Providing legal services remotely: a guide to available technologies and best practices
Legal Services Providers (LSPs) often face challenges in effectively and efficiently providing legal services to their clients. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, conditions existed that made providing services remotely a desirable alternative to face-to-face meetings. Work schedules, caregiving responsibilities and barriers to transportation can all make meeting face-to-face difficult or impossible. Sometimes the nature of the meeting simply does not require an in-person encounter.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to confront the reality that providing legal services remotely is not only necessary to meet the needs of clients, but it is also in the best interest of public health and reducing the risk of infection. Meeting with a client in-person is now often impossible. And even when it is possible – is it wise? In person meetings might not only threaten the health of the client and legal services staff, but also their families and communities.
The purpose of this guide is to highlight some of the ways to provide legal services remotely. Technology has evolved to allow for remote “meetings.” Videoconferencing – until recently available only to large corporations – is now commonly available to anyone with a computer or mobile phone through Zoom, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting and other accessible platforms.
This guide will introduce many of those platforms, as well as good practices for using them. It is meant to serve as a practical resource for LSPs around the world, particularly those operating in rural areas.
Providing legal services remotely presents new challenges. Public Wi-Fi networks raise concerns of confidentiality and privacy, as does the transfer of information over the internet or through instant messaging. It can also be a challenge to obtain signatures on legal documents when client meetings are only conducted remotely. This guide will address those issues, too.
On top of the health issues associated with COVID-19, the pandemic has created an increased need for legal services in areas including domestic violence, housing and evictions, public benefits, and issues related to employment. Now, more than ever, the need for remote legal services is critical.
The pandemic will pass, eventually. However, the challenge of providing effective and efficient legal services is ever present. This guide is intended to assist in navigating the current pandemic and to provide a framework for remote legal services in the future. Finally, this guide does not specifically address issues related to working with clients in custody, and thus is primarily targeted at LSPs working on civil matters.
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