Litigation Practice Tips for Pandemic Times
By Chad D. Engelhardt, Goethel Engelhardt PLLC, Ann Arbor | 03/26/20

While this COVID-19 pandemic emergency is certainly unprecedented in our lifetimes and careers, it serves as an important, and perhaps required, prompt to leverage technology and foster relationships to keep our clients and our practices moving forward.

Put clients first

At the core of the legal profession is personal relationships. Take a few moments, or as long as necessary, to contact your clients to assure them your firm is prepared to meet any challenges that arise during this emergency.

Assess timing

The Michigan Supreme Court has shown its wisdom and leadership by unanimously issuing Administrative Order 2020-3, which tolls or extends the time for filing a Complaint, Answer or statutorily required notice (or other statutory prerequisite to filing suit).

Transition to remote work

Switching to a remote work environment is new for many. Address workflow issues with your staff and seek their input for procedures to put in place. Those closest to the problem are usually also closest to the solution. Encourage your staff to maintain as normal a work schedule as they can, and to also take time to exercise and seek any medical attention they require. All the dogs in our neighborhood think this quarantine is the greatest: more walks than ever. Embrace this, for your mental and physical health. Conducting conference calls while walking in woods is a refreshing change of pace.

One key in maintaining communication with our clients and staff has been the use of VOIP phones. These Internet-based phone systems allow us to plug our office phones into our home Internet router for instant continuity of service. As well, most VOIP services such as Vonage or Ring Central have smart phone apps that will allow you to seamlessly communicate anywhere you have a wireless or cell phone signal.

Multiple computer monitors improve productivity. We are fans of large screens, which have become surprisingly affordable. But if you’re caught short, an iPad can be used as a second screen for MacBook users with Duet or similar programs.

Finally, on the business side, check with your bank to make sure you have the ability to securely take advantage of online banking services.

Maximize videoconferencing capabilities

Widespread use of videoconferencing technology will allow many to keep their practices moving forward. Many depositions, court hearings, and facilitations can all be done effectively using this technology. Zoom seems to have emerged as the industry standard, and offers a great combination of ease-of-use and a rich feature set including large group conferencing, chat messaging, private breakout rooms and even the ability to record sessions. While professional grade digital cameras are nice, for the vast majority of our purposes a laptop camera or plug-and-play USB camera works just fine. FaceTime and Skype are other options. Court reporters, large corporations, and healthcare centers often have high-resolution secure connections.

Despite their working remotely, we remain responsible for our staff’s actions on behalf of our firms and clients. There are multiple avenues to track productivity and maintain accountability for the support staff under supervision. While this includes software for tracking computer activity, such as found in Office365 Teams software, specific software such as Aktivtrak is also available if your firm’s practice model or client needs require.

Enhance productivity with dictation

I am an admittedly slow typist, which can sometimes slow my productivity. Rather than using valuable paralegal or secretarial time to transcribe my dictation, I am using Nuance Dragon voice recognition software to “ type” this post. The most recent versions of Microsoft Word employee native dictation software which is surprisingly accurate and intuitive to use. Aside from working in a quiet environment, perhaps the most important key the accuracy is using a high quality headset microphone. Digital dictation encourages the use of monotone consistent voice pattern that would drive any legal assistant quite insane. For a cultural landmark, think “Bueller…Bueller...”

Of course, the most important thing to do in these trying times is extend an extra measure of patience, professional courtesy, and civility. We will all get through this together.

ICLE Partners
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