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If you experienced the “early days” of remote access, you may have some bad memories of cumbersome sign-on processes, sluggish connections, and time-consuming, inefficient downloads. Thanks to updated technologies and the phenomenal growth of high-speed Internet service, such experiences have become a thing of the past. Today, remote access – that is, the ability to connect to and work with software applications and documents from an Internet-connected computer outside your primary office – is fast, efficient and very cost-effective. And for law firms of all sizes, this capability is delivering some very tangible benefits. Whether you’re considering implementing remote access – or simply want to validate your current approach – read on to see how the right solution can generate real benefits for your firm. Five to eight years ago, many law firms struggled to find effective, high-performing remote-access tools. When the solutions failed to produce the desired levels of performance, usage of remote access often suffered. Chuck Ormsby, the managing member at Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia in Jenkintown, Pa., said that’s exactly what happened at his firm: “Our old solution was slow and it was difficult to log on. As a result, people shied away from it and said, ‘I’m not going to waste time fooling with this.’” Today, Ormsby’s firm uses a solution that delivers improved speed, performance and reliability. And they’re not alone. As technologies have evolved, demand for and usage of remote access has increased. Firms now have a number of options available for providing remote access – from implementing a virtual private network (or “VPN,” which uses tunneling and other measures to heighten security and privacy) to employing a simpler solution, such as GoToMyPC or Citrix MetaFrame. There are differences among these tools, and there’s no one “right” solution. For optimal results, choose the solution with benefits and costs best aligned with your specific needs. Remote access in action Attorneys say once you implement the right solution, you’ll find countless ways to use remote access. And you can realize some impressive benefits – including enhanced productivity, increased profitability and better quality of life. Enhancing productivity. Although it’s not always easy to quantify productivity enhancements, attorneys cite plenty of examples of how remote access reduces downtime and increases efficiency. At the most basic level, when facing inclement weather, a family emergency or any other need to be home, you can easily stay on top of your workload. And unlike in the days before remote access, doing so doesn’t require a lot of pre-planning or photocopying of hard-copy files. “Once you have remote access, you almost forget how inconvenient it was before,” said Jay Harris, partner at Philadelphia-based Fineman Krekstein & Harris. “Working remotely used to be a real headache. If I knew I needed to be home, I’d have to plan well in advance to ensure I had all the documents I needed. If there was an unexpected snowstorm, I usually wouldn’t have all the files I needed to be productive.” Through remote access, Harris now has fast, convenient access to e-mail, as well as all of the software applications, systems and documents he needs for day-to-day activities. In addition, when he’s away from the office – visiting a client site, traveling on business or even taking a vacation – Harris relies on his firm’s remote access to stay on top of his workload. By keeping up with interoffice and client communications, he said it’s much less overwhelming when he returns to the office. Remote access can also help support business continuity – enabling employees to remain productive despite a natural disaster or other unplanned interruption. For instance, a Network Alternatives Inc. client located in Manhattan leveraged its remote-access solution following the mysterious gas smell in New York City on Jan. 8. After evacuating the facility, employees were able to log in from off-site computers and continue working. Increasing profitability. Increased profitability goes hand in hand with enhanced productivity. Remote access empowers attorneys and other professionals to respond more quickly and effectively to interoffice and client requests, supporting greater efficiency and responsiveness. As Ormsby noted, “Since we’re able to access [our systems and documents] from home, we can get things done more quickly, which leads to greater client satisfaction and, ultimately, to more profitability.” A remote-access solution should deliver access to all computing resources – from word processing software to document management, case management and time-and-billing systems. One Network Alternatives client indicated that always-on access to the firm’s time-and-billing system contributed to an increase in time recorded of nearly 15 percent. Supporting better quality of life. For some attorneys, enhancements to quality of life are perhaps the most significant benefit of remote access. Because of his firm’s remote access solution, attorney Mike Torchia can leave the office at 6 p.m., enjoy eating dinner and spending time with his wife and 3-year-old son, and then wrap up his day’s work from his home office. Torchia, chairman of the litigation group at Semanoff Ormsby, said he’s not the only one at the firm interested in balancing work and home life. “We’re a young firm,” he explained. “Many of our attorneys take off a bit earlier to play and eat dinner with their kids and put them to sleep, then log on and finish their work.” Torchia added that he and his peers can also tackle work over the weekend without leaving their homes and wasting time commuting. He estimated that in the course of a year, each attorney logs hundreds of billable hours from home using the firm’s remote-access solution. In addition, Torchia said his firm has several employees who work part time or from home one day a week; remote access helps facilitate such flexible work arrangements. Looking ahead Looking to the future, remote access presents opportunities to adapt staffing models – attracting more professionals who seek part-time and work-from-home situations, and perhaps even talented employees who live outside the immediate area. It can also support creative facilities solutions, such as cost-effective satellite offices where attorneys can meet and collaborate without commuting to a central office. Even within your firm’s existing business model, remote access can help improve productivity, profitability and quality of life. As Harris said, “Quite frankly, there’s no downside to it. From a business perspective, it’s smart to do it. The cost/benefit [analysis] is tremendous, and it just makes life easier on a lot of fronts.” EDWARD J. GRUBB is president and cofounder of Network Alternatives Inc. (NAI). He has more than 20 years of experience in law office computing. NAI is a nationally recognized provider of full-service, cost-effective and reliable technology solutions for law firms and other professional services organizations. NAI provides solutions that are distinctively tailored to meet its clients’ needs and include: application hosting, document management, file management, consulting, network integration and customer support.

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