Episode 8: How Do You Manage Your Firm for Remote Employees with Kristin Tyler

In this episode, Casey talks to Kristin Tyler about how she has been able to manage her firm remotely and some tips and tricks to make the transition to remote working smooth.

Kristin Tyler is the co-founder of LAWCLERK and founding partner at her  firm Garman Turner Gordon that is based out of Las Vegas. She chairs the firm’s Estate Planning, Probate & Guardianship Practice Group. Her practice is focused primarily on estate planning, asset protection, probate and guardianship matters. She has authored a number of published articles and is a regular speaker at local seminars regarding estate planning. She has been designated as an “AV/Preeminent Attorney®” as rated by Martindale-Hubbell®.

Prefer to read? Read The Transcript Below

Interview Transcript

Casey Meraz: 

Hi, I’m Casey Meraz and welcome to the Lawyer Mastermind Podcast, where we help attorneys grow their law firms and increase profitability. Today we’re joined by attorney Kristin Tyler. She’s the co-founder of LAWCLERK and partner at Garman Turner, Gordon LLP. Thank you for joining me today.

Kristin Tyler:

Thanks Casey. I’m glad to be here.

Casey Meraz:

Awesome. And today we’re going to be chatting about managing law firm employees remotely. And I think you know a lot about outsourcing because with LAWCLERK, don’t you help attorneys hire other freelance lawyers?

Kristin Tyler:

That’s exactly what we do at LAWCLERK, you hit the nail on the head and we help match up attorneys with our network of freelance lawyers who are available for project by project help remotely. And we also have a ton of tools built into the system to make that remote work a lot easier. So, I’m sure we can talk about those.

Casey Meraz:

Okay. Awesome. And it seems like not long ago, the consensus was that all attorneys needed to be in the office to work. You got to show up 9:00 to 5:00 or 9:00 to 10:00, whatever that is, but it seems like that’s finally been changing. Can you run a law firm completely remotely these days?

Kristin Tyler:

Gosh, I think that the perspective that lawyers had on working from home or working remotely has changed significantly in the last two months. Myself, my law firm, my husband’s an attorney, he loves it. He never wants to go back to the old ways of going in the office. I’ve talked to so many lawyers who never thought they would enjoy working from home that are now enjoying it. And they’re seeing that their own productivity and their team’s productivity is say similar levels, in some cases, even higher. Which I think may have to do with the attorney workaholic tendency, but that’s a whole other podcast. So, the perception of working from home for lawyers has changed a great deal the past few months.

Casey Meraz:

Yeah. For sure. And, from a lot of the attorneys that I’ve spoken to in the past, they weren’t as flexible with working remotely until they were thrown into this. And one of those issues seems to be employee trust. So, just starting off, should you trust working remotely?

Kristin Tyler:

Well, I guess if you have underlying concerns about if you have the right people on your team or the best people on your team, then working from home might be a nightmare. But if you are lucky to have been working with the same team for years, and you’ve got a good flow going then working from home should not lead to those same levels of trust or concern as you might with some, maybe trouble employees. But there are still some important conversations and safeguards that attorneys should be having to make sure that they’re maintaining the same level of confidentiality and security at home when working from home.

Casey Meraz:

Okay. Got it. And that’s definitely a concern that we can just touch on maybe a little bit right now that information transfer, the confidentiality, what they’re working with. That’s probably got to be one of the challenges with working remotely and how do you navigate that?

Kristin Tyler:

Well, I think that you just have to have a very direct conversation with your employees. If you have a younger associate paralegal, assistant of some sort, whoever it may be whatever role. Maybe you have a younger employee who lives with roommates and you know they live with roommates, that’s fine. But you need to ask direct questions like, “Hey, when you step away from your work to go for a run or the store or whatever you need to do, what are you doing at home to make sure your laptop is secured so that your roommates can’t get into our client’s confidential data, to make sure that any paper files you may have at home are also secured?” Just really direct questions.

