How smaller Australian law firms survive and thrive using Skype's FREE video conferencing


Skype's powerful and free video conferencing and messaging platform for smaller law firms

Skype offers law firms a free and simple solution to Covid era business woes. It enables firms to overcome the barriers to business brought by social distancing and lockdowns.

Read on to get the most out of Skype in 2021 and beyond.

From early 2020, business-as-usual came to an end. The holy grail of doing business, the face-to-face encounter, became a mortal risk.

Around the world, lockdowns and the imperative of social distancing ground business to a halt. To survive, businesses scrambled to scale remote working practices. Strict social distancing in-office became the essential norm.

The pandemic thrust (surviving) businesses,100% into the digital age.

Before the pandemic, savvy early adopters were already implementing remote working for productivity, efficiency and cost-saving reasons. They were doing so with digital technologies. Some seized opportunities to enrich customer experiences with services provided online.

But the legal profession was more reticent than other sectors. Caution prevailed. In-office and face-to-face working traditions were sacrosanct for most.

Digital tech adoption in firms was timid. Administrative productivity and efficiency gains were the main focus of the use of tech. Few firms leveraged it to revolutionise how legal representation happened. Email, letters or telephone calls were the primary alternatives to face-to-face meetings.

Enter the Covid disruptor

Today, firms across Australia have embraced various forms of remote working. Strict social distancing rules have made service provision via the internet ubiquitous. The successful law firm today offers a fuller range of client services at a distance.

At the centre of this move are audio-visual software and cloud-based solutions. In addition to email and telephone, text messages and video conferences have become part of the new business-as-usual.

One of the most popular audio-visual communications solutions is offered by Skype. Its free and simple to use instant messaging and video conferencing tool is a choice pick for any small to medium-sized firm.

Let’s take a close look at how Skype is being used and how firms can optimise their use for better business in 2021 and beyond.

Here’s what you get “out of the box” when using Skype’s (largely) free solution

Skype has been around for a very long time. Made available to the public in 2003, it was one of the first mass-market, freely available tools for audio-visual communications online. Acquired by Microsoft in 2011, Skype is, remarkably, still free.

Download Skype and you get a powerful instant messaging and video conferencing tool that’s dead-easy to use.

Best of all, it’s free!

There are other more sophisticated systems available, including Microsoft Teams, which integrates Skype in a bundle of more complex and powerful solutions at a premium. Sure, the tools are impressive but with complexity comes the need to train staff in how to use them; is the value really worth the high price?

For small to medium-sized, small and simple is often better.

Skype doesn’t require you to purchase software

Simply download Skype’s app free to your computer or mobile

Create an account (no email or telephone number needed). Alternatively, you can use Skype on the web via the Skype website.

The fact it is free and easy to create an account makes it ideal for communicating with clients, too. They don’t have to purchase software. Getting them to set up an account is a simple three-step process you can communicate via email or on the phone.

Or make it even simpler for them. Set up their account for them. Send their username, password and link to Skype’s log-on page via email or over the phone. They connect. You call. They accept the call and away you go.

Here’s what you can do with Skype’s free offer

  • Experience crystal clear audio and HD video in one to one or group calls;
  • Use smart messaging on or off a video call;
  • Share screens, including presentations, photos or anything on your screen during a call;
  • Record your call to archive content for later use or note key decisions
  • Add live subtitles that so participants can read the words that are spoken in real-time;
  • Make phone calls to reach people who aren’t yet using Skype (note: this is a paid feature);
  • Keep your conversations private with industry-standard end-to-end encryption.

The great thing is, using Skype’s free video-conferencing offer allows you to host video or audio conferences with up to 100 people.

That means that solicitors, clerks, administrative staff and management can all communicate internally and externally, nationally and internationally, 24/7, free of charge.

Why not use Skype to:

  • hold staff meetings online with just one click;
  • conduct job interviews; and
  • hold client consultations from anywhere, anytime.

Even for those who don’t have a Skype account, you can reach them. Skype allows you to:

  • Call landlines and mobiles from anywhere in the world (either by adding credit to your account or buying a monthly subscription). The rates are very low.
  • Get a local phone number that allows you to receive unlimited incoming calls for a low monthly fee. You can answer your calls on the phone, computer or tablet.
  • Send text messages (SMS) from Skype

And here’s how lawyers are using Skype for productivity gains and better client service provision

Skype is a highly effective instant messaging tool.

With your colleagues logged on all day, Skype lets you message quickly and easily. Text a colleague with “call me” when you need to chat with them. Send a quick request for information. Or share an update.

Emails often get lost in the stream. A chat message, however, is more like physically crossing the hallway into another office to ask a question. But with Skype, you do it without breaking social distancing rules.

To improve customer service, use Skype messaging to notify a colleague already on a call that their client is waiting on the line.

Skype is also a reliable video conferencing tool

Whether it is one-to-one or a group meeting, Skype lets staff connect via video conferencing free of charge. Video allows participants to see facial expressions and body language, making the communicative experience similar to a face-to-face encounter.

