Last week I wrote about the importance of being location independent. In this post, I identify the tools and technologies that I use to ensure that my practice is location independent.
The ability to work from home is especially important now for those of us under a shelter in place order. I am in Illinois. On March 20, ourGovernor issued Executive Order No. 8 ordering everyone to leave their home “only for Essential Activities, Essential Governmental Functions, or to operate Essential Businesses and Operations ¼ .” The order specifically exempts “Professional services, such as legal services, accounting services, insurance services, real estate services (including appraisal and title services).” Executive Order No. 8, ¶12(r).
However, just because we can leave our homes to go to our
offices, that doesn’t mean that we should. Perhaps we have someone at home we
need to care for, such as a child home from school, or a parent or other
relative who needs assistance or care. Maybe we are sick and need to
self-quarantine regardless of what the governor says. Maybe we need to travel
to another city or state to care for an ill relative. It’s also possible that
we are in a high-risk category such as being 65 or older; suffering from heart
disease, diabetes, or lung disease; being pregnant; or being otherwise
immunocompromised. In that case, it makes sense to do everything that we can to
avoid the office and take all steps that we can to not get infected.
The question that arises is how can we work from home and
have access to everything that we need to perform our job. I can assure you
that this is possible. Below, I detail the tools that I use in my practice that
allow me to practice from anywhere.
The first thing you need to be able to effectively work from
home is a laptop computer. Although there are ways around this, there really is
no reason for most people to use an alternative. For example, you can have a desktop
at both your home and office. However, this is a limiting factor because all
that you have done is simply double the locations you can work from 1 to 2.
With a laptop, you can work from anywhere. You are not limited to any
particular physical location.
My recommendation is to get a good quality business grade laptop that is sized for how you work. Some people like larger devices, with bigger keyboards and screens. Others prefer small and lightweight. I use a Microsoft Surface Pro 6. It’s light to carry around and powerful enough to do anything I need.
Keep in mind that, just because you are using a laptop, that doesn’t mean that you have to use the keyboard and monitor on your laptop. You can use an external regular-sized keyboard and one or more external monitors. For example, in my office I have my computer hooked up to four external monitors. At home, I connect to a larger single external monitor. In both cases I use a wireless keyboard and mouse.
Digital File System
The next key for me to being able to practice from anywhere
is that I have a digital file. This is what many people refer to as a paperless
file or a paperless office. I prefer to think of this as a digital file. Every
document in every case that I have is stored digitally on my computer. This
means that I can access any document at any time as long as I have my laptop
It also means that I don’t have folders full of paper
sitting in my office. I have one folder where I store documents that I must
maintain in paper form. Other than that, everything is stored only
Obviously, if you do not already have a digital file, you
are not going to get there in time to work from home during the time covered by
the governor’s order. However, this may be a good time to think about possibly
moving your office to a digital file system.
In the meantime, you can make a trip to your office to
retrieve the paper files you need and then work with them while at home.
Cloud Based Storage
Related to my digital file system, I also have my files stored in the cloud. I use a service called ShareFile to do this. It includes cloud-based storage along with secure email, a client portal, large file transfer capability and more. There are a variety of other similar services available such as Dropbox, G Suite, OneDrive, Box, and Spider Oak.
The benefit here is that I can access any of my files from
any device that is connected to the internet. This means another computer, my
cell phone, or my tablet. This really increases my flexibility in terms of
being to access any document I have from any device, any time that I have
access to the internet.
Cloud Based Time & Bill and/or Practice Management
Being able to work from home won’t do you any good if you are unable to bill for it. To do so, you may want to consider cloud-based time and billing and or practice management software. I use Rocket Matter. In response to COVID-19 ActionStep is offering their ActionStep Express free for six months. If you have considered cloud based practice management or time and billing before but never made the jump, this may be the opportunity for an extended free trial. To explore other options that are available, review this article.
There are multiple benefits to cloud based practice
management. First you can easily record your time or make billing entries from
anywhere, at anytime. This increases the likelihood that you will capture all
your billable time. Further, most of these services will allow you to bill your
clients electronically. This means you do not have to print the bills and mail
them. Instead, you can just email the bills to your clients. Finally, if you
accept credit cards, either as part of your practice management or outside of
your system, your clients can pay you over the internet. This mean that you
don’t have to be at the office to get the mail in order to get paid.
Instead, the entire billing process can occur electronically,
with no one having to handle any physical documents.
The next problem you may need to solve is your phone
service. If there is no one in your office, who will answer your phone? If you
are using a VOIP phone system, this is not a concern. VOIP stands for Voice
Over Internet Protocol. Essentially it means that your phone calls travel over
the internet. There are many benefits to this. For example, I can bring my desk
phone home, connect it to the internet and I will receive telephone calls on it
just that same as if I were sitting at my desk.
Additionally, the service I use includes an app for my cell phone that allows me to fully access all the phone functions that I need from my cell phone. I can place and receive telephone calls from my business number on my cell phone. Further, any voicemails that I receive are forwarded to me via email. I never have to check voicemail on my desk phone again. Popular services include 8×8 (this is what I use) Vonage for Business, RingCentral, and Nextiva.
Also included with many of these services are features such as video conferencing to allow you to talk with your clients face to face, even if they don’t come into the office. In addition to the video conferencing built into these services, other services are available such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, and Google Hangouts. Some of these services are paid only services, others include a pretty generous free option. For example, Zoom allows up to 100 participants, but limits the meeting to 40 minutes.
It seems like attorneys are the last people who use faxes.
Just because you may send or receive a fax, however, does not mean that you must
do so with a fax machine. One of the huge limitations of the fax machine is
that you have to be where the fax machine is in order to read a fax that you
receive. You can avoid all of this by moving to a virtual fax.
This will allow you to send and receive faxes via email.
This means you can send and receive your faxes, regardless of where you are.
Further, you no longer need that fax machine.
If you are already using a VOIP provider for your phone
service, see if they also include a virtual fax service. If you are looking for
a fax service and don’t already have a VOIP provider, check out https://www.faxcompare.com/ for popular
If you can’t meet with your clients, you will often need to get a document into your computer in order to send it to them via email. Additionally, if you are looking at maintaining a digital file system you will also need to get pieces of paper into your computer. The best way to do this is via a desktop scanner. I use the Fujitsu ScanSnap ix1500. At the time of the writing of this article, this scanner is available on Amazon for $399. There are other similar sized scanners out there, but I have never found anything that matches the speed, accuracy, ease of use, and capability of the ScanSnap.
Regardless, you need a scanner. Buy a good one that is easy
Document Signing Service
Another service you may want to consider is a document signing service. The most popular service is DocuSign. There are other alternatives. I use Adobe Sign, which is included free in my Adobe Acrobat DC Pro subscription. In fact, I pay less for both Adobe Sign and Adobe Acrobat DC Pro than I used to pay for DocuSign.
These services allow you to send documents to others to have them electronically sign the document in a secure manner. Depending on the service you use, you can require additional security such as passwords.
Regardless, it is very easy to create, send, and gather
signatures electronically. Honestly, I have been using a service such as this
for my engagement letters for quite some time.
These may be trying times
while we wait for things to hopefully return to normal soon. However, we can
set up selves up for success to be able to work safely from home just as
effectively, perhaps even more so, as we can from the office.