First a personal note: I hope you and your family are well. For those who have lost loved ones to this horrific coronavirus, my heartfelt sympathies to you and your family.

Who would have anticipated that almost all of us would be working remotely from home for at least two months due to a health pandemic? Well, if this pandemic did not wake you up regarding your technology setup and computer practices for your law practice, I don’t know what will…

The realization… In the United States, on January 20th, 2020, the first case of Covid-19 was identified and the first Covid-19 related death was reported on February 26th, 2020.  On March 19th, 2020, Governor Wolf announced the closure of all non-essential businesses and on March 23rd, 2020 he signed Stay at Home Orders; if employees are not essential workers, they must stay at home and work remotely for an indefinite period of time.

For those that had embraced using remote access to work from home or outside the office, the transition was not as difficult. They were accustomed to working remotely in the evenings and on weekends, but still had to overcome the inconvenience of doing it for an extended period of time. Additionally, if they had digitized their documents and client files through scanning, they had the ease of having these files at their fingertips and did not need access to the physical files.

Other practitioners that had resisted implementing certain aspects of technology like remote access, storing documents in the cloud, and scanning really struggled. They had to get their computer set up for remote access and adapt to using technology remotely for the first time. These individuals, the resisters, had always stated that they would rather to go into the office to work because that is where they had their client files and computer. Comparatively, the technology resisters productivity was reduced by the Stay at Home Order more than those that had worked remotely periodically.

Other concerns were whether to give staff remote access and whether there was a computer they could use. Many questions had to be addressed; such as, could support staff be productive working remotely? Did the firm have any hot spare computers available? Could staff take their office computer home with them? Did they have a home computer they could use? Did their home computer have a supported operating system and antivirus program? Did they have internet at home and if so, was it fast-enough for remote access? How would they utilize the dictation software and equipment if they worked remotely? There were many variables to consider.  Everyone scrambled to get laptops and PC’s for staff to use. Unfortunately, for many individuals it was too late due to shortages all devices.

The realization set in that businesses were not only dealing with a major world health crisis, but also the many challenges that accompany working remotely.  Being forced to work remotely shined a light on access to files at the office and/or in the cloud and whether files were scanned in a digital format.

The resignation… Since in-person meetings were no longer an option, video conferencing took off like a rocket. Quickly, one had to become proficient in video conferencing applications, like Zoom, GoToMeeting, WebEx, Skype, and Teams. On April 13th, 2020, the Allegheny County Courts announced plans to use Microsoft 365 Teams for court proceedings and to share documents with the court and opposing counsel. Many practitioners had to figure out how to use a webcam, speakers, and microphone on top of a new software application. Also, if one did not have a laptop, they needed to get a webcam installed onto their computer and monitor.  Webcams became like hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes – there were none in stock!

In addition to learning how to use video conferencing software, the software’s settings had to be optimized for security. The camera angle had to be considered, what sights and sounds would be present in the background needed to be predetermined and learning how to mute and unmute was important to avoid potential embarrassing or uncomfortable situations. Others in the household had to be instructed not to photo bomb the conference – “yes, everyone can see you” was a common phrase spoken to many children who were curious about mom or dad staring at a screen and listening to someone talk for lengthy periods of time.

An incredible feeling of resignation came over all that they must embrace and learn new technology to be able to work and communicate with employees and clients… there was no choice.

The resolve… Throughout the work from home process, many attorneys had conversations with their partners and staff discussing that they were seeing return on their technology investments. The transition was smooth. Productivity did not fall. The resisters had much different thoughts and conversations. Their experience was that they did not make the investments in technology that were required to stay up to date.

Everyone recognizes that there is a lot of planning to do for when they return to the office, decisions on masks, social distancing, sanitizing common areas, how many should return at a time to work, and more.  One of the primary decisions is making changes to technology and computer planning practices. All must be better prepared in case Covid-19 gets worse and working remotely becomes mandatory again.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been an example of how crucial a proactive approach to technology is to mitigate the complications caused by unforeseen events.  Many have now resolved themselves that technology planning and budgeting is very important. Disaster preparedness is one of the key components of technology planning. Spring of 2020 should be appreciated as a technology lesson learned for all.

Alicia A. Slade, MS, MBA, is the President of Plummer Slade, Inc., a Computer Networking and IT Solutions firm providing Managed Services and IT Support to law offices since 1988. Plummer Slade, Inc. is exclusively endorsed for IT Solutions & Services by the Allegheny County Bar Association (ACBA).  Alicia Slade can be reached at 412-261-5600 or slade@plummerslade.com.