I Love Living in the Future

Right now I am in California (getting ready to visit the Googleplex–feel free to be jealous). Yesterday, for the first time, I flew on a flight that had in-flight Wi-Fi. The cost was reasonable ($5) and the flight was longer than I liked, so I decided to try the Wi-Fi.

The Wi-Fi worked fine and I had no problems using it. I love the fact that I was able to keep up with my email on the flight, so that when I landed, I didn’t have to spend the first hour after arrival playing email catch up.

While working through my email, I was able to experience the benefits first hand of going paperless and using a virtual fax service rather than an actual fax machine.

While somewhere over the great plains, I received an email from a client that I had represented two years ago. She told me that she needed me to fax something to someone related to what I had assisted her with two years ago.

Fortunately, I ran a paperless office that integrates with the cloud. This means that, from the airplane, I was able to retrive the document from Spider Oak. If I had my laptop, I would have been able to retrive it directly from my hard drive. However, I am traveling only with my iPad, therefore, I had to retrive the document from the cloud.

Finding the document was easy. Once I had the document, I had to fax it to the recipient. Because I use a virtual fax service, send this email was no different from sending an email.

Despite the fact that I was 38,000 feet in the air, in about a total of 10 minutes time, I had received the email, retrieved the requested document from a case that had been closed for two years, and had faxed it to the person my client wanted to have it.

Without technology, obviously none of this would have been possible. Because of the technology, however, I was able to handle this task quickly and efficiently, regardless of my location.

Back from ABA Techshow

I am back from ABA Techshow,  where I had a great time, as usual. This was the first year I have spoken at Techshow and I was fortunate enough to be speaking with Nerino Petro and Chad Burton. Both of these gentlemen were great to work with and I look forward to (hopefully) speaking with them again.

ABA TechshowI also had the pleasure of hosting a Taste of Techshow dinner with Chad and Stephanie Kimbro. We ended up having 13 people at our table (instead of 10), but it all worked out great and we all had a great time. Not only did I enjoy the company of Stephanie and Chad, but everyone else who had dinner with us was a true pleasure to meet and dine with.

The Expo Hall was the largest I have ever seen, with a large number of different vendors. Not only did I get to see some vendors I have know for years (such as Phil Rosenthal from Fastcase and Ken Adams from Koncision Contract Automation), I also finally got to meet Brett Owens from Chrometa in person. He was as great in person as I expected.

I also saw a couple of new products that really interested me. The first is TheFormTool. This is a reasonably priced document assembly program that looks easy to use.

The second is iTimeKeep by Bellefield. The program is designed to allow you to enter time from your iPad and it integrates with your time and billing system, so that you can do remote time entry, even is that is not otherwise available for your time and billing program. I have been looking for a program that does this. So I will definitely be checking this out further.

I have lots more to say about Techshow, including a review of the Techshow app and the keynote from Ben Stein, all of which will be coming later this week.

This is Why I Have a Paperless Practice

Ocean Shores Washington

Pacific Ocean at Ocean Shores WA

This is what I am looking at right now as I am writing this post. It is the Pacific Ocean at Ocean Shores, Washington. I am here with my wife who has is attending multi-day business conference.

Because I have a paperless practice, I can work while she is attending the conference. This means that, while here, I have, among other things, prepared motions, worked on discovery, worked out issues relating to a protective order, and issued citations to discover assets.

If I did not have access to all of my documents, I would not have been able to much of what I have been able to accomplish. This is especially true when it comes to the protective order issue. Because I have access to all of the documents in all of my cases, however, this means that I was able to do anything here that I could have done in my office (except print mailing labels for the documents that I had to mail out).

In fact, the citations to discover assets were one of the cooler things that I have done. I was on Google Reader and saw in my RSS feed that a company I had a judgment against was participating in a social networking deal. I recognized this as a potential source to collect my judgment. I was able to log into the clerk’s site to obtain the forms I needed. I prepared the forms and filed them electronically. Once the citations were issued, I then emailed them to my process server for service.

Because of efiling (thank you DuPage County), I was able to take care of all of this, despite the distance between myself and the courthouse.

I know that there are attorneys who look at disdain at my use of a laptop and smartphone to stay connected when I am out of the office. I have been asked before whether these make me feel tied down and like I can’t get away. I explain that they do just the opposite. If I sat at my office desk for 60 hours a week, then I would not want to be connected when I am out of the office.

However, I much prefer to not be chained to my desk. With my laptop and smartphone, I can practice from anywhere, whether my office or a beach in Washington. This means that, instead of staying at home and forgoing a trip with my wife, I can accompany my wife and still get work done while I am gone. The way I look at it, my devices and connectivity free me to practice law the way that I want.

