As advances in technology and cyber security evolve, so do the opportunities to work remotely on document review projects. While benefits such as a 15 second commute or never having to eat another fast food burger for lunch again may seem compelling, the truth is that telecommuting may not be the right fit for everyone. If you are being considered for a remote project, here are a few things to think about before you say, “yes.”
Procrastinators Need Not Apply
Everyone wants to hire “self-starters” who are willing to go the extra mile. For the remote worker, it is sometimes hard to demonstrate your productivity with anything other than your numbers. This means you can expect your supervisor to be continually monitoring your pace. He will be looking to see how long it takes to review each document and if there are gaps in your productivity. In order to avoid having your supervisor draw the wrong conclusion about your pace, make sure you log off and record your breaks. Likewise, if you are having issues with a particular document, be sure to communicate with your supervisor and discuss the situation candidly. This is much better than having blocks of time where the system records you as being idle.
You Are Only as Good as Your Technology
In a world where we pay bills and shop for groceries on our phones, home computers are being used less and less for everyday tasks. Before signing on for a remote document review, it is important to confirm your home office technology is up to date and functioning properly. Many hours can be lost dealing with crashing computers, software upgrades, maintenance reboots and slow internet connections. Since you cannot bill the client for hours spent dealing with such issues if they relate to your personal hardware, it is always wise to ask for the system requirements and capability specs well in advance of the project start date. If it looks like your system is not fully compatible, you should consider upgrading your technology or skipping the project altogether. While no one ever wants to turn down an opportunity, a poor pace or productivity rating on a remote review may keep you from being asked to participate in future projects.
A Distraction Free Work Zone
While many employees who work remotely will argue there are fewer distractions at home than in a busy office environment, for some the opposite can be true. Whether it is the kids, the mailman, the dog barking at the mailman, the TV, music, laundry, or any one of a whole host of things that can cause you to lose focus, the net result is a negative impact on your productivity, pace and, in all likelihood, your accuracy. If you know these things can derail you, work smart and do what you can to remove them from your environment. For example, if you put in a movie to create background noise, it is a good idea to make sure it’s not your favorite film. Likewise, Rover can stay if you are certain he does not care about the doorbell or he cannot hear it.
Private Work Space
Not only should your workspace be free of distractions, but it also needs to be private. If you need to take a break and visit the local coffee shop, leave the laptop at home. Public places such as Internet cafés and libraries are not an option for remote document reviews. Confidential information needs to stay confidential. You and only you should have access to the documents throughout the entire engagement. If other family members share the computer, be sure to log off properly and record your breaks accordingly.
The Hours – Be Predictable
For a traditional office worker, showing up at the office 30 minutes early – even if it is just to socialize – may position the worker as a go-getter in the eyes of the boss. Unfortunately, for the remote worker, there is no ability to leverage face time. The remote worker needs to be available when their supervisor pings them with an email to avoid the perception of being unreliable. The best way for this to happen is work predictable and consistent hours. This does not mean you have to take your breaks at the same exact minute each day but it does mean you should try to be as consistent as possible. You should also communicate your schedule to your supervisor and be sure to alert him to changes. If you have to alter your schedule for things like doctor’s appointments, school emergencies, etc., the key is to keep your supervisor informed and stick to your word.
When working remotely, consistent and effective communication with your supervisor is very important. Be sure to check emails regularly and to respond promptly when asked for input. Even if you don’t have an immediate answer, it is important that you at least acknowledge receipt of the request and manage expectations by letting them know when they can expect an answer.
There can be a number of benefits to working on a review project from home. However, being a successful remote reviewer requires preparation, great communication skills and a high level of discipline throughout the entire engagement.
Written by Leigh Novack, Executive Director of Legal Recruitment, JURISolutions Legal (JSL)
The Philadelphia Association of Paralegals is hosting their annual educational conference on November 8th 2013 at the Radisson Plaza Warwick Hotel.
With the exciting theme of “The Progressive Paralegal: Covering All The Bases”, this is a conference not to be missed! Be sure to register for this great educational conference.
For starters, just one month ago, I knew nothing about negotiation theory or technique beyond that which I learned from pop culture and my daily life experiences. In truth, the art of negotiating is not something that I spent much time and energy thinking about in the past. That last thought itself is telling. Time and energy. We all have finite amounts of each, and I typically devoted mine to other pursuits. I preferred my negotiations quick and easy. While our personalities play a role in our individual negotiation style, I did not realize how much of an influence culture plays here (Cultural Influence in Negotiations). For me, the quicker and easier the result, the faster I could then move on to something else. I never considered the influence of American culture on my negotiating style. I thought of my negotiation skills as a static, innate ability, rather than a craft or science to be studied and practiced. I viewed a skilled negotiator much like an artist or musician, born with a particular disposition toward a pursuit which, once identified, could be nurtured.
