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How to Work in Your Pajamas

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We’ve been shifting our firm from a traditional office model to a distributed workforce model. That means we’re shifting our practice from having everyone come to work in an office each day to a model that allows our people to work from any location.

For us, the shift is less extreme than it might sound since we haven’t had offices for our team for a long time. More than 10 years ago, we shifted from individual offices to an open office space plan where our team worked in big rooms shared by everyone in that location. We’ve always been sort of weird.

Now we’ve given up the big rooms. We’ve cut our space—in all three offices—by more than 70 percent. We’re down to nothing but conference rooms and lobbies. We have a workroom in one office that houses two resident employees dealing with incoming and outgoing paper. Otherwise, everyone is working from home, coffee shops, courthouses, or other locations they choose.

We’re booking conference rooms in our facilities for client meetings, initial consultations, mediations, arbitrations, settlement conferences, etc. I’m thinking of our conference room locations as hotel rooms, and our small administrative team is responsible for running the front desks and making sure clients, attorneys, and paralegals have a good experience while visiting the site.

We started working on the shift more than a year ago but only started discussing it within the firm about six months ago once we had formulated a plan.

The biggest challenges we’ve faced so far include the following:

1. Employee (mostly lawyer) resistance. We announced the shift last fall at our quarterly firm meeting. While I know everyone heard and understood the concept, I’m pretty sure that it didn’t fully sink in. We kept talking about the shift in January and February. It was only when furniture started moving that people took notice and started to really think about working from home. We got some resistance, some upset behavior, and lots of questions.

Most of our team set up their desks at home in early March and quickly settled down and concluded that being able to work in pajamas might actually be a good thing. Of course, we’re still dealing with a bit of resistance (these are lawyers, after all). At the other extreme, we’ve had a few employees head home and almost never come back. One left the state and has been working remotely, 300 miles away, since late February. All and all, it’s going smoothly.

2. Liquidating furniture. At the moment, there isn’t really a market for used office furniture. We’ve disposed of 40+ desks and office chairs. In many instances, we’ve given them away because no one would buy them. With the current economic situation, office furniture is basically worthless.

3. Deciding what we needed to keep and what we needed to sell. For instance, we really don’t need the big refrigerators and drink coolers we’ve been using. With employees working from home, our drink consumption has declined dramatically, and no one brings his or her lunch anymore. We don’t need as many copiers and postage meters since we’ve centralized some functions. These machines are leased, and we’re negotiating our way out of those contracts. We’ve had to figure some things out as we’ve moved forward, and we’re still tweaking as we go.

4. Cleaning up the mess. Eliminating 70% of our office space has required us to clean up. We’ve disposed of unbelievable piles of stuff. We’ve found office supplies we never knew we had. We found junk piled behind junk. It’s kind of wonderful to throw away all of this crap. Disposing of some things is stressful. Some of this stuff cost a small fortune and seems like it should have some value, but it doesn’t. We’ve had to throw away dozens of laser printer cartridges we’ve found for printers we don’t have anymore. It just doesn’t feel right to toss the stuff.

5. Making the technology work remotely. We’ve shifted from our old phone system residing on a server in one of our offices to a hosted phone system. We’ve shifted from Lotus Notes on our own server to Salesforce.com and NetDocuments.com. We’ve moved our bookkeeping system and e-mail to hosted services. All of these changes have been rolled out over the course of a year, so we haven’t had to bring our team up to speed on everything all at once. We’re stuck with a bit of legacy software that won’t easily run in the cloud, and we’re still working on it. Document assembly in the cloud has really stumped us (had a crazy interaction with ContractExpress.com where the company “forgot” to mention a $90,000+ fee).

6. Figuring out how to manage remote employees. We have some experience with these issues. Our managing attorney has always had to deal with attorneys in other cities, and our current managing attorney has always worked from another state, so she’s used to this arrangement. I suppose I’m having the most trouble with this issue. I’m used to visiting the people in our Charlotte office and hanging around all day. I can’t hang out at their houses. Am I supposed to stop going? Will we only see each other at firm meetings and on Skype? Maybe so.

All and all, the transition is going smoothly. Things have proceeded uninterrupted from a client perspective. We’re dealing with a bit of construction in one office, but that will be over soon. Life goes on in our pajamas and, hopefully, everyone wins as a result.

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  • http://www.GrahamLawCollaborative.com Kimberly

    Very interesting! I’m curious how the work of document and letter drafting gets done now. Are your paralegals or assistants also remote? Do the lawyers make digital voice recordings and send the drafting assignment to an assistant? Who prints and mails the document or are all your clients on email so it’s just attaching a letter to an email?

