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Contingency planning in your regulation agency

The COVID-19 period has demonstrated to regulation corporations that the bodily workplace is secondary. The center of a regulation agency is its staff, its know-how, and the knowledge management (KM) to realize an optimum use of attorneys’ time and talents. Subsequently, your agency must have a well-considered and actionable contingency plan. Be able to adapt—usually instantly—to any sort of mass displacement from the workplace. 

No matter makes your agency’s personnel should relocate, it’s essential to be sure that shoppers will expertise the identical high quality of service, no matter the place your attorneys are. Right here’s the place your information administration division performs a serious position. As Jenni Tellyn, a guide at 3Kites, stated in a latest Thomson Reuters podcast, KM boils all the way down to “getting the fitting info to the fitting individuals on the proper time.” 

What ought to a contingency plan embody?  

A regulation agency’s contingency plan ought to fulfill a set of core aims. The aim is for the agency to be as purposeful throughout an emergency as it’s throughout regular circumstances. These aims embody: 

  • Communication continuity/safety, inner: Legal professionals and employees want to have the ability to work collectively and share paperwork, regardless of being in distant places. 
  • Communication continuity/safety, exterior: Purchasers must reliably talk with their attorneys, with no disruption of service. 
  • Distant entry to agency sources: Legal professionals ought to have safe entry to all information and paperwork wanted for a case. 

Preserving inner traces open 

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A core process for a regulation agency is to make sure, on the onset of an emergency, that attorneys and employees preserve speaking to one another. It will want a variety of technological functions, from encrypted e mail to video conferencing functions like Zoom or Microsoft Groups to inner communications networks like Slack. 

Within the early days of the COVID disaster in 2020, some regulation corporations have been confronted with tech-resistant attorneys who had, for instance, by no means used digital signatures earlier than nor had participated in video conferencing. The primary weeks of lockdown discovered them scrambling to stand up to hurry. In 2022, such hesitancy is now not acceptable. Companies ought to anticipate a measurable diploma of technological fluency.  

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One aim could possibly be having all attorneys compliant with native requirements, such because the American Bar Affiliation’s Mannequin Rule 1.1, which asks attorneys to “develop sufficient competence in technology to meet their obligations…after a disaster.”. Doing so could embody attending common coaching classes and fulfilling tech-related aims (reminiscent of attorneys studying easy methods to run a digital assembly with breakout classes, or to conduct digital doc mark-ups).  

The COVID period has been a graduate course for growing know-how finest practices. Years of distant conferencing have led digital conferences to be tighter and extra productive. For instance, assembly organizers have discovered to open with power and drive, reasonably than having the assembly sputter to a begin whereas everybody logs on. And if a gathering is held on the finish of a workday, a Zoom-fatigued employees could fare higher with their cameras off. 

Getting lawyers tech-fluent signifies that introducing new techniques must be as intuitive as doable. A lawyer working remotely as a result of a disaster could take care of a number of points, from dealing with shoppers to private issues. The very last thing they want is to should grasp a posh new platform of their downtime. 

The right way to make the contingency plan seamless for shoppers 

One other central piece of contingency planning is making certain that shoppers don’t really feel the disruption your agency is experiencing. Purchasers ought to by no means surprise, within the occasion of a disaster, easy methods to get in contact with their lawyer. All the things that was initially meant for the bodily world (reminiscent of an arbitration listening to) ought to simply transfer to the digital one if essential. 

A great rule of thumb is the ABA’s Mannequin Rule 1.4, which states that in catastrophe circumstances attorneys ought to find a way “to create, on brief discover, digital or paper lists of present shoppers and their contact info. This info must be saved in a fashion that’s simply accessible. In these early communications, shoppers might want to know if the lawyer stays out there to deal with the consumer’s issues, or, alternatively, if the lawyer is unavailable due to the catastrophe’s results, and will must withdraw.” 

A regulation agency ought to set up a series of obligations: who maintains and updates case and consumer information; who’s chargeable for contacting every consumer throughout an emergency; and what the method is for changing a lawyer expeditiously. The latter could imply having “understudy” attorneys for notably time-sensitive circumstances. 

Assets: getting instruments into attorneys’ palms 

The one means {that a} regulation agency’s contingency planning can absolutely succeed, nevertheless, is by having all essential consumer and case info out there remotely. 

Utilizing cloud-based litigation management ensures that every one details about a case is situated in a hub that’s separate from the bodily workplace. Legislation corporations can stagger entry by establishing totally different ranges of authorization: fundamental case attorneys will want a better diploma of knowledge than lower-level employees will. 

Consequently, anticipate a basic change within the agency’s documentation and storage practices. Take into account a library of case folders on the workplace. A lawyer is aware of the place these paperwork are and might simply get them by strolling down a hallway. However in the event you’re now not within the workplace for an prolonged time, what occurs whenever you want these information? Shifting to a near-paperless atmosphere, wherein all pertinent info is on a protected cloud server, goes a great distance in direction of fixing this query. As Tellyn stated within the Thomson Reuters podcast, it’s basically taking information out of a cabinet and right into a system. 

Contingency plans as a way of change 

A great contingency plan may additionally inspire a law firm to improve its operations. Not solely in utilizing know-how to make attorneys’ work extra environment friendly, however by rethinking elements of labor life to realize its DEI (variety, fairness, and inclusion) aims. For instance, a disabled worker could discover it extra productive to be spared the lengthy and doubtlessly wearying commute to work. Having staff based mostly in different places than the principle workplace may additionally broaden your pool of potential candidates, permitting corporations to extend hiring from underrepresented teams. 

Contingency planning doesn’t merely imply bracing for the worst to occur. Take into account it a chance to make a regulation agency extra adaptable, numerous, purposeful, and ready to handle any challenge. 

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