Like most Collaborative Professionals, I have found myself working almost exclusively from home. Though I had worked from home in the past, I always had the option of going into the office to access needed equipment (such as an industrial scanner) that made life easier. Now, not so much. Fortunately, I had some software in place that made the transition to an at-home practice easier, and I have had to quickly learn new software.
The list below includes software and technology that has worked for me. However, you should check with your IT person and your professional regulations before implementing your work from home technology.
Client Files in the Cloud
Many people have fancy client management software that they have implemented to access their files from anywhere, on any device. The software that I use is fairly simple, and yet equally accessible as more comprehensive programs. I use a paid version of Dropbox. My version of Dropbox provides me with 2 Terabytes of storage, which, unless I needed to store a lot of large video files, satisfy all my storage needs. I use it for the same reason so many other people use it: It is quick and easy to implement, and client files get updated to other computers pretty much the moment that I hit “save” on my computer.
Many people are confident with the safety of their files in Dropbox. Others, including myself, want a bit more protection. Accordingly, I also use Boxcryptor, which encrypts all of my files before they are saved on Dropbox. This makes it so that if a rogue employee of Dropbox or a hacker were to attempt to access my client files on the Cloud, all they would see are a string of letters and numbers. Boxcryptor works seamlessly in the background so that, after I initially set it up on my devices, I barely notice that it is working. But it is, keeping my files safer.
Prior to COVID-19, I had used the free version of Zoom videoconference software plenty of times. As a participant. But now that I need to conduct Online Mediations and help set up Online Collaborative Practice meetings, I have had to learn how to become a Zoom host. And because the mediations and meetings that I have had to set up tend to last more than 40 minutes (the upper limit for the free version), I have ponied up the funds for the premium version of Zoom. This has also allowed me to have more control over the program and the participants in them.
But sometimes clients have a preference other than Zoom, such as Skype, FaceTime, or Google Hangouts. I have used all of these platforms at client requests, as I want to meet the clients where they are at, and some clients just don’t want to learn new technology.
So, I have been using video conferencing a lot more lately but, still, there are times where I don’t want to be on video. I don’t even remember the last time I had a haircut, and my bad hair days seem to be coming around more and more frequently. An oldie but a goodie, www.FreeConferenceCall.com, allows you to, well, set up conference calls for free. Without video!
Finally, for my international clientele, I keep in touch with them using WhatsApp. Though it is known for being a free smartphone app that allows you to send and receive encrypted text messages across national boundaries, it also has a function that allows you to make free international calls or videoconferences from your mobile phone. Check it out.
Alternatives to Printing and Scanning
In my office, we weren’t exactly paperless. Though we scanned everything, we also kept a paper copy in physical files. Now that neither me nor my assistant has access to my physical files, we are not printing out or scanning in anything. Perhaps we will do that when we get back to the office. Or perhaps, in real-time, I am making the transition to a fully paperless office. I’m not sure yet.
Either way, because we don’t have access to our office’s industrial printer/scanner, we needed to find better ways to keep and organize our files other than physically printing and scanning them. Microsoft Office software has an option built into all of its programs: Microsoft Print to PDF. This allows you to save any document as a PDF, which, at least in my jurisdiction, is the format that our courts require to e-file documents. We save the PDF in our clients’ Dropbox file.
I have found that Microsoft Print to PDF does not always work for non-Microsoft programs, and that sometimes it does not work on older computers. As an alternative, I sometimes use PrimoPDF, which does pretty much the same thing as Microsoft Print to PDF. PrimoPDF has a free version that has met my firm’s needs.
While in the office, my assistant spent much of her time printing out financial documents, redacting them with a Sharpie marker, and scanning the documents back in. Though she has a small printer/scanner at her home, it is not feasible for my assistant to use it to print out and scan in the volume of documents we generally work with. Accordingly, I have just, for the first time, signed up for Adobe Acrobat DC. This may be the single best investment that I have made in technology in years, as it is going to create so many efficiencies.
Adobe Acrobat DC is a paid version of Adobe Reader, which you probably already have on your computer right now to read PDF documents. Adobe Acrobat DC enables us to electronically redact documents. Not only is this a necessity right now, but it is allowing my assistant to redact documents so much more quickly than when she had to print thousands of pages then scan them back in. This is also saving me as it greatly reduces the amount of money I am spending on paper (and it’s good for the environment, too!).
Additionally, Adobe Acrobat DC allows us to combine documents. For example, clients recently signed a Collaborative Participation Agreement but only sent us the signature pages. Adobe Acrobat DC allowed us to combine the signature pages with the rest of the Participation Agreement. It also permitted me to sign the Collaborative Participation Agreement prior to sending it on to the rest of the professional team.
I understand that Adobe Acrobat DC has a function that allows you to collect signatures from others on documents. I have not yet used that feature and so cannot speak to it, but I have used two alternatives when directing clients to electronically sign documents. Clients who have an iPhone can electronically sign documents directly from the native Mail app. For clients who do not have an iPhone, or who want a separate app, I direct them to SignNow. SignNow has a free version that has worked for my clients and allowed them to provide a legal signature directly from their smartphone.
Many Collaborative Professionals prefer to be paid by check to avoid credit card fees. Now, being able to collect payments remotely is a necessity. I have found that LawPay is one of the merchant service accounts with lower fees. Because it specializes in law firms, it allows you to easily decide whether you want payments directed to your operating account or your trust account. Further, it now allows clients to pay by e-check if they so wish.
Since the beginning of the year, another option that I have added is the ability for clients to pay via certain cryptocurrency. I can now accept Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ripple/XRP, Ethereum, and USD Token. The program I use to accept the cryptocurrencies is Bitpay. When a client pays through Bitpay, I have it set so that the funds are automatically converted to U.S. Dollars at the then-current exchange rate. The funds are then deposited into my bank account. I just pay a small fee for each transaction – there is no monthly charge. And, if you were so inclined, you can change the settings so you receive the fee in the form of a cryptocurrency.
Remembering All These Damn Passwords
So now that my documents are in the cloud, I’ve got my communication set up, I found alternatives to printing and scanning, and I’m getting paid, I find myself with a big question: How the hell do I remember all of these damn passwords?!?
Fortunately, there’s an app for that. I use LastPass. LastPass is a free password manager that works on your desktop browser (I use Chrome) and as an app in your smartphone. The browser application saves all of your usernames and passwords as you type them into your browser, and it allows you to access them when you are on your smartphone. As a bonus, LastPass has a password generator, which makes it easy to select complex passwords for all of the websites you use (unfortunately, “Password1234” just will not cut it anymore). As you browse, it will also keep track of whether you have more than one website with the same password, and it will prompt you to change the password for that site.
Who has time to remember all of these passwords? With LastPass, you do not need to.
Now that we are working at home, we need to rely on technology more than ever. The above lays out what has worked for me, but it may or may not work for you. Speak with an IT professional near you and refer to your professional regulations. And, like me, you may find some technology that allows you to work more efficiently and better than ever.
Adam B. Cordover is a member of the Board of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and co-chair of the IACP Website Content Committee. Adam is also co-chair and co-instructor of the Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals’ Leadership Institute and co-author with Forrest (Woody) Mosten of Building A Successful Collaborative Family Law Practice (ABA 2018). Adam practices exclusively in out-of-court dispute resolution with a focus on Collaborative Practice.