Kristin Tyler:

You may even go so far to say, “Hey. I know you have roommates. Where do your roommates do? Where do they work?” If it turns out that they’re a paralegal at a competing law firm, then you have a higher sense of concern and there may be other safeguards you need to take. But that’s kind of a baseline conversation about making sure client confidential data is secure from roommates or whoever it may be if they have a cleaning lady or whatever, it might be.

Casey Meraz:

Sure.

Kristin Tyler:

Another one that I’ve heard, I think is a great tip is to talk to your employees about, “Hey. We’re working from home.” And maybe the attorney even wants to offer to pay you for their home internet now. That would be a really nice courtesy. But then they also need to ask, “On your home WIFI, do you have a password on that? How secure is your WIFI? Is the password one, two, three, four, five? That’s not going to cut it. We need to increase the security.” So, that’s another just really bare bones, security confidentiality thing that an attorney should cover with staff when working remotely.

Casey Meraz:

Sure. So, and all of this can probably be navigated with a standard policy, right?

Kristin Tyler:

Sure. Yeah. Lawyers love policies. So, maybe having a simple one page form drawn up that they complete, they sign, they agree to update you if there’s changes to their roommate situation or their WIFI situation. Definitely making sure that the expectations on both sides of the equation are crystal clear. It’s going to save you a lot of headaches down the road,.

Casey Meraz:

For sure. So, let’s say that you’re in that situation, you’ve made this transition. People are working remotely, you have the policies in place. Now let’s talk a little bit about productivity. How is that measured in a remote environment? In some cases, obviously billable hours and things like that. But in some cases that may not apply. So, what can you measure and what should you look for?

Kristin Tyler:

Sure. Well, the billable hour is the legendary benchmark of the legal industry. And if you’ve done a good job already, if you’ve got practice management software that allows you to track certain metrics, then comparing where you were at in say February before everything started to where you were at in April is going to be a really interesting benchmark. Beyond that I think law firm owners… Yes, your associate attorneys or paralegals, whatever can bill all the hours in the world, but you need to be really mindful of, are you collecting and watching your AR, your collectibles. Because if your clients are having economic troubles right now, they may not be able to pay you and maybe it’s worth a conversation of, “Hey. How can we work together to get through this difficult time? Obviously we need to still help you, but we need to get paid to pay our employees.”

Kristin Tyler:

So, you really want to stay ahead of collectibles and have a realistic output on what is your likely cash flow situation now and in the months to come. I have heard of some law firms being approached by clients for temporary reductions in billable hour rates. Fine. If you’re going to do that, I think you want to set a benchmark at a set date where you mutually agree you’re going to revisit it and see how’s the client doing financially, how’s the firm doing. can we agree to extend those rates or are we ready to put them back to the standard rates? So, I think obviously hours billed, but more importantly, dollars collected are going to be really important for where you should stay on top of.

Casey Meraz:

sure. No, that’s great advice. And it is important to stay on top of it. And do you find that it’s harder to stay on top of employees working remotely or is that solved by communication and software?

Kristin Tyler:

Well, there’s definitely that mystery of, “What are they doing and are they available?” I myself, I’m lucky I’ve worked with my team for a number of years. So, I don’t have those same concerns because we’re on top of deadlines, we’re responding to clients in a reasonable amount of time so, that’s good. One thing that we didn’t Institute that was new when all of this started in mid March for us here in Nevada, was we got the whole team, the whole law firm onto Slack, which I’ve used now for years on the LAWCLERK site, the legal tech company. But for our law firm, we said, “Hey guys. There’s this really cool tool. We’d like you to get on it.” And that’s really boosted communication. I think when you’re working from home, it’s even more important to over communicate things, to keep people connected, to make sure that nothing’s falling through the cracks. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Slack or not, but for me-

Casey Meraz:

Oh. I use it everyday.

