Negretti & Associates has thrived as a remote law firm since its founding 2012. In this recent interview with Litify, Jonathan Negretti offers his perspective on starting and managing a remote law firm.
In March 2020, as COVID-19 spread across the United States, many law firms were abruptly forced to shutter their doors and ask their staffs to work from home. For a lot of law firms that still utilized paper files or the occasional typewriter, this posed challenges. For more forward-thinking and tech-savvy law firms, this was less of an adjustment.
For Negretti & Associates, years before COVID-19 became a factor, we sought to establish ourselves as a premier remote law firm. Operating within a virtual environment was one of the core tenets of our success. Yet, growing to three offices in three different states while maintaining a virtual environment was not easy.
Our team works remotely on a daily basis. Rather than wasting time commuting, we are answering emails and making early morning phone calls. We can be available and responsive when others are not. Working with a remote team has compelled our firm to continually refine our communication process, to ensure that clients are represented effectively.
From time to time, I am asked for pointers on how law firms can build and maintain a remote work environment. If you are patient and follow these five tips for managing a remote law firm, you’ll find that it’s actually possible for your firm to thrive in a virtual environment.
Tip 1: Get the right people, then get out of their way
To have a healthy work environment, it is essential to have the right people in place. But once you’ve done that, you have to get out of their way. Don’t micromanage!
Even though your employees are working remotely, you must trust that they are still working toward a common goal. That common goal must become the bedrock of your environment.
One mistake that I see people making is that they think that because everyone is working from home, that they don’t — or can’t — have office drama. That’s simply not true. The drama may be greatly reduced, but it still be there. If you have the wrong people on the bus — people who I commonly refer to as “toxic” — they will disrupt your company culture.
People also think that for their employees to work from home, employees must inherently be self-starters. This is true to an extent. Yet, more importantly, you must manage people with a mindset that emphasizes flexibility. People want to work when they can be most productive. Sometimes people are most productive early in the morning, others are more productive late at night.
We are not clock-watchers at Negretti & Associates. We focus on the service that we provide to our clients, rather than making sure every employee is sitting at their virtual desks at 9 a.m.
Lastly, we allow people to opt-out. We tell every new employee that working from home can be tough. Working remotely may not be for them. We understand this, and will accept one’s decision to leave. We don’t try to force square pegs into round holes!
“You must manage people with a mindset that emphasizes flexibility. People want to work when they can be most productive. Sometimes people are most productive early in the morning, others are more productive late at night,” observes Negretti.
Tip 2: Develop good systems
To allow your employees to get the resources that they need and do their jobs effectively, you must have systems in place.
At Negretti & Associates, we invested heavily in technology to make sure that our lawyers and support staff have access to everything that they need. If you are employed at Negretti & Associates today, you literally can work with a laptop and smartphone — from anywhere in the world. This is because we have a CRM platform called Litify, which is like an all-in-one program for our employees to use.
With Litify, you can do everything from review medical records to text clients directly from the software system. Additionally, when we get snail mail, it’s all scanned in and uploaded to Litify. Employees can browse the mail received on that given day or go directly to the client file to review the specific piece of mail that corresponds to the client’s case.
We also use a firm calendar system that syncs with Litify to keep track of client calls, internal and external meetings, as well as vacation time and upcoming deadlines.
Tip 3: Meet clients face-to-face through your computer
The idea of working remotely is a beautiful thing. However, meeting clients face-to-face may seem tricky.
Before COVID-19, I would have said it’s very challenging to get your employees to embrace a software platform like GoToMeeting, Zoom or WebEx. Post COVID-19, everyone seems comfortable with this software. Families are meeting with each other online now more than ever before. Doctors are meeting patients virtually. Companies are utilizing this software for happy hours and lunch meetings.
This software is a great way to meet your clients face-to-face without leaving the comforts of your home office. Clients seem to prefer the ease of meeting their attorney online, rather than having to drive to an office across town. It is a win-win for everybody and allows for more efficiency in scheduling and hosting client meetings.
Tip 4: Schedule social interactions with your staff
I don’t think I realized the importance of social interaction between employees until more recently — after the COVID-19 lockdown went into effect. Although some people love working in solitude, even the most introverted people can feel a little claustrophobic or a bit disconnected while working from home on a regular basis.
To fend off feelings of isolation, we typically have a weekly staff call on GoToMeeting, so that we can turn on our cameras and see each other. We supplement these with firm-wide happy hours and video breakout sessions.
Tip 5: Be ready and willing to adapt and evolve when necessary
Working virtually requires that you adapt to ever-changing market conditions, as well as evolve and allow for new sources of productivity.
Being a smaller law firm has given us the advantage of being able to change course on a dime. But we accommodate change in a balanced way. We don’t institute change without careful consideration, and we also don’t get stuck in “paralysis through analysis.”
If we decide that we can do something better and it helps our clients, then we incorporate it. If we find an easier path for our clients, then we will adapt to incorporate these changes.
Nothing is off limits at our firm. We don’t have the mentality that “this is how we’ve always done it,” or “that tradition can’t be messed with.”
Alan Arkin was quoted as saying that “either you’re growing or you’re decaying; there’s no middle ground. If you are standing still, you’re decaying.” We don’t stand still at Negretti & Associates!
At the end of the day, working in a remote law firm can be very fulfilling and enjoyable. It can give you an exceptional work-life balance. At the same time, for your virtual law firm to flourish, you must have the right environment.
One thing is certain: the old, antiquated law firms that occupy big office buildings are like the T-Rex. They will eventually become extinct.