This does not mean, however, that I am always connected. I don’t think that this is healthy either. If I am on vacation, I minimize my work in order to enjoy my vacation. However, when I am with my wife on a business trip, I need to find something to do while she is doing her work. From my perspective, I think it’s best that I do some work and make some money.

I think I am going to go take a walk on the beach before I do some more work.

Going Paperless: Another View

Moving my practice to a paperless practice was one of the best things I have ever done. The efficiency has paid off for me many times over. Not only does it allow me to practice from wherever I happen to be, it also allows me to practice without large amounts of overhead in staff salaries.

A recent post at Lawyerist.com highlights 5 reasons that the author is glad that he went paperless. In reviewing his post, I have to agree with what he says. The reasons he gives are:

  • I hate filing
  • I don’t like carrying around a lot of stuff
  • I save time searching
  • I like to share
  • I have castrophe paranoia.

Read his post for an explanation of each. However, if I were to pick just one of his five that I agree with the most, it would be number 2. I too hate carrying a bunch of things, however, I like having access to all of my information. Being paperless allows me to achieve both goals. As the author explains:

Most lawyers regularly go home with a stack of files. That’s a lot of lifting and carrying for a desk job. If you handle even moderately-complex matters, bringing the file home may require a hand cart or a couple of junior associates.

Not me. I don’t even carry a briefcase most days. My files are digital, and I sync them up in the cloud so I can access them from any computer—my laptop at home, or even my smartphone.

This goes for court, depositions, and other meetings, too. All I need to bring is a laptop, phone, or iPad, and I can get to my entire firm filing cabinet.

I can’t remember the last time that I carried more than just a few pages to court with me. Most of the time, I don’t even have that. I just take my computer.

Metra: The Way to Really Not Work

In the Chicago metro area, our public rail transportation to and from the outer suburbs is provided by Metra. Overall the service provided by Metra is pretty good. Traffic in Chicago can get pretty congested during the construction season (approx. January through December). Metra provides a nice alternative to sitting in traffic. In general the trains run on time and are as comfortable as can be reasonably expected.

That does not mean, however, that Metra is perfect. Far from it, in fact. In many ways they are mired in the past. As an example, in September 2009, Metra took the forward thinking step of deciding to accept credit cards. It would be nice to say that Metra finally bowed to the public pressure and gave their customers what they wanted. However, it turns out that is not exactly the case. Instead, Metra now accepts credit cards because the Illinois General Assembly passed a law requiring Metra to accept credit cards.

The Chicago Tribune reports today that Metra has decided to continue down its self-selected road of remaining mired in the past. According to the Tribune, Metra won’t be providing wi-fi service anytime in the foreseeable future:

But WiFi doesn’t fly on Metra. The commuter rail agency, which still punches tickets by hand and only recently started taking credit cards, says providing wireless Internet is too expensive and technologically challenging.

A Metra spokesperson stated:

“We barely have enough money to operate let alone add such a luxury,” Metra spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said.

That doesn’t seem to have stopped many other rail providers, who I presume are existing in the same tight economy that Metra is is. The Tribune reports that wi-fi is or soon be available on trains in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, New York City, Northern California, Boston, and Amtrak’s northeast commuter lines.

Metra seems to be quite short sighted by focusing on the costs here. Surely there is some provider who will be willing to front the cost for this. The Tribune reports:

New York’s MTA, with an $800 million budget shortfall, doesn’t plan to pay anything for WiFi installation, spokesman Aaron Donovan said.

MTA asked potential providers to pay for the equipment and service themselves. In return, MTA plans to offer incentives, such as advertising considerations. MTA’s Internet might not be free because companies may be allowed to charge customers, Donovan said.

It seems to me that the real problem here is not the cost, but rather Metra’s commitment to not providing convenient services for its riders.

True Mobile Computing

Both myself and my wife grew up in West Virginia. Before Easter went went to visit our families. Despite the fact that I can access all of my case information on my computer, it is still challenging when visiting the family because we do not have convenient access to high speed internet. Nevertheless, I had still had things I had to attend to. Emails to check and respond to, faxes to review, etc. Sure, I could do most of this on my Droid. However, there are just some things are much easier to do on a laptop.

So, one day, I found myself on my father’s farm, tethering my phone to my computer, to access the internet. It worked just fine. I will admit, however, it wasn’t quite as comfortable as sitting at a desk. Anyway, this is what my set up looked like.

Mobile Computing

Click to Embiggen

I was pleasantly surprised at the speed at which I was able to operate with this setup. I certainly would not want to spend all of my time working like this. However, to jump on to the internet for a half hour to take care of business in the midst of taking some time off, it worked just fine.

New Jersey and Virtual Offices

I know that I am late to this party, but I have been watching the debate over the joint opinion from New Jersey’s Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics and Committee on Attorney Advertising (note that this link is to a PDF copy of the opinion). I have read the opinion and, in all honesty, it doesn’t make much sense to me. I understand the idea behind having a “bona fide” office. However, I find the arguments advanced in the opinion to be very unpersuasive.

