A look at two evolving, longstanding arrangements
The most recent ABA data on bars that offer telecommuting is from 2014. At that time, 42 percent of unified state bars, 35 percent of voluntary state bars, and 26 percent of local bars offered telecommuting of some sort.
Many of the bars that allow telecommuting originally did so because an existing employee moved out of the area, and the bar wanted to maintain the working relationship. At the Colorado Bar Association, Susie Klein worked as an editor for The Colorado Lawyer for three years, before her husband was transferred to Washington, D.C.
Initially, Klein and the CBA decided to have a temporary arrangement for her to continue editing, until the bar could find a permanent solution. Things worked well, and “the job morphed into this work-from-home position that I’ve had for the last 10 years,” Klein says. She is now managing editor.
Jobs such as editor are typically easier to adapt to telecommuting, many say. As long as she has a good Internet connection, Klein is able to communicate with her work colleagues as well as article authors, and participate in meetings by phone. While there were some technology challenges when she began telecommuting, the widespread availability of high-speed Internet, along with messaging and work-sharing software, make for seamless interaction with the bar.
From the bar’s perspective, the arrangement works well, says Heather Folker, director of communications and marketing. Klein generally comes to Denver at least twice each year, and Folker schedules an editorial board meeting to coincide with those visits. Folker says her only real concern about the telecommuting arrangement is that, since Klein has limited face-to-face contact with colleagues, it's important that she feel connected to the bar and its staff. That’s one reason Klein’s visits typically include some after-work socializing as well.
Perhaps the longest distance and longest lasting telecommuting arrangement belongs to the Bar Association of Erie County. Bonnie O’Brian was director of communications at the BAEC’s Buffalo, N.Y., headquarters for 11 years. After moving to Seattle and working at other jobs for several years, O’Brian resumed her position with BAEC as a telecommuter in 2003.
The bar had always liked her work, and needed someone to serve in the recently vacated communications position while the bar considered its options, says Executive Director Katherine Bifaro. While O’Brian was not prepared to move back east, she did agree to edit the bar’s newspaper remotely.
Eventually, Bifaro asked O’Brian to work full time as a telecommuter as director of communications, and O’Brian agreed.
She has a phone in her home that is connected to the BAEC phone system, so callers can dial the main BAEC number and ask for her extension and have the call go to her. The biggest concern O’Brian faced was the time difference between East and West Coast, which created a gap between when she and BAEC started their respective workdays. O’Brian generally works from 8:30 to 4:30 Pacific time, which means most days she has about five “shared hours” when she and the rest of the BAEC staff are working. Most of the time, it works well, she says, and for emergencies, she is always on call, as she would be if working onsite.