When a person has a disability, she has a right to reasonable accommodations at her place of work. Depending on the disability, that accommodation might be made through use of myriad technologies that are now available to help improve legal practice. These technologies are not only useful for those with disabilities, but for the efficiency of the entire law practice. As a result, the very act of seeking accommodation for one employee may lead to solutions that improve the entire firm.
For example, a lawyer may not be able to use a computer keyboard. The firm might solve the problem by purchasing a program such as Dragon Naturally Speaking along with a high-quality microphone. Those who dictate documents and need another person to type them might find that it is much faster to speak directly to the computer and simply leave clean up of the documents to the assistant.
Another employee might have a learning disability. That disability perhaps makes it difficult for the lawyer to organize herself or to track time properly. Numerous solutions now exist for case management, such as Clio and Rocket Matter, each of which can help the lawyer keep everything in one place, as well as track time. In addition to built-in timers with these products, numerous time-keeping applications for phones and tablets, both visual and numerical in nature, can help virtually anyone keep time. A law firm that is not using a complete solution for case and document management might well find that taking advantage of these kinds of organizational and time-tracking tools can help the entire firm manage its cases and billing better than it ever did before.
As a last example, consider an employee who suffers from fatigue and needs to be able to work from a home office at times. In creating a home office for this attorney, the firm will need to explore issues from necessary hardware, to ability to access files from everywhere, to security concerns. Law firms need to explore each of these items in this competitive and ever-connected world in which we practice today.
When a law firm seeks to provide an accommodation to someone with a disability, that firm shouldn’t look to that need as a difficulty for the firm. Rather, the firm should consider that the person they are seeking to accommodate might well bring a new perspective and new technology into the firm, which will actually benefit not only the accommodated, but the firm’s bottom line as well.
Jennifer Ellis is an attorney and law practice management consultant.