Expectation setting and adapting:
- When working virtually pre-COVID, clients expected an office setting, but it was usually not a concern for them as expectations were set from the start
- It can be explained to the clients that a virtual practice means there is no traditional office, there is an office for document service, mail and occasional meetings, but generally, transactions and meetings are held using various pieces of technology
- Many options can be made available to clients for meeting with their attorneys: videoconferencing, telephone, meeting at conference rooms, or other ad hoc spaces
- Clients really only needed to be confident that they will be able to find their lawyer and it was even convenient at times to be available during non-standard office hours
- You may have to continuously adapt to the circumstances of your clients as videoconferencing may prove challenging for clients who didn’t have the software, resources, or experience – many only use their smartphones
- There are so many ways to communicate with clients who only have access to a smartphone, Zoom, like Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, text, Google Hangouts, LinkedIn, Facebook messenger, and more – this was often dictated by client based on their access
- In the end, the client’s comfort will mostly drive the legal relationship, especially as it relates to the use of technology.
Managing documentation and evidence
- As many clients relying on their smartphones, there is often a technology gap to be bridged with documentation exchanges
- A major challenge that always comes up is getting clients to understand the need for evidence to prove their case. I give suggestions, but clients tend to think simply and have a different understanding of what is sufficient
- A lot of documentation gets exchanged in an immigration case between lawyers and clients and clients will often do so by taking pictures of important documents and when printed, invariably the quality is poor or objects appear in the pictures
- Although it can be awkward, an attorney can explain to their client that a poor-quality document never reflects well on the client or the attorney and illegibility might ensue in a rejection or request for re-submission, which can mean additional fees; clients who didn’t use email or rarely used it would miss documents sent to them
- In these situations, an attorney may also consider resorting to sending documents by mail, which can result in getting lost or submitted late; tip: put mailing documentation with pre-stamped envelopes for quicker returns.
How to connect virtually
- Interface with other attorneys is often limited and they may have to fight virtual communication fatigue and make deliberate attempts to meet new colleagues, get advice and network by attending CLEs or chapter conferences, and so on
- But there are many opportunities to connect virtually now, such as Zoom happy hours, legal webinars and even virtual exercise classes – these are good opportunities in which to share virtual best practices and learnings as the pandemic drags on
- A few key things lawyers should embrace in a virtual practice: ask clients what technology they have access to and what they are comfortable using and give clients the feeling of confidence that their attorneys are accessible and also accountable for their cases
- It’s also key to ensure client security on these platforms so make use of security tools on the platforms to close meetings, so only invited guests can enter, or for other platforms that have passwords/codes, send those to clients beforehand.