Comment: If You Think the Shift to Remote Work Was Difficult, You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

By Bill Bice, CEO of nQ Zebraworks

The pandemic put legal IT in the spotlight. Suddenly, every firm had to switch to remote work, all at once, overnight. I was impressed by the speed and efficiency with which legal IT professionals at so many firms were able to pull this off.

And it wasn’t just me: there has been a lot of appreciation for firms’ IT from attorneys and firm management – it’s one of the silver linings of the pandemic.

But now there is a new challenge. During the pandemic, at least we knew where our attorneys and staff were: all working at home. Coming back to the office – accounting for the increased flexibility that many firms are employing – is a bigger challenge. The attorney and staff expectations of the technology at their disposal will return to what they’ve long been accustomed to, except now they have to be able to use those tools seamlessly as we Work From Anywhere.

What we need is more than just Work From Home or even Work From Anywhere. What we need is to be able to Work THE SAME From Anywhere. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the office, at home, or in a client’s office: the firm’s infrastructure needs to extend wherever our attorneys and staff are at.

In the emergency nature of the pandemic, issues that would never have been left unaddressed got a bit of a free pass. Attorneys are using desktop scanners (connected to local hard drives) from their home office and random scanning apps on their smartphones, neither of which typically fit within firms’ security standards. It would be the rare attorney that remembers to go back and delete all the documents left behind on these devices all over the place.

Then, those documents are almost always manually moved around via email. Only with extra effort do they ever make it the firm’s normal workflows.

The solution is to extend the firm’s infrastructure so that it supports these devices. Edicts that you simply can’t use are difficult or impossible to enforce. It’s far better to incorporate desktop scanners and mobile devices into your infrastructure, where the firm’s security protocols and automated workflows still apply.

Another great example of needing to Work The Same From Anywhere is physical mail delivery. Attorneys are accustomed to getting their mail handed to them on time, and a lot of workarounds were implemented during the pandemic. The most common is to scan to email, leveraging tools already at the firm’s disposal. But email as a delivery mechanism has some serious shortcomings: it further clogs up the email server without providing any follow-up or accountability. It’s too easy for the mail to just get lost in the regular flood of emails.

A digital mailroom solves this problem by providing tracking and audit trails, while also automating processes like profiling in the document management system or tying to the accounting system or expense management, and providing delegate access to make it easier to manage the whole process.

A digital mailroom is a classic example of “Why haven’t we always done it this way?” It’s a much better solution than pushing the cart down the hallway and has the advantage of working equally as well no matter where your recipients are at on a given day. Going digital opens up whole new ways of working. For example, physical mail can now be shared with workgroups like docketing, A/P, A/R, and large cases with many professionals working on it.

What I love about implementing a digital mailroom is that it makes the process paperless – it’s a great way to accelerate your firm’s digital transformation.

As we emerge from the pandemic, now is the time to take advantage of the shift in perspective in legal IT. Professionals that previously saw IT as just a cost of doing business now see it as a strategic investment and the key to enabling their workflows and a function that is critical to supporting the new challenges of Work From Anywhere.

Bill Bice is the CEO at nQ Zebraworks, which is tackling the challenges created by Work From Anywhere. nQzw Queues is the workflow engine that powers more than 35% of the largest 250 law firms in the United States and 5 of the top 10 firms globally. Bill has a long history in legal technology, founding ProLaw Software at age 18, then becoming part of Thomson Reuters, where he founded the West km division.