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Communication Strategies in a Remote Work Environment

Posted By Justin Fromke, Friday, May 8, 2020
Updated: Thursday, May 7, 2020

You are working remotely. You are not in the same place as your attorney and team anymore. You’ve learned a whole bunch of new videoconferencing platforms that you now must use interchangeably. Every morning brings another meeting to discuss productivity. You are stressed and overwhelmed. You feel like you aren’t on the same page as your lawyer. Frustration mounts. Maybe there’s a breakdown in communication? Maybe you are still adjusting to this crisis? Maybe you just want to scream? Whatever the reason, don’t fret. You are still in control of your work. You just need to approach everything with one centered idea: you can do this. How you ask? You can do this by being a good communicator.

I have worked remotely for a few years now. At first it was because the lawyer I worked for was in California and I was in Texas. Then, before COVID-19, I travelled a lot for our national firm. I learned that communication was the only way I could be productive, effective, and sane. It also has allowed me and my attorney to work in tandem, instead of against one another. It has helped us build trust that we are doing our best work for our clients.

Want my secret sauce? Here’s a short list of communication strategies I use in my own practice:

1. The Check-In. This is by far the best strategy in my arsenal. Every morning, I send my lawyer an email about what I am working on and our priorities. This helps him know where I am at in my work. It also prompts him to keep me posted on what he is doing, too. He’s getting better at that.  He emails me in the evening what he plans to work on the next day. It helps us stay focused on the tasks we need to do.

2. Choose the Right Method. What should be a call, an email, or a videoconference? That depends on the situation. Emails and text messages are void of emotion and can lead to interpretation issues. When it comes to a complicated topic or question, a call may be better than an email. If you have an attorney or team member who asks a lot of questions, a phone call is often better. For a quick touch base, email is best. It is important to remember that face-to-face interactions are most effective when dealing with sensitive topics or establishing trust.

3. Communicating Realistic Expectations. Most lawyers think it will take less time than it actually does to finish a project. Paralegals deal with this all the time, but few come out and tell their lawyer how long a project will take to complete. Good news, you are in the driver’s seat. Unsure of how long a project will take? You can figure it out. Start a timer and go! If it is a particularly long project, I recommend you keep your lawyer informed of your progress. I do this routinely. So, when I tell my lawyer how long a project is going to take me, I can use examples from previous projects. I am confident in my time estimations because I have some back-up experience.

4. Listen with Your Ears AND Your Eyes. You can actively listen with your ears and your eyes. So much of what we as humans communicate is non-verbal. Make sure to pay close attention to tone, facial expressions, eye movements, and even hand or arm gestures. It is not atypical for a lawyer to convey “everything is fine,” but appear to be frustrated. It is a good idea not to only rely on the words they are saying, but also how they are saying them. These non-verbal cues are some of the reasons why face-to-face communications are more effective in some instances. In fact, feel free to come out an ask for a videoconference call when you think it is needed.

5. Reframe to Avoid Misunderstanding. I use reframing often when my lawyer’s instructions make no sense to me. Reframing is when you listen to an instruction or a direction and repeat your understanding back to the person who gave you the instruction. I have found that when I reframe complicated instructions, the attorney often wanted me to do something completely different. In some cases, they talked themselves out of that particular idea or we brainstormed a more efficient way of completing the task. Reframing should not be used in all instances, but it is a very helpful tool when it comes to complex and complicated projects or ideas.

6. Engage in Non-Work-Related Communication. I cannot stress this enough: you need to talk to your lawyer or team at some point about things that are not work related. Ask them how they are doing. Inquire about their family or pets. Make small talk about the weather. Get to know them. By getting to know one another, you are more likely to trust one another. With trust comes grace. You are likely to treat each other better (and with more kindness and mercy) when you know each other. All it takes is 15 minutes a week. It is worth it, trust me.

Good communication strategies benefit everyone. You do not need to be in the same room (or even in the same city) to effectively communicate with one another. I have come to realize in my years of working with lawyers that you get what you give when it comes to communication. When presented with the possibility of over- or under-communicating, I always over-communicate. I would rather be persistent than make a mistake – costing my firm money, client trust, and damaging my reputation. Remember, the tools you need are already within you. The ability to solve conflicts and be productive is in your hands. All you need to do is communicate them. You've got this.


-by Candess Zona-Mendola


Candess Zona-Mendola is a Trial Paralegal at a national law firm that helps victims of food poisoning outbreaks, the author of  The Indispensable Paralegal – Your Guide to Getting It All Done, and is the Editor of www.MakeFoodSafe.com.

Tags:  COVID-19  docket  law firm  paralegal  work from home 

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