October 20, 2020 ROAD WARRIOR

The Road Warrior’s Tool Kit for the COVID-19 Lockdown

Jeffrey Allen
This new tool kit is very different from those the Road Warrior has described in the past.

This new tool kit is very different from those the Road Warrior has described in the past.

nito100/iStock via Getty Images Plus

I cannot speak for the rest of you, but over the last several months, I have had the feeling that I understand what house arrest must feel like. We have sheltered in place in the San Francisco–Oakland Bay area and watched the situation go from bad to worse. These days, excitement constitutes a trip to Costco (anything to get out of the house for a few minutes). This experience has put a whole new spin on working as a road warrior. I say that because I have always defined a road warrior as someone who works outside of his or her office a reasonable part of the time. By that definition, the effect of the COVID-19 lockdown has turned almost all practicing attorneys into road warriors.

As many of you know, I am semi-retired now, and I have worked out of my house for the last few years. Even so, I maintained a location downtown where I could go to meet clients, conduct alternative dispute resolution (ADR) proceedings, and have my mail and packages delivered. As I had no formal office, almost everything I did as an attorney came under the heading of practicing as a road warrior. For several months during the COVID-19 crisis, that downtown facility was closed as it did not constitute an “essential” business. This left me with no physical place to conduct my client meetings and no place to conduct ADR proceedings. But it proved all right as nobody wanted to have face-to-face meetings or attend an in-person ADR proceeding in the middle of the lockdown.

As a result, I developed a skill that I had previously not worked on very much. In retrospect, I wish I had paid more attention to it. Although, from time to time, I had participated in videoconferences for professional reasons, mostly my professional interactions were face-to-face, over the phone, or in writing. I participated in a few video sessions associated with arbitrations in which I acted as arbitrator, but that was the extent of my experience. Most of my video calls had occurred between me and friends or family members.

Since the lockdown, I have had numerous client meetings, made several court appearances, conducted an arbitration, and have a mediation scheduled for later this week. With the exception of the court appearances, everything has occurred using the Zoom platform. The local courts have opted for BlueJeans (the platform, not the pants).

Although the facility where I previously met with clients and conducted my ADR proceedings has now re-opened with new operating rules (social distancing, masks, etc.), most of my meetings continue to occur online using one of the various videoconferencing platforms. It appears that this is the new normal, and I don’t think it will likely change. Similarly, in the aftermath of the current pandemic, I anticipate that many will continue to eschew working in brick-and-mortar offices now that they have discovered what we road warriors have said for some time: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Office!

The evolution of technology over the last 30 years has put us in the enviable position of not needing to lock ourselves to a specific location to work efficiently and effectively as attorneys. In fact, with a bit of thought and planning, attorneys can and should have the ability to work from almost anywhere, provided they can get a high-speed Internet connection. And, in fact, the places where you cannot get such connection have started to rapidly disappear.

Over the years, as technology has changed, I have, from time to time, opened my briefcase, so to speak, and shared with you my road warrior’s tool kit. I am going to do that again now, but it is a very different tool kit than I have shared in the past due to the fact that the world has changed so dramatically.

With that introduction, here’s what I use as a road warrior.

