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.

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.

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.

Using a ScanSnap to Go Paperless

Anyone familiar with my blog knows that I am a big proponent of storing every document in every file electronically. When I talk about this, one question that many people ask is what kind of scanner to get. One of the most popular scanners is the Fujitsu ScanSnap. This scanner is reasonably priced, works well, and is easy to operate. Three qualities that I am sure have helped its popularity.

Knowing the right hardware to use, however, is only part of the battle. You also have to know how to integrate that hardware into your workflow. Recently Rick Borstein posted a tutotial on how to best integrate a ScanSnap with Adobe Acrobat.

As with many of Rick’s posts, he takes you step-by-step (including handy pictures) through how to best set the scanner up to use it with Adobe Acrobat. If you are considering adding a ScanSnap to your desktop, you definately want to check out Rick’s post.

Another Benefit of Being Paperless

Yesterday I was reminded once again of the benefit of keeping all of my documents electronically.* I received an email from a former client with a question about a case that has been over for more than four years. If I had to resort to the paper file, I would have had to retrieve the file from storage and manually sort through the file to find the documents I needed to answer his question.

Because I had stored my documents electronically, however, with just a couple of mouse clicks I was able to open the relevant documents, review them, and send an email in response that both answered my former client’s question and included the relevant documents as attachments.

My former client was very pleased with my quick response (even if the answer may not have been what he wanted). If I had to retrieve and dig through the paper file, it would have taken 24 to 48 hours to answer his question, and it would have cost my staff time to retrieve the file and myself time to find what I needed.

Here, I answered my client’s question shortly after I got back to office and it took me less than five minutes to read his email, find the relevant documents and send him a response.


*Please note that, although I use the term paperless in the title of this piece, that does not mean that you must jestion all of your paper. Saving all of your document electronically does not preclude you from also maintaining paper files. Do that if you either want to or beleive that you have to. Instead, saving your files electronically means that you have every document on every file stored electronically for easy retrival and review.

The Mobile Practice of Law

I sometimes get asked why I scan every document on every case that I have. Or, why do I think an attorney should have a laptop computer. Or, why do I suggest that an attorney needs conveniences such as a virtual fax service or a smartphone. This is the answer to all of those questions:

Ocean Shores Beach

This picture is what I saw out my window this morning while working. My wife is on the Pacific Coast on business and I decided to travel with her. While she is off doing her business-type stuff, I can work from our hotel room, with the sound of waves crashing against the beach to keep me company. When she gets done with her stuff, we can go out together and do touristy stuff.

This is a great time for us to do things together, yet it still allows me to effectively use the downtime I have while she is off working. Because I have all of my documents on all of my cases with me. I can work on whatever needs work without worrying about making sure I took the right files with me.

Virtual Fax Services

Recently someone asked me about virtual fax services. I have written before about virtual faxes and why I would not go back to a regular fax machine. However, I have not talked about the different options available. In spending just a little time poking around the Internet today, I found several different services that are available. Below, I discuss the ones that I discovered. If anyone else has experience with any other services, I would be interested in hearing about them. As a point of reference, I think that it is essential that you can receive your faxes as PDFs rather than some proprietary fax format. All of the services listed below allow you to receive your faxes as PDFs.

