Coolidge & Graves PLLC
Business and Intellectual Property Law
Throwing Away the Crutches
Surviving Outside the Office
Bruce L. Dorner
Dorner Law Offices
80 Nashua Road
Londonderry, NH 03053
Daniel S. Coolidge
Coolidge & Graves
39 Central Square Suite 204
Keene, NH 03431
Voice and Fax: 603-357-5900
While for many lawyers, the virtues of being able to ďtake their office with themĒ are self evident, many others remain bound by habit, fear or ignorance to get productive only when back in the safe cocoon of their bricks and mortar office. Not only is this inefficient, itís uncompetitive, and every lawyer knows that is the key to survival.
Setting up to work where YOU are rather than where your office may be is not rocket science, doesnít require an inordinate investment of money or time, and can turn otherwise low or non- productive time into billable time. The first step is to ask yourself a few questions:
∑ What percentage of your working day do you spend outside your office?
∑ Do you often take work home that you could do better if you were still in your office?
∑ When you are out of your office, what services do you really need? Email? Access to the Internet? Printing? Faxing? Scanning? What would you like to have but could live without?
If you are out of your office more than 20% of the time, you need a laptop or notebook computer. Less than that, and you can probably do with noting more than a good personal digital assistant (a palm device such as a Palm Pilot PDA or Palm Computer.) At a bare minimum, the services you probably want to have are a calendar and an address book that will synchronize easily with your office calendar, some ability to take notes, perhaps email. These can all be done with a PDA, or, somewhat less conveniently with a laptop computer (you have to open it up and turn it on to get the information.)
If you are often taking work home, you could consider another desktop computer at home that can log into your office system remotely. Desktop machines are cheaper and easier to upgrade than notebook computers, but have the drawback that they are not portable. If you need portability (you do a lot of closings, you fly a lot, you spend much time in court) then a laptop or PDA is your weapon of choice.
A PDA does what it was designed to do very well, and can be stretched to perform duties of near heroic proportion if required. A good PDA with lots of memory and an expansion slot can actually be used to produce documents- add a portable foldable or roll-up-able keyboard and you are nearly up to notebook standards. Sure, it looks geeky, but whatís your point? This is fine in a pinch, and eliminates the need to carry lots of gear that is associated with a laptop computer, but if you are trying to do sophisticated document formatting, document comparisons, forms generation and the like, the PDAís no substitute for the laptop computer.
If your budget can stand it (and with falling prices it gets easier every day) you might consider a laptop and a PDA, carrying the former only on those occasions when you really need the extra horsepower.
An essential feature (to keep you sane) is that your portable system, be it a laptop computer or PDA, support your working habits as closely as possible to how it is done in your office. It makes no sense to use WordPerfect in the Office and switch to Word when on the road- it just adds to the confusion. Moreover, databases such as your calendar and contacts list should easily integrate with your office so that all of the databases have the same data. Most PDAís come with synchronization software that works with most of the more popular office systems to make this task easy. With a little bit of effort (not much, and you only have to figure out the one time) Microsoft Outlook can synchronize off-line folders (the ones on your notebook computer) with your office when you plug back into your network. (You DONíT have a NETWORK? Shame on you! Itís too easy and inexpensive, and doesnít mean you have to have more than one person to justify. Itís a simple way to hook up your laptop to your office system to synchronize and get access to your office systems through your laptop.)
To lessen the burden of equipment you must carry, consider the advantages afforded by the convergence of PDAís and cell phones, in such devices as the Kyocera or Trio.
Do you need to carry a printer? Weíve found that we rarely need to, since most locations have a printer available (such as at the business services desk at major hotels, or in the office youíre visiting.) Most often, it is a simple matter to put what you wish to be printed on a disk and ask to have it printed. If your needs are such as to justify having a printer, there are a variety of small, portable battery-driven or plug-in printers ranging from simple black and white to color with scanning capabilities, all in the $200-$400 range.
Do you need to collect copies of documents? Do you hate to carry large boxes of due-diligence materials or trial notebooks? You can get small USB powered scanners (such as the Visioneer Strobe XP) that are not much larger than a rolled up Time Magazine and can store a LOT of paper for you. Good indexing software can find everything on your computer dealing with Acme Metals and Huntingtonís Chorea in a matter of a split second. Certainly, a lot faster than you can get it by leafing through volumes of material.
How do you cope with failure? A computer has the ability to sense just when you need it the most, and then fail. What do you do to be prepared? That depends on how critical it is. If itís your trial notebook, then you probably should have a spare computer all set up and with you ready to go. If itís documents, you can have a variety of backup systems such as CD-Rom burners and multi-tens-of-gigabyte tiny outboard hard drives. You can get little USB memory sticks (about the size of a pack of gum) that can hold up to 500 megabytes of data in password protected memory.
Carry your backup copies of your application software and operating system (Windows, Linux) with you just in case you must re-load a corrupted file. Keep a password protected file on your computer (and a backup on a floppy disk) with all your serial numbers, support telephone numbers, passwords etc.
You might think about encrypting files (such as your password file!) for even greater protection, using something like PGP (www.PGP.com) for strong encryption. And encryption is a wonderful way to be certain that if your laptop computer is stolen, the thieves at least wonít be able to read your confidential documents.
While youíre thinking about security, remember that when you are working on the road, things are not as secure and confidential as when you are in your office. Who can see your laptop computer screen when you are working on a plane? Is that cell phone call secure enough to deal with the client confidences about which you are speaking? Itís just a matter of setting your mind to be aware of the casual lurker who might overhear or see something he/she ought not to, and to take reasonable precautions against such inadvertent eavesdropping.
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