When you’re on vacation, technology can be your friend or foe, depending on how you use it. You can allow yourself to be overwhelmed by e-mail, or you can use technology (free technology) to deal with your clients more effectively.
Free technological solutions are important for solos because you don’t have a law partner who can cover for you when you are away, nor do most of you have a big budget for fancy solutions. The tools described here are suitable even for those on a tight budget—you can redirect phone calls, faxes, and even e-mails from a particular sender if you wish and have your voice mails transcribed and sent to you in an e-mail, all for free. Really.
One of the most impressive free products out there when you want to escape from your office without losing all of your clients (I’m guessing that losing just the slow or non-payers would be okay) is Google Voice.
With Google Voice you are given a phone number for free. There is no hardware provided, such as a cell phone. What Google Voice becomes is dependent on your choice of the options being offered. At first, it is a bit strange dealing with a “create your own phone service,” but once you get used to it, I think that you’ll find it very handy.
What can you do with your Google Voice phone number? Here are some possibilities:
- Have it ring on any phone or phones that you want. For example, you can have it ring on your office number when you are in the office and your cell phone number when you are out of your office. Or have it ring on both numbers. Also, you can schedule it to ring on certain phones at certain times of the day, so that you don’t always have to be changing where it rings. If your schedule is regular enough, you can have it ring on your work phone from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, on your cell phone from 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm, and then nowhere from 10:00 pm to 9:00 am.
- Have it ring on a certain phone for certain people. Or completely block certain people if you want.
- Transcribe all your voice mails and send these transcriptions to you via e-mail, with a link to the original audio message if you need to listen for any garbled words. You’ll be amazed the first time you receive a complete transcription of a voice mail, which I find most of the time are transcribed well enough to get the meaning of the message, and sometimes even word for word.
- Set up conference calls easily. Just have people call you, and accept them into the conversation as they arrive.
- Screen your calls. Just send a call to voice mail, listen in to the person leaving the voice mail, and take the call if the voice mail being recorded intrigues you.
- Provide personalized greetings for particular individuals. Have one greeting for work and another for personal use.
- Use the service on your smartphone. The Google Voice mobile app works on BlackBerry, iPhone, and Android phones. You can take calls through the app, read the entire history of your voice-mail transcripts, and access the other features from your cell phone.
- Set your current cell phone number to use the Google Voice voice-mail system. This is my favorite Google Voice feature. When you don’t answer a call made to your existing cell phone number, Google Voice takes the message and e-mails a transcript of it to you. Why is this so great? Because if you are on vacation in a foreign country, you don’t ever have to have your cell phone on to keep up with any messages that you have received. You can review them in your e-mail box and then respond via Skype or similar Internet-based telephony service, avoiding huge phone charges normally incurred for using your cell phone outside of the U.S., if you can even use your cell phone (most of the world uses GSM technology for cell phones, which is incompatible with the CDMA technology used by many U.S. carriers).
As you can imagine, there are a multitude of ways that Google Voice can help you deal with your law practice when you are on vacation. If you give out the Google Voice number to clients as the way to reach you when you are vacationing in the U.S., you can have the number ring on your cell phone’s Google Voice mobile app. That way, you can screen your own calls by listening to the beginning of a voice mail to decide whether or not to take the call. If there is a period when you can’t or won’t be answering your cell phone (and I hope that there is), you can have the Google Voice number ring at an assistant’s phone.
With your Google Voice number you can decide to have only certain key clients’ phone calls ring through to your cell phone. You can program all others to go to voice mail, which you can check when you read your e-mail.
I have only listed some of the features of Google Voice here and only made a few suggestions as to how to use the features that I have described. With a little effort and thought, I am sure that you can discover more ways to use this free service to make your vacation more fun and less work.
With your e-mail program, whether it’s Outlook or something else, you can sort and filter e-mails to deal with them better while you’re away and on your return. If you don’t do so already, create folders in your e-mail program for your most active clients, and then create filters with your e-mail program to send e-mails related to each of those clients to the correct e-mail folder. This can be done by creating filters for e-mails from certain parties to go to certain folders, so that you get all or most of the e-mails relevant to a particular client sorted into the correct folder.
The fax, a holdover from the Eisenhower years (okay, I exaggerate a little) that for some reason doesn’t disappear in the face of scans, PDF documents, and e-mails, can be a real problem when you are on vacation. How do you, solo lawyer, keep track of faxes curling out of your fax machine back in the office when you are going down a water slide with your kids at a water park? Try eFax. Go to www.efax.com/efax-free, where you can sign up for a 30-day free trial of online faxing with a fax number, which delivers all of your faxes via e-mail. I recommend that you use this as a permanent solution to your clumsy fax machine that takes up too much space in your office anyway.
Some Final Advice
Lawyers took vacations before there were fax machines, cell phones, or the Internet. The problem is that the expectations of clients (and lawyers) have been raised to unreasonable levels—and it is your job to reduce them. Tell your clients that you only will be checking your e-mail every three days, and then only if the tequila has worn off.
Don’t try to get some time away by saying that you are in trial or some other lame excuse. Sooner or later you will get caught and be known as a liar.
Tell your clients that your departure date is two days before you actually are leaving, and that your return date is two days after your actual return. This will give you some time to clean up before you go and to recover from the pile of mail and e-mail when you get back.
If you are traveling overseas, get a data package for your cell phone so you can check and reply to your e-mail, but don’t get the voice package. If you’ve set up your cell phone to use Google Voice as your cell phone’s voice mail, you will receive any messages left there in your e-mail, so there is no need to make or receive phone calls on your cell phone.
Then do your best to use your cell phone to check e-mails only when you can tap into a WiFi system. Turn off your cell phone when you are not using it to avoid exceeding the limit of your data package without your knowledge.
When it comes to vacations, you have two options: Either never take a vacation so that you never miss a possible new client—and die young of a heart attack—or take vacations to have a better life, and occasionally miss a potential client inquiry. Half of those client inquiry calls don’t work out to be real clients anyway. Do you want to be chained to your desk for some waste-of-time sponger trying to get free advice from you?
Remember, clients respect you for taking a vacation—it shows that you are successful.
Make your personal life a priority by taking a good vacation. If you don’t, then your law practice will always win when it comes to where you spend your time, and as a consequence you will lose. Lose what? Let’s see. Your health. Your marriage. Your kid’s childhood. Your friends. Is that enough?