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

Winter 2003 vol. 9 Number 2

From the Editor-in-Chief: Leaving Your Safety "Net" Behind

By Robin Page West

It's been a long time since I've operated without technical support. Over the past decade, I've built what I consider to be a highly effective assemblage of gadgets to help me function at peak levels as a small-firm litigator, taking them with me wherever I go.
I can "ultra-forward" my office phone anywhere, so clients can call me without knowing my whereabouts or my home number. My cell phone is equipped with caller ID and text messaging. My e-mail is configured to be accessible from any location; my PDA is nestled in my purse, and my featherweight laptop sports a chic retractable modem cord I picked up free at an ABA Annual Meeting Expo.

Early on, though, I recognized that used indiscriminately, these gadgets could pull me in too many directions at once, making me a frantic mess. I decided technology should help me be more productive and efficient and not provide whoever wants it immediate access to me 24/7 (which is what happens when you give your mobile number to too many people.)
I was feeling pretty darn smug about the wonderful balance I had struck between work and personal life, and how my techno-solutions made it all possible, when my husband proposed a romantic Valentine's Day getaway to a bed and breakfast in the historic Chesapeake Bay seaport of St. Michaels, Maryland. He told me the tiny brick Victorian boasted authentic period décor, a wood-burning fireplace in our bedroom, Laura Ashley bed linens, and a gourmet chef on the premises. "When do we leave?" I asked.

But after my initial delight, I started wondering. Do they have a fax machine? Will I be able to get online with my laptop? What about the phone? I called and learned to my dismay that there was no phone in our room, not even a phone jack for the laptop, much less a high-speed connection. No, there's no TV in your room, either, the property manager stated, without apology. I'm sure we could have found a place that would have fed my e-mail addiction, but I decided to stick with my husband's plan. I packed my bags, and left the gadgetry behind.

A couple of times in the car I thought about checking for messages or e-mail, but once it finally sank in that I could not, a funny thing happened. A feeling of relaxation swept over me, and for the next 48 hours, I did something I had not done since technology entered my law practice. I put work out of my mind, and lived in the moment. We strolled around town, admired the architecture, and talked about the weather. The anticipation of sitting in front of the fire at the end of the day, eating chili-spiced brownies, and drinking hot chai, was enough. I was complete, just being there, and being in the moment. Something that just would not have been possible if my laptop had been along.

Robin Page West, editor-in-chief of SOLO, is a principal at Cohan & West, P.C., a four-lawyer firm in Baltimore, Maryland. She can be reached at



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