Mobility is nothing new to the practice of law. Attorneys have travelled to courts, client meetings, depositions, and countless other places since long before the digital age. As workflows became more electronic, lawyers adapted by doing things like checking emails on a phone and editing documents on laptops.
Those early steps are wearing thin and expectations to work outside of the office are growing. Lawyers today demand a richer, more satisfying experience than what they have grown accustomed to so far. If your IT department is busy clamping down on private Dropbox usage and other “shadow IT” applications, you can bet it is because attorneys on the go are more comfortable using consumer apps than firm-approved options.
Attorneys face extreme challenges. While “traditional” mobility scenarios like courtrooms and boardrooms still occur as often as ever before, preparing to go to these places can be overwhelming without the right tools. Here’s why:
- More documents and data. The materials lawyers need to bring along rarely fit into a briefcase any more. Not only would there be too much paper, many items never even make it to paper these days; videos and databases are two good examples. If your firm does not offer simple, searchable mobile access to information, your attorneys could end up walking into critical situations woefully unprepared. And, the key here is simple. A huge gulf separates that which is theoretically possible from what a partner will actually do in the real world.
- Changing client expectations. Gone are the days when clients would overlook an extra associate or two tagging along to shuffle through boxes searching for papers. Indeed, the very idea of carting box after box of expensively prepared binders into meetings can make some clients see red. These clients are comfortable working on the road in a paperless environment; seeing their highly paid counsel unable to do the same is frustrating at best.
- More specialized knowledge. If your firm is building a knowledge management database, it must be mobile-accessible. No one can be an expert on everything, but many firms have expertise that spans countless subjects. Knowledge management and collaboration tools can deliver vital information directly to attorneys in the field. Pulling up relevant insights from the firm’s knowledge base and getting real-time research updates during client meetings both impress and demonstrate your firm’s expertise.
When I started practicing, I heard attorneys talk about endless hours at the office. It was a badge of honor I would also earn. Given that all of our tools were at the office, it was the best place to get work done. But the story has changed. Workloads today are higher than ever, but most attorneys find they can be just as productive elsewhere, even preferring other locations to the office and its many distractions. Face-time is giving way to better indicators of productivity, like responsiveness, output, and hours billed.
So, much of the work is being done at the “home office.” Whether just an hour or so in the morning or several hours at night, lawyers are squeezing significant billable time out of their homes. This is not telecommuting. It is just working. The more time attorneys spend working at home, the better that mobile environment needs to be. If it takes lawyers more than a minute or two to log into a remote desktop, that is a bad sign. Many attorneys will decide to work directly out of email, generating a trail of chatter messages and attachments along the way.
Working across time zones also demands that lawyers be proficient working from home. Everyone understands that they may be inconvenienced at times for the sake of scheduling, but few are eager to go into the office for a 5:00 a.m. conference call. The call will be a bust, however, if an attorney cannot access key documents from home.
Re-Evaluating Mobile Solutions
As we jump into 2015, law firms need to take a hard look at the state of their mobile solutions. Start by asking whether your attorneys are just as capable working at their clients’ offices as they are working on-site. Are negative trade-offs driving attorneys to less secure solutions? Consider the following ideas for improving your mobility and KM strategies:
- Find apps with flat learning curves that empower users. When thinking about mobility tools, ease-of-use is paramount. If attorneys run into problems outside of the office, they probably will have neither the time nor patience to call deskside support. The app simply must work and be effective or it will be tossed aside.
- Consider device and screen size. An effective mobile strategy is adaptable to any device. Pulling up a remote desktop on a tablet, for example, can be a bad experience. Applications should be built to accommodate or respond to the size and inputs of the device. Equally important is a solid multi-monitor experience, since many attorneys like to plug their laptops into an external monitor at home. Test out each of these scenarios, and try using the same applications that attorneys use to see where the problems are.
- Use “shadow IT” to identify areas of improvement. Attorneys often use cloud storage, private email, and personal to-do trackers for client work. You may see it as a problem, but it is also a cry for help. Actions speak louder than words. So, never ignore what your users are doing. What they do is the best feedback you have on what they need.