Many of you know that I am now semi-retired. I have closed my full-time brick-and-mortar office and continue to practice law part-time from my home, with an arrangement for a brick-and-mortar location when I need it for meetings or mediations. As I am actually traveling even more now, it turns out that I am more of a road warrior in semi-retirement than I was during the time I practiced full-time.
When I traveled before, I took my entire practice with me so that I could do virtually anything my practice required—other than a trial—from wherever I happened to be. Now, as I have no permanent office other than in my house, my practice lives in travel mode 24/7/365. I really thought that I knew pretty much all there was to know about being a road warrior in the past. I learned even more about it in the last year or so. I will share what I have learned in that time with you in this column in the hope that it will make your life as a road warrior a bit easier, whether you work on the road full-time or part-time.
To make this work well, you need to make sure that you have certain tools. I consider the following tools essential to my practice:
Laptop. Windows or Mac works (I prefer Mac, but use whatever you like). I use an iMac as my desktop computer in my home office and carry a MacBook with me for most of my travels. I also have a MacBook Pro that I use as a computer for trial work (it is more powerful than the MacBook) and as a secondary computer at home so that I can work anywhere in the house.
iPad. I do not consider any of the other tablets suitable for what I do.
Smartphone. I use both an iPhone Xs and a Galaxy S9+. The iPhone is my primary smartphone and I like it best, but either works, and, for that matter, so do many other smartphones.
Scanner. I have used the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 as my principal scanner since I closed my brick-and-mortar office. Before that I had a larger and more powerful scanner at the office and used the ScanSnap at home as a secondary scanner. The ScanSnap works quite satisfactorily as my primary scanner these days. Note: Fujitsu has a new model of the ScanSnap. I have not worked with it yet but hope to review it for you soon. You can get other scanners, but it will be hard to match the value of the ScanSnap iX500 (which continues in the lineup as a current model).
Printer/copier. You will want to have a decent printer—ideally one that prints in color as well as black and white. You have your choice of many manufacturers. I use an HP multi-function machine in my office as my primary printer and copier. While it has a scanner function, I prefer the ScanSnap, so I use that and occasionally use the HP as a backup. The multi-function machine also handles facsimiles, but I have disconnected my fax line and now use eFax, an online faxing service (efax.com). That way I can get facsimiles wherever I am and send them from my laptop on the road. eFax is not the only electronic fax provider, but I am happy with the system. That said, faxes are going the way of the dinosaur. E-mail has pretty much replaced the facsimile. In fact, I rarely get faxes any more.
Cellular hot spot. I have two of these, one from Verizon that I use in the United States and another that works internationally at relatively reasonable rates using an international SIM card. These let me have secure and private Internet access almost anywhere in the world. I use a virtual private network (VPN) almost all the time, including when on my own protected networks. It is not essential on a secure private network, but more like the belt-and-suspenders approach to holding up a pair of pants. It provides extra security. In a public network context, using a VPN becomes absolutely essential for data security.
Portable dictation equipment. This is not essential for everyone, as not everyone uses dictation any longer. If you like to dictate, you should have a good quality dictation device to round out your office equipment.
You will want a good, fast, reliable, and dependable Internet provider and high-speed connections for your work. I have high-speed Internet at my home/office, and my cellular hot spots will give me 3G or 4G speeds, depending on what is available. One of them has the capacity to handle 5G speeds, which should be introduced in some areas by the end of this year. Get ready for a serious shift in speed, access, and usability of the Internet. Also, recognize that virtually none of the devices currently available have 5G compatibility, so you will need to upgrade to get the advantage of 5G. Your devices will continue to work on 4G and 3G, which will function for the foreseeable future. As 5G will have advantages for personal as well as professional use, you will ultimately want to upgrade to it. Unless you spend a lot of time in an area where providers will start the 5G rollout, you have no need to rush out and buy new equipment as soon as it becomes available. As a practical matter, it will take several years for the complete rollout of 5G. Remember that we have had 4G for many years now and 3G still exists and provides the only cellular service in some areas as 4G has not become ubiquitous.
While technology allows you to function fairly well as a true solo without much backup or support, I have found that having some real live support does come in handy. I found a support person almost 40 years ago, and she has stayed with me ever since. She started as a paralegal, got her license to practice, and worked for my firm as an associate until I split off from my partners in 1994. From that point forward, she worked for me as a part-time associate and part-time office manager. Having that support made my life as a road warrior much easier because it enabled me to travel as much as I did, leaving her to care for the office; I knew she would go through the mail and get me any important information, provide backup for me in terms of preparation and covering those court appearances that I could not do by phone, receive packages, and even pay the bills. She truly works as a Jill-of-All-Trades. I strongly recommend that each of you find such a person—but I doubt that many, if any, of you will be lucky enough to do that.
As an alternative, I suggest that you make an arrangement with a brick-and-mortar facility that accommodates virtual office setups. This arrangement will give you a place to meet with clients when you need to do so and receive your mail and packages. Ideally, they will open your mail, scan it, and send it to you wherever you are when you travel. You will likely pay a fee for this service, but it will be worth it. Be careful to take appropriate steps to comply with the protection of client confidentiality with such an arrangement. Many such operations will provide phone-answering services for you as well, forwarding messages to your cell phone or by e-mail. Alternatively, you can use independent phone-answering services. Another option is to have all calls transferred to your cell phone, making it, in effect, your primary office telephone.
To make this work well for you, you will need to convert from a paper or primarily paper file system to an electronic file system, if you have not already done so. Every document that has any significance to my practice gets scanned and stored on my computer. The electronic file has become my primary file. I can easily copy the entire file for a client or all my current files for all my clients to a thumb drive or my laptop and take the files with me wherever I go. I also keep a copy in the cloud, which I can access from anywhere in the world that I have Internet access. When you travel with client files or store them in the cloud, you need to make sure that you have taken appropriate steps to protect confidential information. This usually means making sure your devices have password or biometric protection and that you have encrypted confidential data.
You will also want an Internet-based billing system to enable you to record time and expenses wherever you happen to do your work on any given day. As a solo or small firm attorney, you know the importance of timely getting your bills out. Your billing program should allow you to do that remotely as well.
The procedures I outlined above have allowed me to practice successfully as a road warrior for many years and now enable me to continue to work on a part-time basis in semi-retirement, conducting my business from almost anywhere in the world.