When attorney David Reischer envisioned his distant future, it involved trading the congestion of New York City for the bucolic surroundings of Vermont.
It turns out that Reischer will enjoy the skiing and small towns of the Constitution State a lot sooner than he thought. “Recent events gave us the impetus to leave New York City much sooner than we ever expected as a matter of practicality and safety,” he says.
Attorney Todd Spodek, who runs a criminal defense firm with offices in New York and Los Angeles, says one of his associate lawyers left downtown LA and purchased a house in the San Fernando Valley.
“She is living in a much larger place with a home office,” says Mr. Spodek. “Her kids love the pool and outdoor space, and they are happy to not be in the city environment during the pandemic.”
With the COVID-19 crisis, many professionals are rethinking the advantages of crowded cities. The allure of cities can’t be denied, with their restaurants, culture, variety of experiences, and proximity to major airports. But population centers are a tough gig in the coronavirus age: social distancing is an inherent challenge, and the increasing viability of remote work allows professionals to smoothly transition to suburbs, small towns, and rural locations.
Add to the mix historically low mortgage rates you get a recipe for a home-buying bonanza. Existing home sales rose a staggering 20.7% in June, a move The Wall Street Journal characterized as “the biggest monthly increase on record going back to 1968.”
Operations are Seamless with Technology
Firms with cloud and paperless infrastructures can pretty much close up their laptops, leave the office, and work from anywhere. And over the past dozen or so years, technology-forward law firms have embraced tools that allow them to decrease IT infrastructure and enjoy the freedoms the cloud has to offer.
For example, web-based practice management platforms such as Rocket Matter allow law firms to collaborate on cases, organize files, generate and send invoices, and receive payments completely electronically. Computer-based soft-phone systems like Dialpad and virtual receptionists like Smith.AI or Ruby remove any obstacles that a physical PBX (phone system) have in regards to location.
Read more: Working Remotely as a Lawyer
Reischer’s firm, for example, uses a web-based project management system to communicate internally about cases. “We utilize a software called Basecamp for our communication platform for almost a decade now,” he says.
Spodek doubled-down on his technology investment because of remote work. Since videoconferencing is now a part of doing business, he wanted to enable the best possible experience for his staff and clients.
“The firm upgraded everyone’s technology with Chromebooks with HD video capabilities, provided new cell phones, and invested in Calendly and Todoist accounts for all employees,” says Spodek. “This has made us all work together as a team more seamlessly regardless of everyone’s location.”
Can Everyone Move? Some Thoughts for the Suburb-Bound
If your firm’s technology is flexible, a move is a viable option. Firms with older, on-premise systems like Time Matters, PC Law, or ProLaw do not have the flexibility of their peers.
Additionally, Reischer points out that the clients who don’t have to appear in court will have more flexibility than those who do.
“I think the practice area of the attorney will play a large role in whether such a transition is feasible,” he says. “A trial attorney who needs to appear in court on a regular basis will probably find that a move out of state is not possible. Transactional attorneys such as myself will have a much easier time working remotely.”
That said, Spodek, who is a criminal defense attorney, is used to working remotely with the courts.
“The clients defer to you to lead them and navigate troubled waters,” he says. “You have to instill confidence in them in all respects—whether it’s a homicide trial or transitioning to remote court and meetings. Also, I would recommend being honest about your childcare situation with courts, clients, and opposing counsel. This way when your children video bomb you, it won’t be so dramatic.”