American Bar Association
General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division

An Office Away from the Office

By Tracey E. Skinner

Whether it’s a sabbatical, disability, family leave, or, as in my case, maternity leave, many solos don't believe they can return to a full-time practice after an extended leave. But it can be done. I did it. And here's how.

The secret is to be able to communicate from home with your staff and clients almost as if you were at the office.

1. Inform your clients that you'll be on leave and reducing your workload. But let them know that you'll continue to work on certain matters, either by yourself or with co-counsel, or that you can refer them to select counsel.

2. Prepare and pay your staff to work in your absence. Tell your staff what to say to clients and how and when to get in touch with you. You may not want daily phone calls, so let your staff know.

3. Transfer all bookkeeping matters and accounts to your bookkeeper, and provide for signatory authorization, if needed.

4. Set up a voice-mail system on your office phone, so you don't need to forward calls to your home. It also allows you to pick up messages at your convenience.

Setting Up the Home Office

• Install a second phone line dedicated to your fax and e-mail, and get Caller ID, which not only screen calls, but allows you to give important clients your home number.

• Make certain your e-mail is accessible from home, as well as the office.

• Buy or borrow the following: a fax machine, a computer, and a printer.

• Stock up on sundries, such as legal pads, Post-its, and staples.

There are special software programs that allow you to connect with your office computer from home, but my legal assistant and I were able to work quite efficiently with only e-mail, a fax machine, messenger and express mail services, plus the U.S. post office.

A home office in addition to a regular office is no longer extravagant—thanks to technology. Even though my maternity leave is over, I still use my home office because it actually bolsters my efficiency and availability. I can spend mornings with the kids while e-mailing and faxing documents to clients. I can work late at night while the twins sleep. With a home office, I no longer have to be at my downtown office to get the job done.

Tracey E. Skinner is a solo practitioner in Baltimore, Maryland, handling commercial real estate and business transactions. Even with the task of raising twins, she works full-time, thanks in large part to her legal assistant, Laurie Koontz. She can be reached at teskinner@aol.com.

 

 

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