December 18, 2018

RVing for Retiring Lawyers: Driving Toward the Future

Vicki Levy Eskin

Editor's Note:  This article is adapted from a chapter in an upcoming book to be published by the Senior Lawyers Division.

People take to the road for many reasons. For nearly a decade, I’ve used a motorhome to combine business and pleasure for hearings, meetings, and teaching continuing legal education courses in and out of my state. My husband is retired full time, and we have a dog who goes almost everywhere with us; if we are gone for more than a month, I fly back to my home and office for a week to ten days to attend hearings, meet with clients, and check on the home, hearth, and practice. And I love it.

I started my law career working with a state agency, leaving service before vesting in the state retirement system. I’ve had a couple of decades of a comfortable private practice but simply didn’t put away enough to feel comfortable to fully retire. So, I’ve opted to take advantage of my increasingly part-time practice by combining travel in the RV with working from a distance to enable me to vest in the state retirement system while maintaining my practice. How? We just moved our 41-foot motorhome to a temporary location a few hours from our sticks and bricks home so that I can take a temporary position with the state to complete the time needed to vest in the state retirement system.

For the next several months, we will reside in our motorhome in a lovely RV park with a short commute to a state office, reversing our weekends and court holidays for traveling to our home, setting up visits with clients, and meeting with my staff at my private practice in a similar fashion to when I’ve traveled for months at a time.

Having a reliable, trustworthy staff enables me to retain my private practice without worrying about dropping the ball, letting my clients down, or having them feel abandoned. Some of my clients have been with me for more than a decade and like having “check-ups” from time to time to look over their estate and/or business plans to determine if any changes are needed. Most of my long-time clients are very accustomed to communicating with me via email or chatting during off hours as I’ve taken long travel leave, so when I’ve advised them of my temporary absences, each of them has been as supportive of me as they know I am of them. They know that they can count on me to ensure their work is handled.

I have committed to the state agency that during office hours, I will do no work whatsoever on my private practice. I will use vacation and personal leave days to fulfill any outstanding court appearances.  And the agency understands that I have a few prior commitments that must be handled. And, of course, during the lunch hour, my time is my own and this works for checking on private practice emails and returning phone calls. It is all doable if one is committed to making it work.

Without the RV, I would have had a more difficult time meeting this goal toward retirement, relying upon nearby temporary openings, which might also have placed me in a conflict-of-interest position.

I have a good internet connection at my temporary RV home and the ability to easily relocate if we find another area we would like to visit.  An added benefit of this temporary situation is that the cost of residing away from my sticks and bricks residence is deductible for up to six months.

When I first started traveling via motorhome, I had way more equipment than I use now. I had an all-in-one printer/scanner/copier/fax, a VOIP landline, a PC, e-reader, wi-fi hotspot, and cellphone that linked to a laptop. It took up a lot of space but did not always provide for my needs. Then as now, GoToMyPC.com gives me the freedom to actually log onto my office PC and into my shared office database to draft or modify documents.

Now, in addition to GoToMyPC, I rely almost solely on an iPad and my cell phone. That's it! I no longer bother with the other cumbersome equipment, though I do have a laptop for backup and for viewing documents too large for me to see well on the iPad.  As all my court pleadings are via an Internet portal, I do not need written paperwork. And if I do, every RV park where we've stayed has a business office where I can print documents. I bring along a ream of paper and some of my letterhead and printed envelopes in various sizes, padded envelopes, and my FedEx and UPS account numbers.

I recently added an all in one desktop that doesn’t take up a lot of space, but admittedly, makes documents easier to read and modify due to the size of the monitor and the full-size keyboard. But this is a new addition and during one of my longest trips, my iPad handled the majority of my needs quite handily. I have chargers at all my perches throughout the motorhome and keep it connected as much as possible so that I don’t lose the battery at an inopportune time. The tablet is lightweight and fits easily into my purse and makes handling matters quickly and easily something of a joy! I cannot imagine working on the road without some sort of tablet with its own internet connection, but I am acquainted with others who aren’t as attached to their tablet as I am.   

I review and electronically sign documents with ease, but I also find a printer to download a document requiring an original signature, and fax, email, or send back the original with very little inconvenience or expense, as we are rarely far from a place that can provide what is needed to complete the process.

For short trips (under three weeks), our personal mail is held. But when we leave for longer periods, our personal mail is delivered to my office. My paralegal has become quite proficient in determining what needs to be scanned and forwarded to me immediately and what can wait until my return.

All bills (business and private) are scanned and emailed to me. And just as when I am at the office, I set up payment through online banking. The goal is to handle each document once, make a decision, and move onto the next task.

As most of the courts with which I deal now require online filing with electronic signatures, filing documents from afar and after hours is simple. Clients still come by the office to sign notarized documents, or they sign and notarize at their convenience, placing originals in the mail to the office.  Often, clients do not even realize that I am out of the office for more than two weeks at a time.

Although I occasionally file notices of unavailability where I have a bit of a trust issue with opposing counsel, my staff and I can check my cloud-based calendar (accessible by tablet) at a glance to determine my availability. When we are more than a couple of hours away from my office, there is usually an airport close enough to handle emergency trips, but I have yet to encounter one. My office staff receives immediate notice from the court portal of any filed pleading in our state.

We recently changed to an invoicing program which automatically informs my email when a client clicks through and pays immediately via credit card, making the ability to monitor cash flow much easier, though online banking and cloud-based billing and time management are also easily accessed.

I am more than delighted to share tales of my successes and foibles with anyone contemplating this lifestyle. It has worked well for my family and should happily work for yours.

No one will ever work as hard or take as much care with your business as you will. So, you must be prepared to have some reduction in cash flow. And, as with any vacation, the days immediately before departure and following your return, will require extra work and extra organization. If you talk too much about your travels, clients and others may worry that you aren’t as interested in helping them as they would like or that you are going to retire in full shortly.

I have addressed this by making sure that I return calls promptly, check emails religiously, and assure everyone that I have the best possible life – extremely cooperative staff, court administration, clients, that I try to bill a minimum of three hours each day and that I don’t plan on ever fully retiring, as this life works for me – it keeps me happy. I still adore my clients, and I’ve been doing this long enough to know that I really am able to have it all: traveling with my spouse and dog, seeing the country, eating great food, keeping up my legal skills, and best of all, helping my clients – and I’m never further away than a phone call, text, or email. I can’t imagine giving up my RV lifestyle.

Author

Vicki Levy Eskinowner of Levy & Associates, P.A. (levylawyers.com), in Longwood, Florida, focuses her practice on circuit and appellate mediation in addition to her probate, guardianship, and estate practice. She served three years as the National Solo and Small Firm Conference Chair for the ABA Solo, Small Firm, and General Practice Division and served as ABA Advisor to the Uniform Law Commission Committee drafting the model code addressing fiduciary access to digital assets and the parallel committee for the Real Property, Probate, and Trust Law Section of the Florida Bar. She has written and lectured on preserving digital assets, international estate planning, and other areas of estate and trust practice, and small office management. She is active in local and state bars, serves on several community boards, and mentors other small firm practitioners. Her email address is Vicki@levylawyers.com.