Working Remotely: 10 Tools That Turn Dreams Into Realities

Volume 38 Number 2


About the Authors

 Donna Neff is an estates and trusts attorney and principal at Neff Law Office Professional Corporation in Ottawa, Canada. She is the author of “Simplified Estate Accounting: A Guide for Executors, Trustees and Attorneys.” Donna is a member of the ABA TECHSHOW planning board.

Natalie Sanna is a once-practicing attorney who works entirely from home (thanks to a paperless office!) as a law clerk for Neff Law Office Professional Corporation.

Adobe Acrobat has been an integral part of my paperless office for more than 10 years. As with most other applications, there are certain things that I do with Acrobat every day. Here are some tips, based on nearly 10 years of daily use.  

Customize Acrobat to Suit Your Needs

Tip No. 1 is to customize the toolbars. It’s easy and will improve your productivity. As a lawyer, I have never had occasion to need to know the zoom percentage of the current display, nor have I eveIf asked to visualize a lawyer’s office, dollars to donuts the average person would describe a wood-paneled office with the lawyer toiling away at a large mahogany desk in front of shelves lined with law books. However, in this brave new world where technology advances at breakneck speed, the reality of a lawyer’s workplace is changing. What about the lawyer whose office is thousands of miles away while she is seated at a Buenos Aires café enjoying the warm February sunshine, sipping an iced tea while reviewing a complex estate plan for a client back home? Or what about the young mother sitting with her laptop at the dining room table reviewing files, drafting documents and emailing clients, all while her toddlers play happily beside her?

These are our realities. Thanks to a paperless office and maximizing our use of available technology, we’ve achieved what many only dream of: the ability to work efficiently and effectively away from our bricks and mortar office. How do we do it? In no particular order, here are 10 of the tools that we use to work remotely. If you’ve dreamt of doing what we’re doing, we hope that you will be inspired by our ideas and will soon enjoy the same freedom and flexibility.

1 iPAD 2

Although we thought there would be no particular order to this list, we really have to begin with our newfound favorite, the iPad 2. Not regular Mac users, two months ago after much research and discussion, we bought an iPad 2 with both Wi-Fi and 3G capability and officially joined the Apple revolution.

We love how easy to use and truly portable it is. A gentle, quick swipe and the screen scrolls right, left, up, down. Touch it with a finger in the right place and magical things happen—a letter appears, an unwanted email disappears, photos scroll by. It’s hard to beat the iPad’s portability when you consider that a typical laptop plus charging brick weighs around eight pounds, while the iPad with its featherweight charging cord add up to less than 1.5 pounds.

And the apps: over 140,000 and counting last time we checked. Many are free. Many business-focused apps that are not free can be purchased for under $20. Of the apps that we’ve downloaded for working remotely, most cost less than $10 each. Here are a few that we’ve discovered so far:

Dragon Dictation: Speak and save drafts, emails, lists

Documents To Go: View, edit, create Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint documents

iAnnotate PDF: Manage, annotate, share PDFs

iThoughtsHD: Mind mapping, organize thoughts and ideas

LogMeIn Ignition: Access via the internet to a desktop computer

Evernote: Capture and organize notes, audio clips, photos, and more

Dropbox: Cloud file storage; sync across devices; share (or not)

Hipmunk Flight Search: Awesome visual flight comparison tool

The iPad is not all sweetness (ease of use) and light (as in light-weight), however. It is annoying not to be able to natively view Flash media, printing is a challenge, and learning a new user interface takes time.

As we are new to all things iPad, we suggest you check out a few books we’ve found especially useful: “iPad in One Hour for Lawyers” by Tom Mighell; “iPad at Work” by David Sparks; and “Tips & Tricks: iPad 2 Secrets” by Mark Errett, Tom Oxlade and Jon Bonnick.

2 Laptop/Netbook

As much as we love the iPad 2, we find it’s best suited for viewing, commenting, researching and emailing. For serious document creation and heavy editing, a laptop or a netbook (smaller and lighter than a laptop and Internet-ready) is a must. With the use of an application such as LogMeIn (discussed below), you can sign in to your computer at the office from any place that you have access to high-speed Internet service.

When we shop for a laptop or netbook, we look for:

A product designed for business use rather than consumer use;

A longer warranty (at least three years) than is typically available for a consumer product;

Ethernet as well as Wi-Fi connectivity; and

The ability to connect a second monitor with or without a docking station.

