a number of those changes, and as for the rest it really remains to be seen.

 

Martin Cogburn:

Before we can go, I want to make a quick mention of some additional resources. We have a free MyCase COVID-19 resource center available on the MyCase blog, that covers everything from staying economically resilient, to setting up a virtual or remote office. We’ll also be releasing, as Carolyn mentioned, a digital guide on industry changes by our presenter today, as a companion piece to this webinar. So, keep an eye on the MyCase blog for that later this week.

 

Martin Cogburn:

And then to enable us to just help more law firms and inform upcoming MyCase content, please answer the single question survey once you exit the webinar. And then finally, if you’d like to be able to manage your law firm from anywhere with ease, give us a try, give MyCase a try at www.mycase.com.

 

Martin Cogburn:

So, that’s all the time we have for today. Thank you all for joining us. And have a great rest of your day.

 





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