But, just over a month ago, I attended a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) course on negotiations, and discovered the fallacy of my negotiation belief system. Negotiation proficiency, I learned, is more accessible to the masses than I previously imagined. Moreover, Charles B. Craver, the Freda H. Alverson Professor of Law at George Washington University, and lecturer of my “Negotiations” CLE, hit me with the cold-hard truth that my inner child knew more than I did about effective negotiating (Charles B. Craver – GW Law Profile; Charles B. Craver – Expert Negotiator Profile).
In his article, “Everything You Need to Know to be a Great Negotiator You Learned Before Kindergarten,” Professor Craver discusses the “sophisticated theories” of negotiations, ranging from the several basic negotiation styles to the perception of bargaining power and from psychological factors such as gain-loss framing to emotional contagion (Everything You Need To Be A Great Negotiator You Learned Before Kindergarten – Craver, Charles B.). There is plenty of reading material out there on the above-referenced concepts, from Professor Craver and other negotiations experts, so there is no sense in regurgitating them here (Effective Legal Negotiation and Settlement – Craver, Charles B.; The Negotiation Process – Craver, Charles B.; The Five Golden Rules of Negotiation for Lawyers – Latz, Marty; Improving Negotiation Skills: Rules for Master Negotiators – Noble, Thomas). It is enough to say that by learning some of these basic techniques, and practicing them on a routine basis, the uninitiated will experience a measurable increase in meeting their goals in a negotiation.
However, even the most inexperienced and inept negotiator has more negotiation experience than appears at first glance. In his article, Professor Craver posits that “children are intuitively manipulative negotiators” and “most negotiations involve concepts we all learned during our formative years.” The idea is that “with basic needs and limited communication skills,” children are forced to become creative, persistent and acutely aware of the results that various techniques yield. If one were to learn nothing else about negotiating, that last factor may outweigh all others. Simply being aware – actually paying attention to the techniques we use, and the result thereof – will lead us to take stock of what style and techniques work best for each of us.
Being a child is a constant exercise in awareness, creativity and persistence. As we grow into adults, the world grows infinitely larger, and with the many distractions we face, it becomes more difficult to exercise and maintain awareness over our own actions. It takes effort, and effort is combination of time and energy. As adults, our time and energy is extended and diverted in many directions, often preventing awareness and leading us to seek fast and easy results. By slowing things down, focusing on our actions and putting forth the effort, we can achieve the proficiency of a child negotiator.
By this point, you’re probably thinking, “Children are great negotiators, I get it. But, what does any of this have to do with practicing law or seeking a job in the legal profession?” Well, lawyers negotiate every day, in matters big and small. The return on investment of learning, practicing and employing sophisticated negotiating tactics in large-scale, corporate and commercial matters is obvious. On the smaller scale, where less is at stake, there is a lower return on investment, but it can add up over time. Adept negotiators in this smaller scale space may save time – by arriving at a quicker solution; build better relationships – by creating a win-win scenario; and acquire repeat business – by demonstrating consistently effective results on behalf of their clients.
In the legal job marketplace, negotiations involving salary take on additional nuance. The marketplace, for permanent and contract-based roles, is as competitive as ever. In this environment, becoming too aggressive in salary requirements early in the interview process (anchoring too far outside the market rate, or the employer’s budget) may scare the employer off and stop the interview process entirely.
There are several reasons for this: 1) Creating value takes time, by starting the negotiation too far outside employer’s comfort zone, a candidate’s value may not yet be fully established; 2) The employer may perceive that a candidate is actually seeking a more senior role and may begin to have concerns about whether or not that candidate will stick around long in the role for which she was hired before becoming dissatisfied and leaving; and, 3) The employer may feel that despite the altered economic climate and legal marketplace, the candidate has not adjusted to the changing landscape, which is a greater reflection of her adaptability within the company, as it goes through changes in the future. This applies specifically to permanent jobs, where the offer should ideally start off the negotiation process. At that point, a candidate has had the time to build her value, discover more information about the position and build rapport.
Prior to the offer, a candidate’s leverage is much weaker, as presumably there are many other qualified attorneys available for such work who are willing to compromise on pay scale in return for meeting their other goals. Of course, it’s useful to know that the employer’s compensation range is within your expectation range because it may not make sense to continue forward in the process if the discrepancy is too great. In my experience, when the employer has anchored to a number, it’s not often that they’ll exceed that number by more than ten to fifteen percent, and that’s assuming that the employer is enamored with the candidate.