3 Skype

Keeping in touch has never been so easy (and so cheap), thanks to Skype. Just ask one of their 663 million users. This VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) application allows telephone calls to be made over the Internet. So, when we are some distance away from the office, as long as we have an Internet connection, we can use Skype to connect with the team back home or speak with clients or colleagues anywhere. We’ve found conference calls to be a breeze. Well in advance of the call, we set up a Skype group with all of the intended participants including either a Skype name or a landline. At the appointed hour, with one click we can have Skype call everyone in the group.

4 Webcam

As a picture is truly worth a thousand words, we find a webcam important for remote lawyering. Although almost every netbook and laptop comes equipped with a built-in camera, the desktop back at the office may not be so equipped. When video conferencing with team members or clients who are back at our office, having a webcam installed on a desktop at the office and using a webcam-equipped netbook or laptop at the remote location allows everyone to see each other. We find that being able to see facial expressions and read body language is of great assistance during such meetings. The sense of connection is enhanced and there is a real feeling of being there. For this reason, our boardroom setup includes a large television screen and a webcam connected to a desktop computer. We have found that a large television screen is more cost-effective than a true computer monitor of the same size. Televisions do not typically include a built-in webcam, but one can easily be connected.

5 SmartPhone

This really goes without saying, since who leaves home these days without their SmartPhone? However, we do recognize that the BlackBerry is experiencing a significant challenge from the iPhone and other touch-screen SmartPhones. Until the security concerns of other SmartPhones are addressed, we plan to continue our use of the BlackBerry.  

6 Mikogo

Mikogo (Swahili for “to show” or “to display”) is an easy-to-use, desktop-sharing tool. Using Mikogo, it is possible to share a computer screen with up to 25 participants simultaneously. For us, it is a definite must-have for online meetings and Web conferences. It is also indispensable for online collaboration, from providing remote technical support to reviewing and editing projects to exploring new software. 

7 iPod

An iPod is a nifty little tool that shouldn’t be overlooked as a remote lawyering tool. The sharp, clear display is quite readable, color photos and graphics are amazing, and it tucks easily in a pocket. It is great for podcasts and replaying training sessions. And it has a use or two that you may not have thought of.

Recently, using the iPod during a house call, we took a photo of the client’s check. After leaving the client’s home, we deposited the check at the bank before heading home. Upon returning to the office the next morning, the photo of the check was downloaded to an office computer for our bookkeeper’s reference. If there is no concern about security, photos can, of course, be emailed directly from a Wi-Fi equipped iPod.

8 Printer/Scanner

As we often need to revise and print documents during house calls, we carry a Canon Pixma iP100 printer along with a laptop or netbook. For some house calls, we also bring along a small, very portable scanner. Fujitsu and Neat, among others, manufacture portable scanners. When deciding which printer or scanner to buy, we consider: size and weight; ability to run on batteries; Wi-Fi capability to allow printing wirelessly; speed; reliability; and for printers, cartridge cost and availability.

As with any hardware or software purchase, we read the reviews, talk to other users, and then buy the product that best fits our budget and needs.

9 Portable Hard Drive

If we expect to be working where there is no Wi-Fi, such as during a long flight or where security or connectivity issues are of concern, we carry a high-capacity portable hard drive loaded with all the files that we might need. We use SyncToy, a free, easy-to-use file synchronizing and copying tool, to copy a pre-selected list of folders from our server to the portable hard drive. The hard drive holds an immense amount of data (one terabyte), which means that all of our office data for the past 16 years easily fits on the hard drive. The first time that we copied everything onto the hard drive, it took a few hours. However, updates, if done regularly such as once a week, take just 15 to 20 minutes.

Encryption of the sensitive data on our portable hard drive is, of course, essential. For this task, we use TrueCrypt, free open-source disk encryption software for Windows, Mac and Linux.  

10 LogMeIn

We use LogMeIn to access our desktop from almost anywhere via a laptop or netbook. An Internet connection is needed and software must be pre-installed on the target desktop. As a result, we can control the desktop just as though we were sitting in our office. The free version works well for occasional use. However, for access to premium features such as file transfer, remote printing and desktop sharing, the Pro version is needed. A yearly subscription to the Pro version is about $70 per computer. To access a remote computer using an iPad, LogMeIn Ignition does the trick.  


Arguably, lawyers have always been mobile and have always had the ability, albeit limited, to work remotely. However, that usually involved crating vast quantities of paper or transferring files from computer to disk and back again. Our version (and the reality) of remote lawyering means being able to perform most, if not all, tasks that we could perform if we were in our office, easily and efficiently. So, when our globetrotting dreams or two-year-old beckons, we’ll be chasing right behind and doing a little work along the way. Come along with us; your reality of remote lawyering awaits.


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