Lawyer Working Remote

As the coronavirus spreads into the U.S., many firms are bracing for a potential outbreak by relying on prearranged business continuity plans. But for some, this can mean rushing to provide remote access for their lawyers and staffers.

While various firms have shut down offices after coronavirus scares, many are weighing remote access options in the event of an outbreak or if an employee or family member becomes sick, said Keno Kozie Associates managing director Eli Nussbaum. 

“People are trying to be more cautious about the transmission of potential illnesses, generally a good practice but now it’s more relevant,” he said.

For the law firms that already leverage cloud-based services and have staff and lawyers that work remotely routinely, heightened usage of remote access shouldn’t be an issue, Nussbaum said. Although an increase in ISP traffic on a firm’s network would likely require more cloud resources, he said that’s easy to solve.

But the firms that are scrambling to put together a plan to work remotely could be in for a steep challenge. 

“For organizations that follow the traditional legal model, getting licensing, getting hardware, getting users into this remote working model on the fly does present some issues,” Nussbaum explained.

Those issues include ensuring software is accessible via remote networks, retraining staff on remote work protocol and ensuring adequate cybersecurity when leveraging a remote access service.

While it’s more likely lawyers will have law firm-provided laptops, that may not be the case for secretarial, paralegal and other staff.

“Most firms don’t have an option for them to work from home,” said Gulam Zade, CEO of legal IT consultancy Logicforce. “We have not seen firms take that extra step and buy laptops. It does sound like firms will take it on a case-by-case basis.”

Still, law firms may not want to set an unintended precedent when offering remote access to staffers. “The organization wants to get the value from their staff, but investing in all that hardware has a cost. And the user comes to expect those services and they may not decide to come back to not working remotely,” Nussbaum said.

Eric Levine, executive vice president of Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper, said generally only the firm’s attorneys are given a laptop to log access to sensitive client data. Still, his firm has considered providing staffers with laptops equipped with limited access credentials if the coronavirus spreads to any of its New Jersey, Philadelphia or New York offices.

However, Levine said the firm is proactively reminding the firm’s lawyers and staff to remain vigilant against coronavirus-related phishing emails.

“From a cybersecurity and data privacy standpoint, people must be aware that the virus itself presents an opportunity for hackers and wrongdoers to gain access to resources,” he said. “I sent an email to our staff and attorneys with an article saying to be careful for these types of email scams, they’re more potent because they’re tied to a health scare.”

While law firms may work from the comforts of their home during a coronavirus panic, it’s likely a different situation for alternative legal service providers.

For law company Elevate, working remotely for its clients, including legal departments, isn’t always an option. Elevate chief information officer Howard “Bud” Phillips said some workflows include accessing extremely sensitive information that requires transferring the work to secure physical environment instead of accessing it remotely.

“You can’t control someone taking a picture on their screen at home, but you can control it in a physical room,” he noted.