A letter to our clients and friends:
It is hard to believe it has been over a year since we were all speculating whether the lockdown could last a full month. Although no one anticipated just how long the shutdown would last, businesses were forced to adapt in order to remain sustainable. Law firms especially needed to remain available to their clients since, although we were not classified as essential workers, the pandemic created many looming issues for clients that needed to be addressed. It was imperative to me that our attorneys could meet (and even exceed) the needs and wants of our clients during this trying time. The areas of law that we practice (tax, estate planning, corporate transactions and estate administration) could not be put on hold without creating great hardship for our clients. While the initial hurdle of figuring out how to work from home, communicate with each other and our staff, and access our client files was a struggle, we have come out of this significantly more efficient than before. While there have been many struggles through this pandemic and many negative consequences on our businesses, I believe strongly that there are many positive aspects that will impact our practice immediately and into the future.
Quarantine immediately forced us to figure out how to work from anywhere with just an internet connection. Fortunately, we had recognized the need to begin to move in this direction even before last March. Our firm completely converted our files and our case management system to a cloud-based program so that everything we have in the office can be securely accessed from our personal electronic devices. Although this was initially done for storage and to protect client data from being lost, it became essential in order for us to work from home during the height of the pandemic. Now that we have all acclimated to working remotely, we can efficiently serve our clients both in and out of the office. In fact, you never know where I was during our last conference call, I might have even been on a golf course! As an aside, and much to the chagrin of our staff, this also means no more days off due to inclement weather, not being able to find a babysitter, or needing to wait at home for 8 hours for the cable guy to show up! See…like I said…POSITIVES!!!
Cloud technology has also allowed us to work collaboratively on documents, which has saved us significant time. Previously, if an associate attorney drafted a document, a copy would be provided to me or Lara for our review, we would then speak with the associate regarding changes, and then the associate would make the applicable revisions. With the technology we are using now, that same process is done in fewer steps with the associate attorney and the supervising attorney accessing the same document in real time, allowing us to get documents to our clients more efficiently.
Another benefit of learning to work in a remote environment is that it allowed us to be proficient in other programs that we were not previously using. The most significant of those programs is, not surprisingly, Zoom, for meetings via videoconference. Becoming familiar with Zoom and utilizing it for a majority of our client meetings has been crucial in making our office more efficient. Although conference calls have always been an option in lieu of in-person meetings, there are many drawbacks. When on a conference call, it can be difficult to explain complicated topics to clients without the assistance of visual aids, and often everyone ends up struggling and speaking over each other. Zoom has been an excellent alternative to in-person meetings during the pandemic. The videoconference technology allows me to show clients, from my computer, graphics and diagrams that help to explain the issues they are facing, in much the same way that I would draw it out during an in-office meeting. In addition, just being able to see faces when we talk makes it possible to know whether the message I am trying to provide is being understood. Although we all prefer face-to-face meetings, being able so see our clients (even in a little box on a computer screen) was definitely more effective than looking at a face behind a mask.
I fully anticipate that our attorneys will continue to use videoconferencing extensively even after the pandemic is behind us. Although we are looking forward to welcoming everyone to our office, Zoom will be incredibly useful going forward for our clients who are not local, have issues with transportation, have challenging work schedules, who have just a few questions or simply would prefer not to lose time traveling to our office. If done properly, we can all benefit from the convenience offered by videoconferencing and we are happy to “meet” with you using whatever mode you desire.
Another program we have been using in the office is Microsoft Teams, which allows us to message and video chat with each other instantaneously. This was a crucial way for us to communicate while working remotely and now that we are back in the office together, we have continued to use it, both for safety reasons, as well as for efficiency purposes. This allows our attorneys and staff to get immediate responses from each other on client questions in order to provide timely responses.
Although Lara, the staff and I are anxious for things to get back to “normal,” we have learned a lot during the past 15 months that will help us create a new and improved normal for our clients in the future. We invested a great deal of time and energy to adjust the way our office operates, and we appreciate your understanding and cooperation throughout. I am hopeful that, despite the occasional misstep, we were able to provide you with the service that you desire and have come to expect from us over the years. I am confident that what we have learned will only help to make the experience of working with us better and we will continue to adapt as the world continues to change.
Lara and I, and everyone here at Katz Chwat, wish you the best as our lives start to open up and bring us back to where we were before last March and we hope that you found ways to make things better as well. Oh…and despite all this great technology we have…we very much look forward to seeing you in person very soon!
Posted in: Estate Planning