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Once you realize that people in a different time zone can see the same screen, as if you’re huddled around the same computer in the room together, you can no longer imagine how you managed multi-office meetings without online conferencing. Many companies provide these services, including WebEx Communications Inc., Citrix Online, Microsoft Corp., Viack Corp., Smart Technologies Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and Web Conferencing Central. Web conferencing is a great way to get people in different locations sharing information that’s best communicated visually. This can range from time and money-saving recruiting systems, training staff in remote offices on your office systems, presenting your firm’s qualifications to prospective clients, or collaborating with colleagues on a business proposal. At our firm, we also use videoconferencing for meetings with clients and remote staff, which works well in conjunction with Web conferencing. Web conferencing has features not found in an old-fashioned meeting: � Instant polling of attendees: There’s a section of the screen set up for questions, and the answers can be electronically tabulated. � Chatroom features: Without interrupting the meeting, attendees can send an instant message to any or all attendees (or they can electronically “raise their hand” — send the presenter a message that they have a question). � File sharing: You can easily download files for all attendees to share. � Program recording: With a single click, the entire session can be recorded. A few years ago, when law firms had documents or technology to review, they would fly participants to meetings or compromise on how effectively the information was communicated to the remote attendees. If they couldn’t afford the time to travel, remote attendees would receive, in advance, static documents to review — but so much of what happens in meetings is in the organic process of revising those documents or screen-shots. For instance, discussing options for our caseload management system became increasingly difficult without all collaborators sharing the same screen view. The online meeting option offered tremendous savings, in travel time and expense, for our staff in four states. It also ensured that each attendee has truly been to the same meeting, in terms of what they visualized and comprehended. Better communication always leads to enhanced productivity, in our experience. Here are some specific areas where online sessions have helped our firm: RECRUITING We see great promise in the area of candidate recruitment and screening. Only one of the last five attorneys we hired was a local candidate, so online screening tools help us respect everyone’s time by identifying deal-breakers before the candidate boards a plane. The first thing we do with candidates is give them a written test to assess spelling, grammar, filing, composition and detail-orientation skills. Yes, even attorneys must take the test. In the past, we sent out-of-area candidates to local test centers or a colleague’s office, but Web conferencing lets us administer the test. If a candidate clears this first hurdle, the second thing we do is try to ascertain how well the person will fit with our firm’s credo of accountability. Our case management system tracks many details of their work — from case turnaround time and responsiveness to clients’ submissions, to productivity in terms of the actual number and type of cases filed in any specified time period. One required field in our database for each type of case is the admission — which the client can see online — that we got all the information we needed from the client to complete the case, and the ball is now in the law firm’s court. Talk about truth-in-advertising: Showing that feature and its related reports to attorney and paralegal candidates is a potent screening device. We learn a lot from their reaction to the level of transparency our clients have come to expect from the firm. Firms might also choose to review documents with an attorney candidate, using the Web conferencing features of highlighting and circling words, or making revisions all attendees can see in real-time. For a transactional lawyer, using the Web to review a redacted item of work product or a sample case is an opportunity to preview how the lawyer works. SHOW OFF For the candidate who makes it through our rigorous screening, we switch gears and aim to show off our firm’s best features, to ensure the applicant still wants to interview with us after being raked over the coals! In fact, even before screening begins, we like to show promising prospects some details about our tools and quality service. In the field of employment-based immigration, we’re seeing candidates applying to law firms based in part on the technology and other resources the firm employs. In a service business, the chief criterion is and should always be the caliber of the people (ergo, the preaching about intensive screening). However, clients and job candidates alike have told us they perceive the firm’s investment in the best technology tools as an outgrowth of the passion for quality — a sign of how truly the firm commits to its staff’s ability to excel. TRAINING Our staff spends at least five hours each week on training. With online training, our remote staff can share the same experience as those in our mothership office. I recently led a Webinar for more than 40 managing attorneys of law firms across the U.S. and U.K. It would have been impossible a few years ago, as we were discussing software in our field. We gained priceless efficiencies by being able to attend, each from the comfort of our offices, and contribute comments. CLIENT SERVICE When your client is using your software — or is sharing an application with you — it’s easier to demonstrate how to use the technology than it is to try to simply explain it over the phone. Our clients use our case management software for everything from initiating a case and adding data, to viewing case milestones 24/7 and running compliance reports. If our clients use our systems well, we are providing better service. Julie Pearl, a member of the Small Firm Business Editorial Advisory Board, is managing attorney and CEO of The Pearl Group, a business immigration practice. She is based in San Francisco.

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