Technology has empowered attorneys to work remotely. In fact, a recent survey by Robert Half Legal found that the option to work remotely is a benefit practices are offering to cultivate a better work-life balance among their attorneys.
Solo attorneys have, in fact, been working ‘remotely’ (or at least not always in an office) for some time. Their experiences can shed some light on how attorneys can optimize their remote workspaces.
Form a Routine and Schedule Meetings
As an attorney who works remotely, you can design your own routine. From when you get started, to how you work, to where you work, to when you call it quits, your schedule is yours.
Even though you have this freedom, it’s important to establish a routine within it. A 2011 Duke University study, “Habit--A Repeat Performance,” confirms that our daily actions (and thus our productivity) are rooted in habits and routines. Even our struggle to change habits can be attributed to our habit of cultivating habits.
As such, you need to cultivate a regular routine, just as you would if you worked in an office, to optimize your productivity. This includes scheduling meetings with clients. We emphasize this point for an important reason. Meetings are, of course, essential to an attorney-client working relationship. But they can also shake up the solitary nature of working remotely as well. Isolation can be surprisingly detrimental to people who work remotely. They no longer experience the camaraderie of working with coworkers. So it's important to replicate the much-needed social interaction by scheduling meetings. And yes, that includes with friends for lunch or a coffee break.
Take Breaks and Change Your Location
When work isn't going well, either because your brain is enduring mental roadblocks or because cabin fever is setting in, it can be hard to accept that taking breaks and changing your location is a good choice. Both offer many benefits if you just can't make any progress on that on pesky task with a looming deadline.
Taking breaks from work for lunch or to move onto an easier work assignment can be beneficial to your productivity. It can help you circumvent work burnout in the long term, which is already prevalent in the legal industry, and simply lift your brain out of fatigue and gridlock it can find itself in midway through the day.
Changing locations is also of value to you while working remotely. Firstly, you have the luxury to do so! You aren’t limited to the scenic view of an office’s four walls (and how rare is a truly gorgeous office view anyway?). Instead, you can work from home, in a library, at a coffee shop, while on vacation (just because you can, doesn’t mean you should), and anywhere else that enables you to effectively practice the law and abide by professional conduct guidelines. Even using your break to change locations by taking a brief walk (weather permitting) can benefit your productivity, sense of self, and productivity, according to new research.
Set Soft Cut-Offs on When the Workday Closes
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many attorneys work more than 40 hours per week. We wager this is particularly detrimental to attorneys who work remotely. They are less able to leave work at work because work follows them wherever they go. That's the nature of work these days; the always on culture.
Regardless, making it a rule to usually close out business at a specific time can help you cultivate an authentic work-life balance. That gives you not only a break from the work itself, but also time to be actually present outside of work, with family and friends. We say “usually close out business” because we understand that you sometimes have to work late. You're an attorney! Even so, those limits, those checkpoints, are important to cement. Your family will thank you for them.
Attend to Your Technology
When you work remotely, your technology is everything. An inefficient laptop, a poor WiFi connection, or even a weak batter pack can throw boulders into the pond of your productivity (and therefore be an ethical nightmare, which we’ll address shortly). It can mean missed meetings, reduced productivity, and worst of all, increased frustration.
If you’re considering practicing remotely long-term or even just temporarily (since you may also be working on vacation, at conferences, or at special meetings), confirm that your technology is up to the task. If you’re starting a solo practice, look into the benefits of a legal technology provider that can help you manage your practice and cases. Check out our Buyer’s Guide to Legal Technology for more information. Selecting the right legal technology platform can especially enable you to work wherever you are. Again, just because you can doesn't mean you should. So watch that!
Maintain Professional Conduct Standards
The legal industry resisted remote working because of the ethical questions it presented. The ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct lists several guidelines that can impact how an attorney practices law remotely. These include:
Rule 1.6:a: “A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation or the disclosure is permitted by paragraph (b).”
Rule 5.1:a.b: “A partner in a law firm, and a lawyer who individually or together with other lawyers possesses comparable managerial authority in a law firm, shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm has in effect measures giving reasonable assurance that all lawyers in the firm conform to the Rules of Professional Conduct. (b) A lawyer having direct supervisory authority over another lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the other lawyer conforms to the Rules of Professional Conduct.”
Opponents to remote working have concerns that attorneys might inadvertently violate attorney-client confidentiality. Additionally, they question how superiors are to maintain oversight when attorneys don’t come to an office. These are fair concerns that are still relevant. As such, when you work remotely, remain cognizant of conduct rules. Being mindful of how you organize your work and how you communicate will safeguard you from any accidental ethical snafus or signs of negligence.
Working remotely has its appeal, but it isn’t a no-rules work experience. There are best practices that can help you optimize your work hours. To get the most out of the experience, it’s important to ensure you have the tools necessary to maximize productivity and growth. That includes work and home life.