In referring to willingness to compromise in the above paragraph, I do not mean devaluing or undervaluing your skills and experience. In setting your value: 1) Research and become aware of the current market rate for attorney’s with similar experience and skills; 2) Research and become aware of the employer’s current financial state and future outlook; 3) Set a rational, high-end value and a low-end value; 4) Develop a set of non-monetary, or non-salary related benefits and options that have the potential to overcome a salary below expectation. Develop the best alternative terms you are willing to consider, because in this budget-conscious market, employers may be more willing to get creative in the total package of the offer (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) – Spangler, Brad). Since the employer’s budget might be constrained, presenting alternative benefits to create more value in the offer will demonstrate your problem-solving skills, determination to join the company and allow you to carve yourself a piece of the pie with significant value (even if it’s in a different form than you originally sought). Whether it’s building in a signing bonus, performance-based incentives, a flexible work schedule or additional vacation time, there are often ways to work with the employer to increase the value of the offer if it’s below your expectations.
Salary negotiations related to contract-based, or temporary opportunities, often have another set of factors to take into consideration, including whether the position is full-time or part-time, the average weekly hours, location (on-site vs. telecommuting), duration (short-term or long-term), nature of the work (routine and repeatable vs. niche and expertise) and if there is an opportunity for the role to become permanent. All are factors which should be considered in negotiating an hourly, weekly or project-based rate for a contract position. While employers are generally willing to pay a higher rate for contract attorney compared to a permanent attorney, competition for contract roles is fierce, and it’s growing. So, be aware of the competition in negotiating salary for a contract-based role, as that may be a determining factor in the employer’s decision when considering several attorneys for a position.
Perhaps just as important as understanding basic negotiating tactics is avoiding unethical and ineffective methods. Common missteps are one’s that I’ve been guilty of in the past, such as seeking fast and easy results, negotiating via email, failing to gather enough information and failing to build rapport. While our time is limited, building rapport and creating “emotional contagion”, or entering a negotiation in a positive frame of mind, can have a significant impact on the process The Interpersonal Effects of Anger and Happiness on Negotiation Behavior and Outcomes – Van Kleef, De Dreu & Manstead; Google Search Results on Emotional Contagion and Negotiation). It does not mean that we must spend the weekend with the opposing party, but we should strive to seek common ground and show genuine interest in learning a little about the opposing party. This is possible even in a few short minutes.
Failing to gather enough information entering the negotiation is somewhat of an outgrowth of failing to build rapport. Getting the other side talking allows us to pick up on verbal and non-verbal cues that may tip our opponent’s hat (Nonverbal Signals and Negotiation Interactions – Craver, Charles B.). By not taking the time to engage the opposing party in extended conversation, or by not listening, we miss out on a wealth of information that is useful as the negotiation moves forward. Email communications are often a poor means of negotiating for all of the aforementioned reasons. There is no building of rapport, and thus little emotional investment by the other side to move the process along. Also, information gathering via email is very limited, scratching only the surface of the issues at the heart of the negotiation.
From an ethical standpoint, under the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 4.1 addresses “Truthfulness in Statements to Others” (ABA: Model Rules of Professional Conduct – Rule 4.1). Rule 4.1 states that “in the course of representing a client a lawyer shall not knowingly: (a) make a false statement of material fact or law to a third person.” Comment 2 on Rule 4.1 goes on to clarify that “under generally accepted conventions in negotiation, certain types of statements ordinarily are not taken as statements of material fact” (ABA: Model Rules of Professional Conduct – Comment on Rule 4.1). What this means is that overstating or understating value is non-material for negotiating purposes. So, in negotiating salary, when a job offer is on the table with a potential employer, the Model Rules say that it’s okay to overstate the value of a competing job offer, in order to create leverage. However, the Model Rules suggest that it is unethical to fabricate a competing job offer for the purposes of creating leverage in the negotiation.
Previously, I viewed negotiation tactics as those employed by people with pushy, overbearing personality types, which produced marginal results, at best. At worst, I felt that negotiation tactics impeded open, honest dialogue and actual progress. Since attending Professor Craver’s course, reading several articles about negotiations, and simply practicing some of these techniques and awareness of my efforts, I’ve started achieving more of the goals that I’ve outlined in advance of my negotiations.
In turn, my mind-set has shifted to where I see infinite value in honing my negotiation skills. By focusing on emotional contagion, creating win-win situations, treating the negotiation process as more than a “fixed-pie interaction,” anchoring early on in the negotiation process and being more attentive during the information stage, I’ve noticed the impact that small shifts in behavior have in the negotiation process (Negotiator Styles in Bargaining – Craver, Charles B.). More importantly, simply practicing the awareness of my child-self, focusing on basic goals and using creative approaches, has allowed me to rediscover my inner child negotiator.