UPDATE (September 10, 2020): In recent days, I have been going through past news articles posted here, and have been deleting or archiving those that are no longer relevant or current.
I wrote the article below on August 2, 2018, long before our lives were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, the norm in the legal world was to conduct meetings, conferences, court appearances, seminars, etc. physically, in person. Doing these things via video conferencing, although not unheard of, was rare. Many months later, however, as restrictions imposed by the pandemic set in, law firms made a rapid transition to meeting and providing legal services virtually. Now video-conferencing technology has become essential for law practices and is the new norm (which I believe will endure even after the pandemic has subsided).
I have always been "ahead of the curve" when it comes to incorporating technology into my practice, and I sometimes found that a degree of "technophobia" made a small number of clients a bit skeptical and resistant to abandoning the old way of doing things. For that reason, I felt it would be helpful to explain why I had embraced video conferencing technology.
Today, the following explanation is no doubt unnecessary, as everyone - lawyers and clients - have accepted the "new norm". However, I decided to keep this article online, even if the value of most of it may only be as an "historical artifact". However, I encourage you to read the portion of the article explaining the platform that we use for video conferencing.
Why I've Embraced Video Conferencing Technology
I have long enjoyed the "digital nomad" lifestyle.
In recent years, I have worked from hotel rooms, apartments, shared work spaces, coffee shops, and other places in Singapore, London, Hong Kong, Miami, Berlin, Saigon, Belfast, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Panama City, Paris, Buenos Aires, San Francisco, Liverpool, Guadalajara, and Vancouver - among many other places - (as well as from my homes in Scottsdale, Arizona, and on the North Pacific coast of Costa Rica). Modern technology has allowed me to be "paperless". Work-related communications are conducted via email, telephone, or through my firm's client portal. The use of electronic signatures relieves me of reliance on postal or courier services. My mobile phone works anywhere in the world. Client files are securely kept on my client portal online (and I carry an encrypted backup on a 1 TB micro SD card the size of my little fingernail). Legal research is all done online. Invoices for legal services are sent electronically and are payments are submitted online. What once required expensive office space with support staff, a file room, library, telephone equipment closet, desktop computers and monitors, printers, photocopier, fax machine, network server, storage space for paper, printer toner, file folders, etc. now all fits in a laptop computer that is .33 inches thick and weighs only 1.7 lbs.
Years ago, before I decided to become untethered from the traditional "office" paradigm, a client would meet with me by first calling my receptionist and scheduling an appointment. Then, at a time dependent on the distance between respective offices, either I or the client would have to put aside whatever we were working on at the time, pack up all the relevant paper files needed for the meeting, and travel to the office of the other person. After checking in with a receptionist, I or the client would sit in a reception area and thumb through an old Time magazine waiting to be called for the conference. When finally invited in to the office or conference room, several minutes of "pleasantries" would be exchanged, before we would get to the real subject matter of the conference. Following the "meat" of the conference, we would pack up our files, exchange more pleasantries and say our "goodbyes", before traveling back to our respective offices to make notes of the meeting. This might take all day - or all afternoon - just to accomplish 30 minutes of actual productive meeting time. At a lawyer's rate of $400 per hour or more, a conference that should have cost only $200 may actually cost the client $1,600 or more in fees, plus travel expenses, parking charges, and so on.
Today, most of my work-related communications are conducted via email, telephone, or through my firm's client portal. However, in many cases, there are benefits to "face-to-face" conversation.
For that reason, for situations that warrant it, I encourage video conferences. A video conference facilitates a "face-to-face" conversation and all the benefits that go along with it, without the associated time, cost and expense.
What are the benefits of "face-to-face" communication? Here are six:
1. Shows body language
According to research, more than 90% of human communication consists of body language. When you see the way that the person you are talking to reacts, you are able to better understand how they are feeling. You get live feedback translated through the body language and facial expressions. You can also hear the tone of voice which makes it easier to interpret the person’s feelings, and you are able to show your own reactions and emotions.
2. Builds relationships
Another benefit of face-to-face communication is that it helps in expanding your network and enhancing future communication. It provides a "feel" of friendliness which can have the effect of boosting the success of your business and personal relationships. Email and phone conversations don't give you the same opportunity to build camaraderie.
3. Values the other person
When you make the effort to actually see the other person, and when you show them through your expressions that you are listening and that you care about what they are saying, you show that you value the other person and what they have to say.
4. Boosts effectiveness
Efficiency is so important, especially in the business world. Imagine having to explain a whole project through an email and then spend the whole day responding to questions. A face-to-face meeting between people allows the issues to be all be addressed at once, and boosts overall creativity and energy.
5. Enhances confidentiality
Although (with limited exceptions) all communications between attorney and client are confidential and privileged, face-to-face communication eases the revelation of sensitive or delicate information to a trusted person in a private setting.
6. Enhances trust and credibility
With face-to-face communication, you can explain clearly and answer questions with integrity. You are able to actually see how your words and actions align. This enhances credibility and helps build trust.
There are disadvantages to physical face-to-face meetings.
As described above, the scheduling, traveling to, and participating in a physical face-to-face meeting is inefficient, time-consuming, and expensive. Also, some people find it uncomfortable or anxiety-inducing to communicate physically face-to-face.
These disadvantages can be overcome by scheduling a video conference.
The Video Conferencing Platform We Use
I've spent considerable time trying and testing various platforms, including the common ones, like Zoom, Skype, Webex, Hangouts, etc. and the lesser known 24sessions, eyeson, and others. Although, most of these can get the job done, none of them had all of the features that I needed or wanted.
We ultimately chose our own branded platform (based on "Vectera") for the following reasons:
1. Security. It is essential that communications between lawyers and clients be confidential and secure. Our platform facilitates a secure handshake to connect all parties to the conference. All audio and video livestreams between the parties are delivered peer-to-peer by means of WebRTC. As the leading web communication technology WebRTC streams are DTLS end-to-end encrypted. No audio and video data are sent to, or stored on, the Vectera servers. (If peer-to-peer fails due to restrictive firewalls, the TURN servers kick in. The underlying streams stay end-to-end encrypted while they pass through the TURN servers to reach the final receiver). Any documents, notes, shared whiteboards, uploaded during a session can be permanently deleted at any time. Any uploaded that the parties wish to retain in the "meeting room" is stored on ISO 27001 Certified EU servers, subject to strict EU data protection regulations and 24/7 physical site surveillance.
2. "Meeting Rooms". We create a unique persistent video "room" for each of our clients, so that we and the client can keep track of all content and communication in one single place. The client is provided with a unique link to his or her virtual meeting room. All notes, documents and meeting recordings remain available in this virtual meeting room, and the client can come back to the virtual room any time to revisit the previous conversations. When we meet with the client again, we can pick up the conversation where we left off.
3. Ease of Use. The only thing a client needs to join a video conversation is a browser (and all browsers are supported). There is no need to download (or update) software packages or installers. A video meeting is started with one click from mobile, tablet or desktop. The user interface is very intuitive and easy to navigate.