    (As for your hangning around issue… I supposed you could just drive down to French Broad Chocolates and hang out there. For those reading and curious, French Broad Chocolates is an amazing chocolate place in Asheville, NC. I highly recommend you mail order some for yourself before the hot weather arrives and it’s too warm to safely ship to your area.)

    Back to the issue at hand: Being a solo pracititioner, I’ve been working from home, and from an office, for years. I have to say there is a lot to love about getting a cup of tea and petting one of my happy cats while talking to a client on the phone. Does a lot for stress reduction. The downside is it’s difficult to keep the work from taking over my house and my life this way. It’s been a great lesson in setting boundaries and I’ve had to get pretty good at it.

    • http://divorcediscourse.com Lee Rosen

      Kimberly,

      Good questions, as usual – Drafting is unchanged, just doing it in the same old way. Paralegals are also distributed. No one in our firm dictates (and if they do, we send it to SpeakWrite.com). We are printing and mailing, for all offices, from a central location. We’re also receiving and scanning all incoming documents there as well. Most of our correspondence does, however, go via email.

      I’m headed back to Asheville to the chocolate place from June 9 for about 5 weeks. Come on down for a visit.

      Sounds like you’ve been running a distributed office for a long while. I should be asking you the questions. :-)

      Lee

      • thisusmcjag

        Sir:

        My question is how to set up my law office system software – how do you name your incoming and outgoing documents when you scan them? I am sure there are few big picture items, but what about the smaller stuff like an email, or say, QDRO or maybe even a stipulation on child custody. My system is set up to name a type of document and class of document. So, Type and Class, hmm…maybe you are familiar with our program, ProLaw. Nightmare right now. Can you point me in the right direction??

        • http://divorcediscourse.com Lee Rosen

          I’m not really sure how to help. In an ideal world you’ll put your images in some sort of database and label the documents with as much detail as necessary to organize your client file. The key is the database, not the names on the files. If you’re just sticking images in folders on a drive, you’re likely headed for a certain level of chaos if you have many documents.

  • http://www.oklahomalawyer.com Clayton Hasbrook

    Lee,

    For document assembly have you looked at Drawloop (what Advologix currently uses – http://www.drawloop.com/) or Conga Composer (http://home.appextremes.com/conga/)

    What are you using to integrate your phone system with Salesforce?

    Thanks!
    Clay

    • http://divorcediscourse.com Lee Rosen

      Looking at them now. Thanks for the leads.

      We’ve got Bria (softphone) grabbing contacts from Salesforce to simplify dialing on Vocalocity. We’re exploring tighter integration options as we speak. Still tweaking out NetDocuments integration which is our highest priority at the moment.

      Lee

      • http://www.GrahamLawCollaborative.com Kimberly

        Alrighty, color me stupid, but what’s all this about “document assembly?” I mean, it’s family law, not a federal class-action case. ;) You have petition for dissolution or the motion to modify the decree (here in Iowa at least) and you have Decrees (the final agreement) or orders to modify and maybe a few motions. I have templates (or prior documents) on my MacBook Pro and cut and paste the differing info for a new client, customizing as needed.

        What is there to this “document assembly?” Or maybe in other states there are a lot more documents for filing a divorce or modification or contempt action? Maybe that’s the information I’m lacking.

        Even if I put all the clients’ info into some larger database for doc assembly, there would still be some customizing needed, wouldn’t there? So is this that much of a time-saving?

      • Montanaman

        Would you mind sharing what you use in salesforce to organize case files? Which salesforce edition are you all using?

        This is really interesting because 1)it’s in the cloud and 2) it’s not a company geared towards law firms

        Thank you!

        • http://divorcediscourse.com Lee Rosen

          We’re using Salesforce just like you would any case management system that’s hosted (like Clio, Rocketmatter, etc.) except that we have more control over the system and can do more with it because it’s such a mature product. We were very interested in Advologix (built on the Force.com platform) but got feedback from one of their customers and our State Bar Association practice management advisor that their customer service was beyond terrible.

          One of the big issues for us was having the ability to save all documents on the system (we’re paperless) and make them all available to clients via a portal (that’s where NetDocuments comes in).

          We’re using the enterprise edition of Salesforce.

          Generally, I always look for companies that aren’t serving law firms if possible. They generally have a much larger customer base, higher revenues, greater profit and the ability to fully develop their products.

          Lee

  • Steve

    Love it…I am working in my shorts right now.

    I am sorry about your ContractExpress.com experience. I have been using it and really like it. Then again, no one tried to hit me up for a $90,000 fee. That would have certainly ruined my day.

    • http://divorcediscourse.com Lee Rosen

      Just to clarify, the crazy fee related to the outward facing piece of their product that would have allowed customers to create documents. They offer that feature with a variety of pricing schemes including a revenue share deal. The fee wasn’t related to the piece you are likely using.

