April 23, 2019 Technology

TAPAs: How to Set Up and Use a VPN

By Jeffrey Allen and Ashley Hallene

We have talked about virtual private networks (VPNs) for some time. Hopefully most of our readers have figured out how to get and use one by now. For those who have not, we have decided to make it even easier for you by focusing this column on getting and setting up a VPN.

Tip 1: Choose an Appropriate VPN

You have many choices you can make. Your first choice: Should I use a commercial VPN or set up my own? While setting up your own will not prove that difficult, we recommend that you do as we have done and choose commercial VPNs and use those. There are many commercial VPNs to choose from. Rather than get into a discussion about which is the best VPN, we will give you some examples of well-respected commercial VPNs for you to consider: VPN.ExpressNordVPN, CyberGhost, IPVanish, and Surfshark. These represent a handful of the available commercial VPN programs, but we consider them among the best. You can look online and get detailed reviews of these and many others and use those reviews to help you make your choice. For whatever it may be worth, we did that and opted to use NordVPN as our primary commercial VPN. We have had it installed for the better part of a year and had no problems with it.

Tip 2: Choose A VPN That Will Work and Connect Easily with All Your Devices

While most VPNs will work with any device that connects to the Internet, some work better with one device than another. Some have apps that make connection easier as well. Most of the good commercial VPNs have apps available in the iTunes App Store and in the Google Play Store. Most will also work through your browser on a computer. Some even have apps to install easily on a computer.

Tip 3: Install the App and/or the VPN Software on All Your Devices

Once you select your VPN(s), install them on all your Internet devices. That includes smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktops. If you have not installed it on a device, that device cannot access the Internet through the VPN and does not get the protection from the VPN.

Tip 4: Use the VPN at All Times!

Although using a password-protected network that you control and set up with a strong password is probably safe (certainly safer than using the public network at the local Starbucks or in the local shopping mall), it still has some risk. It may compare to holding up a pair of pants with both a belt and suspenders, but we recommend that you use the VPN whenever you connect to the Internet, even at home on your personal computer or at your office using a securely connected computer.

Tip 5: Get a Backup VPN

Like any other device that connects to the Internet, you will find that sometimes your primary VPN will not connect or does not connect well. The VPN’s failure to connect can make it difficult to use the Internet. At that point your choices are: (1) have a backup VPN and try to see if it works; (2) go bare and hope for the best; or (3) get off the Internet until your VPN can connect. Having a second VPN available may allow you to safely stay online when your primary does not work in a particular location. While VPNs are not terribly expensive, they generally do cost something. We think the cost of this “insurance policy” is worth the benefit.

Tip 6: Follow the Law!

This seems like a strange tip, but it is not, and we are serious. While VPNs are generally compliant with the law in most countries, some countries ban them, and others limit their use. For example, we are advised that the following countries have placed technological barriers to block VPNs or prohibit their use (the list is not intended to be exhaustive): Belarus, China, Iran, Iraq, Oman, Russia, Turkey, and Uganda. For a more complete list and more discussion about this issue, click here for an article on countries trying to ban the use of VPNs. Some countries, such as Russia, will allow the use of state-approved VPNs. Rumor has it that Russia will not approve a VPN that does not track usage. We are not fans of VPNs that track usage, but using any other can result in the imposition of penalties and fines. The moral of this story is that if you are in a country that restricts the use of VPNs, comply with the law or risk the consequences. In such a situation, you may want to turn off your regular VPN and use a state-approved VPN, limit your time online, or simply stay off the Internet entirely until you return to a safe haven for VPN use.

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Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California, where he has practiced since 1973. He is active in the ABA (particularly in the GPSolo and Senior Lawyers Divisions), the California State Bar Association and the Alameda County Bar Association. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is Editor-in-Chief of GPSolo magazine and GPSolo eReport. He serves as an editor and the technology columnist for Experience Magazine and has served on the Board of Editors of the ABA Journal. He also serves on the ABA’s Standing Committee on Information Technology. Recently, he coauthored (with Ashley Hallene) Technology Solutions for Today's Lawyer and iPad for Lawyers: The Tools You Need at Your Fingertips. In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, he has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He teaches at California State University of the East Bay. He may be reached at jallenlawtek@aol.com.


Ashley Hallene is a petroleum landman at Alta Mesa Holdings, LP, and practices Oil and Gas law, Title Examination, Due Diligence, Acquisitions and Oil and Gas Leasing in Houston, Texas. She maintains a diverse solo practice on the side. Ashley is the coauthor of the technology overview Making Technology Work for You (A Guide for Solo and Small Firm Attorneys) along with attorney Jeffrey Allen. She has published articles on legal technology in GPSolo Magazine, GPSolo eReport, and the TechnoLawyer Newsletter. Ashley is an active member of the American Bar Association’s General Practice Solo & Small Firm Division, ABA’s Young Lawyers Division, the Texas Young Lawyers Association, the Houston Young Lawyers Association, and the Houston Association of Petroleum Landmen. She frequently speaks in technology CLEs and is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Technology and Reviews Department of the GPSolo eReport. She may be reached at ahallene@hallenelaw.com.