For example, one of the arguments is:

A “virtual office” location is not a place where a client can meet with the attorney unannounced. An attorney is not routinely found at a “virtual office” location and would need to make arrangements to reserve the space. Accordingly, while “virtual office” locations may be listed on attorney or law firm letterhead, websites, or other advertisements, the communication must state that the location is “by appointment only.”

Strangely enough, although I have always maintained an office in a commercial building, I have never considered my office as a “place where a client can meet with the attorney unannounced.” Is this something that happens regularly in New Jersey that just does not happen in Illinois? I mean my doctor maintains a physical office (2 or 3 actually), but I have never just dropped in to see him unannounced. I am not quite sure what the concern is here.

Similarly, the opinion asserts that the receptionist in a virtual office space does not qualify as a responsible person:

A “virtual office” cannot be a bona fide office since the attorney generally is not present during normal business hours but will only be present when he or she has reserved the space. Moreover, the receptionist at a “virtual office” does not qualify as a “responsible person acting on the attorney’s behalf” who can “answer questions posed by the courts, clients or adversaries.” Presumably, the receptionist can redirect a telephone call to the attorney lessee of the “virtual office” much like an answering service, but would not be privy to legal matters being handled by the attorney and so would be unable to “act[] on the attorney’s behalf” in any matter.

The ACPE notes that, in general, an attorney should not permit the receptionist of a “virtual office” to field telephone calls to the attorney. Prospective clients calling an attorney or law firm assume that they are reaching an employee and may disclose confidential and sensitive information.

No offense, but this simply ridiculous. How is contracting with a receptionist to maintain information confidential any different from contracting with a secretary to maintain confidential information. I just don’t understand this argument. The person answering your telephone can handle your calls only to the extent that they have been properly trained to handle the calls. That is true whether the person answering the phone is an employee or a contracted receptionist.

Similarly, by the argument made here, I would conclude that if you are not regularly in the office, your office is no longer a bona fide office if your receptionist is sick or goes on vacation. Even if you hire a temp, the reality is that the temp will not be able to answer questions posed by” courts, clients, or adversaries.” Similarly, there is nothing that would prevent “clients calling an attorney or law firm assume that they are reaching an employee and may disclose confidential and sensitive information.”

Without question, attorneys have a duty to maintain confidentiality, protect client files, remain accessible,  and to ensure that they do not mislead their clients. However, this opinion does not ensure that any of these objectives are achieved. Instead, it simply ensures that good attorneys are limited in the options they can use to best serve themselves and their clients.

After Only a Decade, The Cook County Law Library Enters the 21st Century

Recently, Solo in Chicago alerted the world that the Cook County Law Library in the Daley Center finally added wi-fi. For the first time ever, I can now actually work in the law library the way that I work every where else. As a nice bonus, not only do I have a wi-fi connection, but I also managed to find a seat next to working outlet. Thus, I am working and charging my computer at the same time.

With services like this, I might not actually dread having to come to the Daley Center.

Are Lawyers Moving to Virtual Fax Services?

I recently read an interesting column at Law.com’s Legal Technology Blog about attorneys moving to virtual fax services.

I agree with much of what the author has to say in this post. In short, virtual fax services are great. I have used one for years. When I recently opened my own solo practice I never even considered buying a fax machine.

The author points out that virtual fax services have a variety of benefits including:

  • Let you go mobile
  • Improve privacy
  • Increase security
  • Keep a team informed
  • Keep faxes organized and available
  • Reduce costs and environmental footprint

Jump over and read the entire post. He makes some excellent points.

As I was reading his post, however, I was struck by the thought of whether this is the right tactic to be taking. Yes, virtual faxing has great benefits. In my book, however, the benefits are no greater than the benefits of engaging in the same communication via email. I use a virtual fax service because there are attorneys who still refuse to communicate via email. I can’t imagine that these attorneys are suddenly going to move to using a virtual fax service.

My question is, shouldn’t we be trying to move these attorneys to using email?

However, if you are like me and still dealing with attorneys who insist on using a fax machine, go to a virtual fax service. You will never regret the move. It’s as close to moving your communications to email as you are likely to get in today’s legal world.

I was Recently Interviewed

Recently Peter Olson (also known as Solo in Chicago) interviewed me via email. Apparently I blathered on too much because he has broken my interview up into different parts. However, the first part of the interview can be found here.

Incidentally, if you are not reading Solo in Chicago, you should be. In addition to being a great guy and a good friend, Peter also has some great posts detailing the challenges of practicing law as a solo (most of which apply to small firms as well). I especially enjoy the behind the scenes looks that he gives us into his practice.