Management Assistance Program
Coping With Profound Change
By Jim Calloway
The previous few decades brought many changes to the practice of law or so most practitioners believed. Many of these changes related to rapid advances in information technology, but others were due to the law increasing in complexity and court infrastructure not keeping pace with the increasing population.
Access to justice advocates have long argued that greater systemic changes are needed to make the courts and our legal system more user friendly, and progress has been made on some fronts.
But, now this …
Today we really are the world – as the entire world faces the same crisis of pandemic.
Much has changed, and much will change.
It appears we are undergoing an event that will mark us all permanently like the Great Depression and the world wars. Today’s young people will tell and retell the story to future generations. We have to hope this is not the first of future similar crises.
Whatever the long-term future holds and however uncertain our personal and professional futures seem right now, there’s one thing about the future that seems assured. There will be profound and significant changes to many aspects of our personal and professional lives.
We are losing people – colleagues, mentors, friends and relatives. Institutions are shaken. Many local businesses may not survive.
Some part of legal work will change as well as some laws. Most of us noted how rapidly home delivery of wine and liquor was approved in Oklahoma as it became inadvisable to go out in public unnecessarily. That would have generated quite a political battle here in normal times had it been proposed on a referendum ballot. Now we will see if that emergency measure becomes permanent either by regulation or statute.
While it seems almost crass to discuss business goal planning as we see real life and death issues play out, the practice of law will very likely have more changes ahead. Many law firms and lawyers will face severe financial consequences because of COVID-19. Things are changing now. Firms will dissolve. Some practice areas will expand, and some will shrink. Some could go away almost entirely.
It impacts courthouse lawyers when the courthouses are closed, even partially. They cannot assist clients in the way they normally would. Matters move more slowly. Fee applications are impacted. Real estate filings with the county clerk do not go as smoothly. There are many challenges to lawyers in every type of practice setting.
VIDEOCONFERENCING IS THE ‘NEW’ ESSENTIAL LAWYER SKILL
The use of videoconferencing has greatly increased, and that trend will continue. The legal profession will use this as a tool, and almost all lawyers will have to get onboard. If you are not set up to do this, go online now and purchase a USB external webcam and a USB headset with a microphone. There may be some delays in fulfilling that order because of demand, but it is best to get in the line now. Among the possible futures we see outlined are the crisis dragging on for a long time or reoccurring in the fall, so being able to videoconference as easily as making a voice telephone call is becoming an essential lawyer skill. It is also very possible that many clients will prefer videoconferencing in the future, especially during future cold and flu seasons. With the blinding clarity of hindsight, we might ask why we haven’t been offering that option for years.
Videoconferencing will cause lawyers with slow internet connections to upgrade when they have an option. Zoom has emerged as the de facto standard for videoconferencing tools. It is easy to use, and the free version is serviceable. Most lawyers will decide to subscribe to the Zoom Pro plan at $14.99 per month or $149.90 per year. That gives you the ability to record all or part of a videoconference with a single click and makes scheduling meetings simple.
There are new things to learn about videoconferencing. Your background is important for video quality and personal privacy. (The internet now has many videos of spouses unknowingly walking behind the camera not attired for public sharing.) Pay attention to lighting. You almost certainly want an external microphone even though your laptop has a built-in microphone. Poor sound quality will serious impair a videoconference or a posted video.
Zoom had a stumble some time ago when the company was criticized for installing what many believed was overly intrusive tracking software on Mac users. They did reverse that practice. Their videoconferences are encrypted, and the head of Zoom has made several media statements saying the only information the company retains after a videoconference is that it occurred and how long it was. We are also hearing of Zoombombing, others breaking into a conference to disrupt them. Password protecting Zoom meetings and not posting the login information on public websites can combat that. Clearly, there are alternatives other than Zoom for videoconferencing, but this is starting to feel like VHS vs. Betamax or Word vs. WordPerfect all over again.
IMPORTANT ZOOM TIPS
Zoom has a chat feature allowing one to send text messages to all participants or a single participant. One might assume those were private, but if the host who set up the meeting provides a transcript to the attendees, it will include the contents of all of those one-to-one conversations. That aspect alone will make many lawyers want to be the host for their meetings. Private comments that are off topic or indicate lack of attention are best done by phone text messages, if at all.
PROCESSING ELECTRONIC PAYMENTS
If your law firm does not accept electronic payments, that is something you need to reconsider. Electronic payments are preferable today for many reasons.
Accepting credit cards is critical. You also want to be able to process automated clearing house, or ACH, payments. Some have loosely referred to this as e-checks because the client provides the routing number and account number from a check. Depending on the specifics of the transaction, using ACH may result in lower transaction charges although receipt of payment will be several days slower than a credit card charge.
Switching to electronic billing for most clients is likely to be an improved client communication and providing an electronic payment link in those e-bills may facilitate clients more quickly paying their bills.
OBA member benefit LawPay provides these services for lawyers. The staff of the OBA Management Assistance Program is also available to discuss electronic payments with OBA members.
PLANNING FOR AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
As we head into this strange summer, lawyers contemplating their careers and futures need to separate their short-term pain from the coming long-term changes and challenges.
Know thyself. The ancient Greek aphorism is very apt for us today.
What are your best legal skills? What are you the happiest doing? Is there a type of work you did in the past that you could easily do today with a brief refresher? Those are arguably the most important questions before you deal with the nuts and bolts of pivoting your practice, profitability and the potential new clients in the market.
Some lawyers will emerge from this with a changed set of priorities. I recall a lawyer who told me the best decision he ever made was mid-career, when he stopped doing work that he hated. Later, he was able to stop doing work he just didn’t like doing.
If you have down time, you can plan for the future. If you have down time, you can enjoy the present time with your family. Both are laudable pursuits.
As you contemplate your future, don’t forget to take notes. Organize your priorities. Now this thought process is planning, not daydreaming.
Change is all around us. Your personal life. Your professional life. We are not going to reset back to where everything was. Some lawyers’ practices will change relatively little, but others will change a lot.
Providing for yourself and your family is very important. It is high on Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Charting your law practice’s future is also very important. There are the obvious personal and professional reasons. There are those who need your help. Some have urgent legal problems as they deal with their own profound changes.
Over the summer months, I encourage you to monitor our department’s Daily Tips for Practicing in a Crisis and visit my Law Practice Tips Blog at www.lawpracticetipsblog.com.
Mr. Calloway is OBA Management Assistance Program director. Need a quick answer to a tech problem or help solving a management dilemma? Contact him at 405-416-7008, 800-522-8060, firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s a free member benefit.
Daily Tips for Practicing in a Crisis
The pandemic has created numerous challenges for lawyers. The OBA Management Assistance Program now provides daily tips for dealing with today’s challenges. Working from home with everyone else trapped there is challenging. From scan-to-PDF phone apps to online tools to manage your practice to information about tools like the Remote Online Notary Act, our tips are intended to help you weather this particular storm.
The daily tip is on my department’s home page at www.okbar.org/map. You can see all our daily tips by clicking the link in the side menu on the MAP page.
If you want email notices of the tips, visit my Law Practice Tips blog at www.lawpracticetipsblog.com and sign up to “subscribe by email” to receive notifications on a one-day delayed basis. An RSS newsfeed is also available.
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal — May , 2020 — Vol. 91, No. 5