October 01, 2011

Working from Home: The Small Firm Perspective

Jimmy L. Verner Jr.


I’m a partner in a four-lawyer family law boutique in Dallas, Texas. During rush hour, it takes me about 45 minutes to commute to the office each way. During non–rush hours, the commute is about 30 minutes each way.

Over the years, my practice became concentrated on family law appeals and on technical aspects of family law such as characterization and tracing of property. In other words, I began spending much more time studying documents, researching, and writing than I did meeting with clients or attending court.

One day it occurred to me that I really didn’t need to commute to my office to do most of these things. With the proper home-office setup, I could research and write at home. Our office staff could use the automated scanner to send me documents by e-mail. If the files were too large to be e-mailed, the staff could upload them to a secure, password-protected site from which I could retrieve them. When I needed to file documents with the court, I could fax or e-mail them to the office for the staff to process. The staff could field my phone calls or I could give other lawyers (never clients!) my cell phone number.

The decision to work from home has been wonderful for me. I avoid the time, expense, and irritation of commuting. I can usually avoid rush-hour traffic when I need to meet with clients. My dry-cleaning bill is meager because most of the time I don’t need to wear dress clothes. My normal work uniform is blue jeans and a T-shirt. When I need to mail original documents, I buy the postage online, then walk the mile to the local post office. That journey gets me some modest exercise.

So I began showing up at the office less and less frequently. How did the office take it? At first, the other attorneys were disconcerted, but then they realized they could reach me anytime by e-mail or telephone. In addition, if any of them needed me to be at the office, I could meet them there. I probably spend a few hours every couple of weeks at the office. When I go to court, mediate, or attend out-of-office depositions, I leave from home rather than commute to the office first. With the tech tools now available, I don’t need to go to the office to pick up the file.

There are drawbacks to working at home. If we had young children, that would be a problem—especially if I had to take care of them during the day. We do have dogs and cats that sometimes are demanding, but only for a little while. There is one combination blessing and curse: I’m always available for deliveries, the cable TV guy, the plumber, or whoever. But it’s a lot easier to schedule these people when you know you will be home anyway.

The biggest problem I faced in working from home was on the home front itself: I probably shouldn’t have joked that my commute is three seconds just as my wife was leaving for work. She’s an OB/GYN doctor and therefore must commute. When exhausted after a tough day, she might ruefully muse whether I slept all day when I wasn’t watching soap operas. But I am a focused worker. When I dig in, I am not easily distracted. Once in a while my wife has a weekday or afternoon off. When deadlines prevent me from taking off to be with her, she sees how I work. (I have since shut up about my three-second commute and volunteered to do the grocery shopping.)

Our law firm recently took another step toward making me a mostly virtual lawyer. We have four attorney offices in our practice’s space. One of them (mine) is rarely used. I don’t even use it for client meetings because we usually meet with clients in one of our two conference rooms. Not long ago, my partners floated the idea of hiring an associate who would move into my office. We all agreed to this plan because it utilizes existing office space instead of requiring us to reconfigure the office or rent additional space. I am now a lawyer without an office—just conference rooms when I need them, great partners, and a crack staff to help me work from home.








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