  • Venali. This is the service I use. Overall I have been pleased with the service. Although I would like to see better integration with MS Office 2007. Also, I have found that their tech support people often do not understand or cannot answer my questions on the first try. It looks like for $9.95 a month you can get 100 inbound pages and 100 outbound pages. For $19.95, you can get 300 inbound pages and 200 outbound pages. Additional pages are $0.05 per page inbound and $0.08 per page outbound (the per page rate is one cent lower on the $19.95 a month plan).
  • MaxEmail. I have not used MaxEmail, but I have heard good things about it from others. The cheapest plan that allows you to have a local number is $9.95 a month (discounts are available for quarterly or yearly payments). This plan includes 250 inbound pages and 100 outbound pages. Additional inbound pages are $0.05 a page. Additional outbound pages are $0.05 per 30 seconds of transmission time.
  • MyFax. I don’t know anyone who has used MyFax. However, looking at the list of available features, this is a service I might be tempted to check out if I were signing up for a new service. With the $10 a month plan, you recieve 200 pages and send 100. For $20 a month, you can receive 200 pages and send 200 pages. Additional pages are $0.10 a page.
  • GreenFax. I had never heard of this service before today. However, it seems like a reasonable service. For $12.95 per month, you get 250 inbound pages and 100 outbound pages. Additional inbound pages are $0.03 per page. Additional outbound pages are $0.07 for the first page of a fax and $0.05 for each additional page. GreenFax also has a send-only pay-as-you-go plan that has no monthly service fee and charges $0.07 for the first page of a fax and $0.05 for each additional page of any fax you send.
  • Packetel. Packetel has a great deal, especially if you will be receiving a large number of faxes. For $3.95 per month, you can recieve an unlimited number of faxes. Local numbers are available for many, but not all areas.
  • Faxaway. This is another economical solution. You can set up an account to receive faxes for $1 per month. Sending faxes is $0.10 per minute of transmission. The thing I don’t like about this service is that you are limited to a Seattle area code.
  • eFax. eFax has been around for a long time and claims to be the world’s #1 internet fax service. I have never liked eFax because their faxes are sent in a propriety format rather than as a PDF. The service now allows you to convert them to PDF, however I don’t think you should have to go through an additional step to do this. Additionally, their pricing seems less competitive than the other services. For $16.95 a month you get 130 inbound pages and 30 outbound pages. Additional pages are $0.15 per page inbound and $0.10 per page outbound. For $19.95 a month, you get 200 inbound pages and no outbound pages. Additional inbound pages and all outbound pages are $0.10 per page. Update: As indicated in the comment below, eFax does allow you to receive your faxes in PDF format.

If you are looking for a full-featured single fax solution, I think any of the solutions offered by Venali, MaxEmail, MyFax, or GreenFax would be just fine. If cost is a big concern, or if you receive a lot of faxes and don’t send many, you might consider a mixed solution in which you receive your faxes through Packetel and then send your faxes through GreenFax’s pay-as-you-go plan.

Given the low cost of Packetel’s plan, and the limitations of Faxaway’s, I would likely avoid Faxaway. Simiarly, I would be inclined to avoid eFax because of their reliance on their proprietary software as well as the fact that the other services are more attractively priced.

A Great Offer from Log Me In

I am a big fan of Log Me In. I use it to access my home computer remotely. In fact, my ancient monitor on my home desktop (which I use mostly as a server type machine) recently died and I have just been using Log Me In to control it rather than replacing the monitor right now. Because I use Log Me In, I receive emails from them periodically, The last one I received, I thought it was great marketing.

The email started by emphasizing that you can use Log Me In to access your computer while you are traveling, it then went right for those of use who serve as tech support for our friends and family:

If you’re spending time with your parents during the holidays, be sure to install LogMeIn Pro on their PCs so you can help them out remotely next time they call with a computer problem.

I thought that this was a great point. In fact, I have recently installed Log Me In on a couple of computers that I support and it works great to to fix simple problems from my home or office.

If you have never tried Log Me In, give it a whirl. Also, during the holidays, they are selling Log Me In Pro at a 50% discount ($34.95 per year).

I know that GoToMyPC is the popular remote access solution. I have heard many stories about how much people like GoToMyPC. I prefer LogMeIn because it works well for me and it is less expensive than GoToMyPC. Additonally, Log Me In offers a free solution that allows you to remotely control your computer. Log Me In Pro includes more features and I use it for my main computer. However, it is great to be able to install the free version and gain remote access to a computer that you need to work on.

The Mobile Law Firm

At The Illinois Trial Practice Weblog, Evan Schaeffer reports that he and his wife, Andrea Lamere, are spending the month in Arentina. Given that their firm consists of Evan and Andrea, some people may be wondering about how they are keeping their practice going while they are both in Argentina.

In his post, Evan reports that the ubiquitos nature of wi-fi in Buenos Aires makes it easy for him to work while there. He reports he is using services such as Skype, iPhone, MyFax, Google Calendar, Google Notebook, and Slingbox to keep in touch with home.

Read his entire post here. It’s a nice primer on how to practice while away from home.

I would also note that all of the services that Evan talks about are useful even if you don’t leave the country. For example, I use an electronic faxing service to receive my faxes. I will never go back to having only a fax machine. It is simply too convenient to be able to receive my faxes anywhere that I have internet access.