Kristin Tyler:

Okay. For anyone who’s not, it’s basically kind of like an instant messenger platform where there’s just a stream of messages rather than a whole bunch of emails in your email inbox. And you can set up channels for different cases, different clients, different topics. We even set up just… We called it the random channel and that’s where everybody drops their funny memes and jokes and birthday greetings on birthdays, because we’ve been had a lot of birthdays lately. So, Slack has been just a fantastic way for our team to stay connected and feel like we know and it shows a little green dot if someone’s logged in on their computer or not. So, if anyone really wants to keep tabs on that, they can, I don’t, but it does show who’s on, who’s not. And of course some people can’t be on if they’ve got court hearings or if they’re on the phone with a client, don’t pay attention to your Slack, who cares about it? You got to pay attention to the client. But that’s been a great tool.

Casey Meraz:

Awesome. Yeah, no. We love Slack and we use it for all of those same things and separating the information by channel can be really helpful. I think you touched a little bit on it with the channel that you mentioned with the fun memes and whatnot. How about law firm culture remotely? How has that change? And is it something that you pay attention to or?

Kristin Tyler:

Yeah, well, definitely, I think that we all miss each other because we’re lucky again, the attorneys especially, we’ve all worked together for a lot of years and there’s always been open door policy and Monday, Tuesdays, you’re checking in on, “How was your weekend. How are the kids?” And so you miss those casual water cooler type conversations. We’ve set up the Zoom happy hours. We did a virtual wine tasting.

Casey Meraz:

Nice.

Kristin Tyler:

We are trying to do some of that fun stuff, but I definitely can tell that our team misses each other in their in person interactions, but we’re doing the best we can.

Casey Meraz:

That’s awesome. So, what challenges do you think that you face and maybe overcome or so working through, since you’ve been forced to go remotely?

Kristin Tyler:

Sure. Well, I think, there’s a big question mark still about how soon, and to what extent will the courts reopen for, those clients awaiting trials, especially at a situation where you really want a jury trial. How soon is that client going to be able to get some resolution of their case? That’s really heavy on our minds. For me, I do more transactional work, estate planning and probate. And so for me, I’m constantly trying to think of different ways that…

Kristin Tyler:

I’ve been delaying some meetings. There’s been some clients that have really, for various reasons needed to come in. So, we’ve taken a lot of precautions with safety equipment and extra cleaning to make sure that we were able to interact and get documents signed. But even then we’ve had to modify the way we’re doing that. Before I would sit down right next to the client and walk them through a document point by point, making sure they understand everything. We’re doing that by phone or by Zoom either a few hours ahead of time or the day before so, when they come in, they’re literally coming in with their mask, either washing hands or wearing gloves, signing the document and leaving. And it’s just a much different client experience. So, I’m constantly trying to think of ways I can put a little bit more of a warm, fuzzy touch on that and not make it feel so sterile.

Casey Meraz:

Got it. And for new clients, has that slowed down at all or has there been just as much interest?

Kristin Tyler:

Yeah. It initially slowed down? I would say through about mid April, I think as the whole country just was trained to get our bearings about this, about what’s going on, what is the timeline on this? And as the court started to come alive, we started to see an uptick and plus the whole situation triggered a number of new matters related to COVID. So, we’ve been very steady, which is encouraging, but again, just with the ongoing litigation, we’re being very mindful of, is it going to be realistic that these clients are going to continue to pay us for work? So, that’s the big question Mark right now.

Casey Meraz:

Okay. Got it. Wow. Well, it sounds like you guys have done a really good job, adapting and it helped that you already have that trust in everything with your employees as well. What advice would you give to somebody to have a successful transition that never really planned for any of this?

Kristin Tyler:

Sure. Well, my advice would be and especially if they’re having some extra time that they didn’t normally. Maybe you don’t have commute time right now, you don’t have time every day or every week sitting for hours in court waiting for hearings. Take whatever extra time you’re able to gather to work on your business. And that doesn’t necessarily mean actual bordering work, writing briefs, doing research, talking to clients. But work on the business.

