Remote Working For Lawyers

Are you balancing the risks and the benefits?

Remote working for lawyersRemote working for lawyers is one of those old chestnuts. A great deal of lip service is paid to it but it is rarely put into practice effectively.

The key benefits of remote working are clear:

  • Improved productivity
  • Increased staff retention
  • Increased morale and work / life balance
  • Significantly lower operating costs.

Consequently, many firms are searching for robust and compliant methods to roll out flexible working for their partners and fee earners. However, what do you need to look out for?

Make sure your working practices remain compliant

The benefits must be balanced against the potential risks. Organisations should not underestimate the effort required to ensure that the processing of personal data remains compliant with all 8 Principles of the Data Protection Act. It is the employer who is held liable for any breaches under the DPA.

Mobile access is often regarded as the biggest threat to client confidentiality. However, ensuring that all data  exchanges (between devices, applications, and documents) are secure, is actually a key benefit of deploying a Cloud Computing solution. The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s  ‘Silver Linings’ report on Cloud Computing now provides clear guidance on how law firms can in fact improve data security with the right Cloud Solution managed by the right provider:

“The fundamental point of cloud computing is that it does not matter what machine the user is working from. As long as they have their login details, they should be able to access the same data and software wherever they are.

This is an enabling technology for true mobile working, with fee earners able to access key documents anywhere. Even firms that do not intend to use mobile working, but need a certain amount of hot-desking, should see benefits from non machine-specific access to data.”

Ensure you get the most out of your staff

At any given time in a legal practice, up to 25% of the desk space may remain unoccupied. This can be due to sickness, holidays, client visits and other reasons. The opportunity to allow fee earners and staff to work remotely from home or other locations can make savings, but how do you know your team are not “swinging the lead”?

The simple approach to dealing with this is to put a solid remote working policy in place. This might include the following principles and guidelines:

  • There is no absolute right on the part of any employee to work from home.
  • Depending upon circumstances, role or geographic location, there may be the requirement or benefit for staff to work from home occasionally, part-time or full-time.
  • Occasional working from home may be permitted subject to staff role and with prior agreement from the relevant line manager. Each working from home activity must be accounted for and recorded in personnel files.
  • Employee and manager must agree measurable performance goals and expectations during periods of working from home
  • Only the firm’s supplied office systems should be used and under no circumstances should information obtained in the course of duties be held in separate or private systems.
  • Strict common sense security guidelines must be adhered to,  including, but not limited to, locking the computer when leaving your desk, not writing down passwords or leaving confidential information lying around in public places etc.
  • Staff must ensure that they have access to support systems including adequate and reliable broadband. This must meet the minimum performance requirements needed to work from home effectively and to link with the office systems.
  • Staff must be available during normal working hours and work from a home office as if it were located in the main office; keep in touch with the office and with the appropriate line manager.
  • An appropriate work space should be set up that is separate and distinct from the “home space” and conducive to working effectively without interruptions.
  • The home workplace should be designed efficiently and create a healthy workspace.
  • Staff must set boundaries with family members and ensure that they understand that although at home, they are working.
  • Ground rules should be established for work hours, interruptions and noise.
  • It should be ensured that the home office operates in accordance with Health & Safety requirements at all times.

The benefits can be immense in terms of flexibility, morale, efficiencies and reduced overheads. However, it’s worth putting the key aspects in place early to avoid data breaches and staff inefficiencies.

If you would like to find out more about secure, cloud-based solutions for legal practices, click here.

Mike O’Donnell, November 2016.

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