Sessions can be recorded. Screens can be shared. Documents and presentations shared. And as the meeting unfolds, comments and questions can be added via the instant messaging function.

Video conferencing enables successful remote working when colleagues work as teams. The free version of Skype lets up to 100 participants connect to the same session.

And when it comes to client consultations or expert witness interviews, Skype’s video conferencing emulates the face-to-face experience well. There are even upsides like saving clients the time and money of transport to your office. No more late arrivals, parking fees or fines!

Video consultations are opening up opportunities for greater service provisions. Clients with mobility issues or health difficulties find video conferencing and safe and convenient solution. Potential clients in remote areas are only a click away using Skype.

Video conferences are certainly a more personalised form of communication than the traditional telephone call. But with video conferencing comes a new set of challenges. It is important to consider these …

Key pointers on Skype communication etiquette for internal and external meetings

Before each session, test your tech. Make sure your webcam and microphone are working. Check volumes and lighting. Don’t have your camera pointing into the sun, which will leave your face in shadow.

It’s important to light your face so the client (or other party) can clearly see your facial expressions. And ensure you look directly into the camera to establish eye contact with your interlocutor.

Communicating online isn’t the same as face-to-face conversations. Articulate clearly to compensate for a potentially poor microphone or speaker on the other end of the call. Speak slower than you might offline.

And do make sure your background is appropriate. We’re all familiar with the results when background antics crash brand identity!

Skype allows you to blur your background. The downside of this is a loss of context and branding. A clean, professional background is best. Bookshelves are common because they communicate seriousness. But do make sure your collection of Star Wars figures is out of shot!

During the call, monitor the expressions of your client to make sure they are hearing clearly. Online we lose some of the peripheral and sensory communications which come naturally from being in the same room.

And remember, not all clients will be 100% comfortable with the online model. Disclose from the beginning, if you intend to record the session. Point out to the client from the very beginning, what your firm’s stance on privacy and security is with each meeting.

In the event that connection is lost, it is good practice to begin each session by clearly stating who will call back if the call ends abruptly. Doing this will avoid the annoying problem of tag-calling, where both call back instantly only to get a “busy” signal.

If the connection is bad and inhibiting clarity, reschedule the meeting. If you can’t do it during the video call, use the messaging facility and ensure you get confirmation from the client that they have understood.

Cautionary notes regarding security and privacy issues in your jurisdiction

Skype is a great tool but one must remain aware of its limitations, like any online platform.

As more lawyers are faced with the ever-increasing demand to do business online, some are going there without considering the full extent of risks and exposures.

Skype has come a long way with security in recent years. Today, Skype uses the AES (Advanced Encryption Standard*) which is used by the US Government to protect sensitive information. Also, Skype has, for some time, used strong 256-bit encryption.

Notwithstanding all this, do use caution when file sharing. Like all online platforms, viruses and malware can enter your hardware via downloaded files.

Regardless of the digital security tools employed by your law firm, you need to ensure secure file sharing is a top priority.

Sharing documents directly via Skype is not ideal. Skype is a video call software, not a secure file sharing enabler.

And before each session, close all other windows and applications. Should you screen share during the session, you want to be absolutely sure no private personal or business information is visible to the person on the other end of the call.

Further, check your jurisdiction for the relevant standards and regulations concerning digital interactions, especially when it comes to protecting client-lawyer confidentiality.

Make confidentiality and security a priority.

14 point checklist for using Skype in your daily practice

When using video-conferencing for the provision of legal advice or services, lawyers should adhere to the following guidelines.

  1. Before the call, test your equipment to make sure the audio and visual framing are functioning correctly (no cut-off heads, please!).
  2. Before each call, advise your client not to share any of the links or documents shared with anyone else.
  3. Begin the session by underlining the nature, expectations and limits of the video call.
  4. Ask if everyone can hear and understand clearly.
  5. Ensure you’re accessing the call via a secure Wi-Fi network.
  6. Identify who is on the call, getting each person to identify themselves.
  7. Make sure no unauthorised person is present who may unduly influence the call.
  8. Do not allow clients to screen share by default. Rather, as the legal advisor, you should manage screen sharing, call recording and document sharing decisions.
  9. Do lock the meeting once the client or clients have joined the call; a function Skype allows.
  10. Determine how to provide the client with copies of any document executed remotely.
  11. Should any documents require a digital signature during the session, ensure the client provides high-resolution images of identity documents.
  12. Make sure your client has received and understands any documents shared during the call.
  13. Regularly check your client has accurately heard and understood, giving them ample opportunity to ask questions (concentration levels online can be somewhat less focused than in face-to-face encounters).
  14. Keep detailed records including date, start and end time, method of communication, identity of all present, and minutes of the content of the meeting.

And with all that in mind, venture forth with Skype to grow in the new business-as-usual world enabled by digital tech.

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