Kristin Tyler:

If there’s some tech tools or resources that have been on your radar, but you just haven’t taken the time to play with them and try to figure them out. This is a really great time to do that. There’s been a couple of things that I knew I needed to figure out and I finally, the first two weeks at home, I made myself sit down and I said, “Okay, I’m going to just sit here until I figured this out.” And both have ended. Were much easier than I thought they would be, didn’t take long. So, I think, trying to shift some of that time from lawyering time to business person time, to work on the business, is just super important right now to lay the groundwork for continued success and growth in the months to come.

Casey Meraz:

Awesome. Well, that’s great advice and thank you for sharing that. And one thing that we didn’t talk about too, we touched on a little bit, but it just came up in my head. We were talking about Slack. Is there any other software that you would recommend that can really help bring the team together and make this easier?

Kristin Tyler:

Well. We started this law firm five years ago. We were all together at a larger regional firm literally five years ago in May, May 2015 to start our firm. And from day one, the larger firm, we were chained to a server, very paper heavy. And so from day one, we implemented a cloud based practice management software that gives us the ability to work anywhere, anytime, as long as there’s internet. We are by and large, very paperless. We use NetDocs for that and the combination of that made it super easy for us to make the move. And so, for anyone who is still changing that server, or going into the office a couple times a week to get paper files, this can be a great time to try and make some changes on that.

Casey Meraz:

Sure. Okay. Awesome. Well, thank you for sharing that. And then do you have any other parting advice for managing employees remotely, things that maybe we didn’t touch on or cover that you’d like to share with the audience?

Kristin Tyler:

Yes. I think it helps to realize we’re all going through challenging times at home, there’s no barrier anymore between the work life, home life. And so, being sensitive to the fact that some people may be dealing with sick elderly family members. Some people are dealing with young kids who are now homeschooling and trying to just be a little bit extra human and realizing… Team members should still get their work done, but the parameters about when and how that happens might look a little bit different right now and we all just need to give each other a little bit of grace on the side of being kind. So, and by and large, I’ve seen that, I’ve heard some horror stories from other people of stuff that just makes you really scratch your head but, I think it’s a good time for us all just to give each other a little bit of slack and wiggle room.

Casey Meraz:

That’s awesome. Well, that’s great advice and I can relate to that and I agree with that for sure. And then just because of your affiliation with LAWCLERK, if other law firms are looking to expand, but not ready to hire on a full time attorney, is that how people would utilize that service in one aspect?

Kristin Tyler:

Absolutely. You’re hired you nailed it. So, I’ve been talking a lot lately about, I think a lot of attorneys started out this year in particular. It’s 2020, the start of a new decade. And people talked about the modern roaring twenties and I think some people set really big goals for their firm and for growth and then they felt like the rug got pulled out from under them when all of this happened, like, “What do I do now?”

Kristin Tyler:

And so if you were one of those attorneys who A, is still lucky enough to be busy and B wants to grow, you want to embrace this turbulent time to still foster growth for your firm, there’s ways you can do that. And I’m really proud to say that LAWCLERK has one of those tools and that we can allow busy attorneys to access help when they need it done completely remotely, all the work’s done project by project. And so you’re able to tap into our network of freelancers and get the help without having to commit to making a full time hire of an associate, which is a little bit scary right now in these uncertain times. So, take on that additional commitment and overhead. And so, we’re absolutely a great way for attorneys still trying to grow and service clients to get the help they need.

Casey Meraz:

Awesome. Well and yeah that sounds like a great way to scale, with a little less of that risk like you were mentioning. So, it’s an awesome service and hopefully if that applies to your firm, you can check that out. That’s lawclerk.com. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate you taking the time Kristin and I look forward to catching up again in the future.

Kristin Tyler:

Sounds great. Thank you Casey.

Casey Meraz:

Thanks. Take care.

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