Once seen as a privilege, remote working may now be essential for business survival.
We talked to our friends at boutique IP firm, Potter IP, about some of the tools they’ve used to revolutionize their trademark practice, while working flexibly and remotely.
Our guest author, Narly Kalupahana has 20+ years of experience as a patent attorney and IP lawyer, and is a cofounder of Potter IP. Since its inception in 2014, Narly and the Potter IP team have all been able to work remotely when needed.
Is your legal team ready to work remotely?
Guest post by Narly Kalupahana, Potter IP
In late 2014, we established a brand new IP firm. Our team had worked in both small and large firms for decades, so starting with a clean slate gave us the ability to use our collective experiences to build the firm that we wanted to work in – both in terms of culture and technology.
We set the practice up with a number of key goals in mind:
- We made sure that every team member could do almost every task themselves – things like opening a new client file, preparing and filing a trademark specification, entering IP Office deadlines into our docketing system – and even generating invoices.
- All “hard” IT (e.g. mail servers and practice management software) would be hosted in the cloud. We’re lawyers, not IT people – and wanted to de-risk business critical systems by having IT operated by experts.
- With young families, we all needed to be able to work remotely as and when needed.
While we didn’t set out to create a “virtual law firm”, we did want to ensure that running the business using a virtual office was something we could pivot to if we ever needed to.
We’ve certainly relied on this capability over the years – particularly with team members looking after sick children, staff on extended business trips, and also (sorry for gloating) when the entire firm went to Hawaii for our 4th birthday celebration (where everyone worked remotely for a third of the day).
We appreciate that many companies have been slow to introduce work-at-home flexibility, and do understand that there are fears that working from home impacts productivity – but research from multiple sources seems to suggest the opposite. I also believe that having a great team and the right culture all but eliminates those concerns – we trust our people and know that everyone wants the business to succeed. (This isn’t just guesswork – a study of over 800 trademark examiners at the USPTO, by Harvard Business School, showed that highly flexible, work-from-anywhere policies increased employee productivity, reduced staff turnover, and lowered in-office costs dramatically.)
Our team has worked in scores of different firms over the years, and one thing that we all appreciate is that with work-life balance, it’s work that needs to fit around life – not the other way around.”
Remote working tips and tools for trademark lawyers
As a company working hard in the legal service industry, we know how critical reliable online tools are for maintaining a “business as usual” approach during this challenging time.
1. Home office set up
First we had to ensure that all staff had the appropriate hardware and connectivity they needed to work from home. While we can’t help them with room decor (some face more of a challenge than others in this regard…), we made sure that tech wasn’t anything they had to worry about.
This was made easier by our office hot-desking arrangement – everyone has their own (work issued) laptop, and when they get to work they simply plug into a monitor and charging port – and away they go.
When it comes to working remotely, those who needed an additional screen were given one, but otherwise all they needed to do was arrange for an authentication token for the remote desktop environment (which is usually locked down to our office IP address), and they were away.
2. Internal communications
Whether in the office or working remotely, we use Slack for internal instant messaging. It’s a channel-based communications app that allows the team to have private conversations with each other, or group discussions with the wider team.
We also have dedicated channels specifically set up to reduce email inbox pain – for example a channel for staff to let us know if they are in/away/late, as well as a “watercooler” channel where you can share the latest joke forwarded to you from your grandmother…
For file related matters, emails are still essential – but for chats about practice, questions of law, etc., Slack is a fantastic medium.
3. Document sharing and team collaboration tools
You probably already have some document sharing and collaboration tools in place, but if not you can use Google Drive or tools like Confluence, Dropbox and many others.
Our remote hosting service (where our practice management system resides) provides us with Microsoft Office 365 subscriptions, which are invaluable for document collaboration. Multiple people working on the same document, while seeing live changes, is invaluable.
4. Face-to-face meetings
To maintain personal connections, teams have a daily “stand-up” (although everyone was sitting down at the last one) or one-on-one meetings as needed.
We’ve tested many video conferencing products over the years, but Zoom won out in the end – it allows the easy hosting of several participants, makes screen sharing unbelievably easy, and is relatively light on the IT requirement side of things. The free version allows for a 40-minute long meeting, although we happily pay the monthly subscription for a full featured account.
We increasingly use Zoom for client meetings as well – particularly as our clients are spread around the country and globe.
Software specifically for trademark lawyers
Lawyers are notorious for being rather late adopters when it comes to technology. The old tools work, so why change?
We’re self-confessed tech nerds, so love trying out new software and gadgets – at one point we even had two walking treadmill desks in the office…
5. IP management software
All trademark, indeed legal practitioners, will have some form of case management/docketing software. With an eye to everyone being able to easily navigate the system, we went with software that could both be hosted remotely, but also was easy enough for all staff members to understand and use in their day to day work. Our trademark team uses Patricia, a Swedish IP software offering.
Although fully customizable, it comes ready to us “out of the box”. Best of all, it takes care of all trademark workflow aspects – docketing and deadline management, email and letter template generation, and also has a comprehensive finance and billing module built into it. Emails are autosaved into the document management system and should we wish, we can even grant our clients access to their own portfolios.
We access this securely and seamlessly both in the office and from home. For extra security over client files, staff can only access the system outside the office environment using two step authentication.
6. Interactions with IP Offices around the World
The tool we find the most invaluable is Sortify.tm Attorney – innovative trademark goods and services management software that Potter IP helped create and which is now used by trademark attorneys around the world.
Sortify.tm Attorney allows trademark teams, whether at the office, working from home, or even on the go, carry out everyday tasks smarter and more quickly across all stages of the trademark process – pre-filing, filing, examination and registration.
It started as a tool to provide instant insight on global allowability of goods and services across 65+ jurisdictions, and now helps you draft compliant specifications and filing proposals in minutes as well as quickly dealing with IP office objections. Our whole team uses it – from partner to paralegal. (See Sortify.tm Attorney in action.)
Working remotely can provide great opportunities for trademark specialists and their teams, not only in terms of health and safety, but work-life balance, staff satisfaction and overall productivity. Remote working has the advantages of less interruptions, less impromptu meetings and no unproductive office chit-chat. There is also no commute which saves time, money and reduces stress levels.
With a few tweaks to your systems and a few new tools, you can not only be fully prepared for efficient remote work, but also equipped to increase profits and thrive in the 21st Century.