  1. Laptop. I am an Apple person and prefer Apple’s hardware to other options. I use an Apple laptop (https://www.apple.com). For heavier workloads I use a MacBook Pro. For travel (in the days when travel was allowed), a MacBook. Apple does not appear to have plans to keep the MacBook updated on a current basis and, instead, has recently reintroduced a souped-up MacBook Air. If I intended to buy a laptop for travel today, I would choose that. As my MacBook continues to work well, I will keep it for the present time. If I did not get an Apple and wanted something that ran Windows, I would opt for one of the lightweight and fairly powerful Lenovo laptops. I might also consider Microsoft’s Surface Pro (https://www.microsoft.com), but while I like it as a laptop, I am not a big fan of it as a tablet.
  2. Tablet. I don’t see much choice here; Apple dominates the market with its iPad. I prefer the smaller iPad Pro. Mine has a couple of years on it, but I see no reason to upgrade to the new one just released. Instead, I will wait for one more update, as I anticipate that the next iteration will have 5G compatibility. I have looked at a couple other tablets but have found nothing that compares favorably. For those unfamiliar with the term, 5G represents the fifth generation of mobile communications. It will offer better, stronger, and faster communications than the current systems (mostly 4G and 3G).
  3. Mobile phone. For most of us the mobile phone will prove all the phone we need. I have nothing against landlines in addition to mobile phones, but, in truth, I traded my landline for a voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) device several years ago. While I prefer Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro, you do have very strong competitors here from within the Apple line and from Samsung. Other phones worth considering include the Apple iPhone 11, the Samsung Galaxy S20, and the Samsung Note 10 (https://www.samsung.com). A word of advice: I would hesitate to buy any phone right now except the Samsung Galaxy S20. The S20 already offers 5G compatibility, and the next generation of phones from Apple and the next Samsung Note should be out soon. I expect all will be 5G compatible.
  4. External SSD. Although the solid-state drives (SSDs) still cost substantially more than traditional portable hard drives, they have come down in cost to far more reasonable prices than they were several years ago. In addition, you can get external SSDs up to 2 TB for reasonable prices. I like the SSDs as they work faster, hold up better, and have less susceptibility to damage than traditional drives. They also have a smaller profile and weigh less. My favorites come from SanDisk (less expensive) and Samsung (a bit sleeker and better looking, but also a bit more costly).
  5. Cellular hot spot. I don’t trust public WiFi. I will use it when I have to with the assistance and protection of a virtual private network (VPN). I generally prefer to bring my own cellular hot spot. Even though the cellular hot spot has reasonable security, I use a VPN with it for additional protection. Within the United States, I use Verizon as my provider (although you can use whatever provider works best in your area). I have a 5G-compatible hot spot that also works with 4G. I can swap the SIM card to use it with local data rates in almost any country. Several companies provide devices and sell data packages for international use (assuming we get back to the point where other countries will let us in again). Examples include Skyroam (https://www.skyroam.com) and Glocal Me (https://www.glocalme.com).
  6. Power bank. I have a pretty fair collection of power banks in assorted sizes. I have the ability to recharge and/or run my laptop, tablet, and phone multiple times with my most powerful (biggest and heaviest) bank. That one goes with me on long flights and trips where I anticipate longer times without available power to plug in and recharge. I have smaller and lighter ones that I carry with me regularly.
  7. Headphones. I always take a set of headphones and/or earphones with me. I can use them for phone calls, entertainment, and videoconferencing. I am partial to Bose headphones (https://www.bose.com) and Apple’s AirPods Pro, but there are lots of other decent choices.
  8. Lighting. I have started carrying portable lighting with me. I have found that it comes in handy for many purposes. I can mount it to my laptop and use it to enhance my appearance in a videoconference, I can use it on an airplane to read or work as the plane does not always provide adequate lighting, and I can use it to provide lighting for pictures and/or videos I shoot while traveling, whether I am using my phone’s camera or a stand-alone camera. I am very partial to the Lume Cube products (https://lumecube.com), although other manufacturers make relatively comparable lighting.
  9. Microphone. The only time I may need and will therefore carry a microphone with me is if I am going to do a CLE program or other presentation on the road. I don’t bother to use them for normal video conferences as the microphone in my laptop works satisfactorily for most uses.

That’s pretty much the whole package these days. As long as I can get a fast Internet connection, I can access my law library (online) and my documents (in the cloud). In short, I am in business from home or on the road just about anywhere in the world. For those of you who have followed this column over the years, you will note that the package has shrunk in size and weight. It takes up less space and moves very easily. Accordingly, I normally travel with everything in a messenger bag or a slim backpack. It doesn’t even weigh enough that I need a wheeled computer case for it anymore.

Below are a few things I no longer carry with me on the road and why:

  1. Printer. I never travel with a printer anymore. You can find one in most areas if you really need to print something. In truth, I cannot recall the last time I needed to print something while traveling. I use digital images on my phone or tablet or laptop for almost everything. I do have a multi-function color printer at home.
  2. Scanner. I generally use my phone and an app for scanning on the road. I have a ScanSnap at home for any serious scanning needs.
  3. Stand-alone camera equipment. High-quality stand-alone camera equipment (still and video) takes better pictures than the cameras in mobile phones. System cameras with interchangeable lenses also offer much more flexibility than the cameras in mobile phones. That said, mostly I leave my fancy camera equipment at home and use the camera in my mobile phone for day-to-day purposes. As I have an iPhone 11 Pro, its camera equipment takes quite decent pictures, and it generally suffices for my needs. When I go on vacation, I will take a stand-alone camera, but almost never otherwise.
  4. Paper files. Paper files have become history in my life. I have maintained my files electronically for quite a few years now. As a result, I can carry my entire practice on my laptop and/or a small external SSD. I also have a backup in the cloud in case something happens to my laptop or my SSD. Bottom line: I don’t use paper very much in my practice these days, and I never carry paper files when I travel.

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Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California. He is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of GPSolo magazine and the GPSolo eReport and serves as an editor and the technology columnist for Experience magazine. A frequent speaker and writer on technology topics, he is coauthor (with Ashley Hallene) of Technology Tips for Lawyers and Other Business Professionals (ABA, 2016).

Technology Tips for Lawyers and Other Business Professionals (ABA, 2016)