  • Julie

    Can you expound more on why you chose Netdocuments? What other file storage programs did you evaluate Dropbox or Box.net and what were pros and cons? I realize all firms have unique specifactions and workflows.

    • http://divorcediscourse.com Lee Rosen

      We looked at a number of products very carefully. NetDocuments had superior integration capabilities with Salesforce. They have a great deal of experience passing info back and forth and it’s easy to make them work well together. We specifically looked at using Dropbox with Salesforce. The price was basically the same, but NetDocuments has a big lead on integration and features. Box.net, while a very cool product, doesn’t seem to have tackled Salesforce issues yet.

      Lee

      • Julie

        Thanks and why Salesforce vs Google apps premier or legal case management SaaS software such as Clio or Rocketmatters? But for needing to integrate with Salesforce, would you still have chosen NedDocuments? I have been researching it and am about to demo it. Do you keep all files with ND now vs an internal server? Can you use it on your iPad and Macbook? I understand they are working on a new mobile device/Mac option for release this Fall.

  • http://shawnjroberts.com Shawn J. Roberts

    Do you feel like you are missing anything by not having face to face to interaction within the firm on daily basis?

    Shawn

    • http://divorcediscourse.com Lee Rosen

      Well, yes and no. Most of the time everyone was off somewhere anyway. It was kind of rare to be in the office and find it full of people. However, we know we’re going to miss some contact and we’re working to replace it. We were using Yammer (a private Twitter type product) and we’re now using Chatter (because it’s built in to Salesforce). We’re also using the video calling function on Skype more than ever and we’re moving toward more all firm meetings than we’ve had in the past. Only time will tell how it really works out.

      Lee

    • http://divorcediscourse.com Lee Rosen

      Yes and no. I’ve been shocked by the increase in our Chatter conversation (a Twitter like interface in Salesforce). Meaningful conversation is taking place.

      Also, I’m told that some of our lawyers are talking to others now more than ever because they’re missing contact and have to make it happen. With the office I think just being near someone else met that need. Now they have to actually talk if they want interaction.

      Lee

  • http://divorcediscourse.com Lee Rosen

    Salesforce because it’s mature with lots of features and we can customize it to our needs (we’ve done a bunch of workflows, etc. and they make it easy). Plus, it integrates really well with everything (not just NetDocuments). Google apps doesn’t, as far as I can tell, compete head to head with Salesforce (very different).

    Clio, Rocketmatter, etc. all look good to us but aren’t as sophisticated (of course, they’re about half the price). We only have 6 or 7 Macs and we’re doing fine on them so far with these applications.

    Lee

  • http://www.GrahamLawCollaborative.com Kimberly

    Lee, for we who haven’t ventured intI feel like I’m reading Greek. As a solo in a smallish ruralish town, I just copy and paste docs from one client to the next, customizing as needed. I take it this is the stupid way, and that I need to learn something. The problem is that I don’t know what I don’t know about this. I don’t even really get what this does that just word processing can’t do for you.

    Thanks!
    Kimberly

  • http://divorcediscourse.com Lee Rosen

    Kimberly,

    The piece of this that would make a difference for you is the fill-in-the-blanks capability of document assembly systems like HotDocs, Pathagoras and others. You create the document once, maintain a database with client information (like name, address, children’s names, dates of birth, etc.) and then use the system to automatically create the document. No more cutting, pasting, etc.

    The system deals with singular/plural issues, gender issues, etc. to make sure the document is right (no more proofing to find the his, her, child, children, etc.). It takes some upfront time and then it saves you a ton of time on the back end.

    These systems are a great way to be sure that your whole team is using latest, greatest version of your documents and are a way to be sure you’re sharing knowledge internally.

    Lee

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  • Neil J. Squillante

    While the technology makes a virtual law firm possible, I deeply believe that innovation stems from face-to-face interaction.

    • http://divorcediscourse.com Lee Rosen

      Interesting to hear you say that.

      I’m getting very different feedback from our people since we’ve distributed our workforce. People are commenting on having more interaction/conversation now than before. Maybe being further apart increases the need for social interaction, resulting in collaboration, resulting in innovation. Not sure what to make of it all. More to come as it develops.

      Lee

  • http://twitter.com/jasonhavens Jason E. Havens

    Excellent article, Lee. Thank you for sharing your insights and experience. I see that we are also both MacBook Pro users as well.

  • http://twitter.com/jasonhavens Jason E. Havens

    Excellent article, Lee. Thank you for sharing your insights and experience. I see that we both enjoy our MacBook Pro laptops as well based on your profile picture.

    • http://divorcediscourse.com Lee Rosen

      You’re welcome. Yes, I’m loving my MacBook Air at the moment and hoping for a new one if they get updated this summer.

      Lee

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