I think that we all appreciate real life examples of the Third Wave practice of law. So, when I received this email from my fellow Third Waver, Scott Bassett, which described his practice, I thought you needed to know. His email is inspiring.
A friend licensed in both Michigan and Texas sent me her copy of the
July 2009 Texas Bar Journal. [You can read the articles by clicking HERE and HERE]. I was delighted to read your
articles about practicing law at home. You do what I do, but you've
been doing it a few years longer. In mid-2001, I finally realized that
my traditional family litigation practice in the Detroit area was
making me crazy. Although I was regarded as one of the better and more
knowledgeable family law attorneys in Michigan, I was not happy. As a
result, I wasn't as good a father or husband as I could be.
Together, my wife and I decided to sell everything, simplify our lives, and move to the Gulf coast of Florida where my parents retired a few years earlier. My wife and kids arrived here in late 2001. I was left behind in Michigan for another five months winding-down my practice and selling our home. We now live in beautiful Manatee County, a short walk from a small national park in one direction and a new county-operated nature preserve in the other. The mouth of the Manatee River, as it flows into Tampa Bay, is 600 feet away at the end of our street.
Initially, I took a full-time job as an entry-level consultant for a law office technology company in the Tampa Bay area now known as InTouch Legal. Although I left all of my trial court work to my former law partner, I kept a couple of pending Michigan family law appeals so as not to lose touch with the practice of law. Before too long, my colleagues from Michigan began contacting me to handle their appeals. Less than three years later, my long-distance home-based appellate practice was large enough that I gave up technology consulting. However, I still write the monthly email newsletter for InTouch Legal and the other three law office tech companies that comprise Affinity Consulting Group. I also manage and write most of the posts for Affinity's blog.
My colleagues in Michigan often say, "I wish I could do what you did." I respond, "You can. You just have to realize that the things you think you need are actually the things that weigh you down." I don't think I've persuaded anyone yet, but in time some will see the light.
Although we practice in very different substantive areas (my practice is 100% Michigan family law, almost entirely appellate, with a very few trial court research projects in the mix), the technology I employ is almost identical to yours. For example, I use a notebook PC to take my office anywhere. After years with a succession of Toshiba notebooks, I now use a dual-core lower-end ThinkPad with XP Pro and 2 GB of RAM. When at home, I press into service a vintage 1999 15 inch Samsung LCD monitor that pivots to portrait orientation as a secondary monitor. I also use a ScanSnap S500 scanner to digitize all case-related or practice-related documents I receive. I then put the paper away and generally never see it again. In my Contract for Legal Services, I advise clients that I will destroy the paper file two years after their case is complete.
I was an early adopted of VoIP telephone service. I opted for Vonage when it first launched because they offer a "virtual number" in my old Michigan area code for just $5 per month. Service was merely OK in the beginning, but the technology has matured and I am now highly satisfied with the features, call quality, reliability, and especially price. Voice mail is converted to an audio file and emailed to me. I can receive it on my Windows Mobile phone and play back messages. I can also enable Vonage's Simul-Ring feature so that calls to my "office" number also ring on my cell phone when I am away from home. I also have a Skype subscription account for making and receiving calls from any of my computers. I use Gmail for email, but with a custom domain name, along with the Google Calendar, both of which sync with my cell phone using a nice service called GooSync. My contacts, email, and calendar automatically remain in sync between my desktop computer (which functions basically as a file server), my ThinkPad, my phone, and my original 7-inch Asus Eeepc netbook (which I take on shorter trips instead of the ThinkPad).
Although I am not a fan of faxing as a technology, I realize that many people still use it. So I maintain an eFax account with a number in my old Michigan area code because most of my incoming faxes come from lawyers or clients in that vicinity. I am amazed that people tell me they are amazed by the process of faxing something to a Michigan fax number that arrives in my email in Florida as a PDF attachment within a few minutes. This has been possible for a decade or longer.
Let me close by again expressing my appreciation for your articles. You captured my view on the subject of home-based law practice very well. A few years ago, while still employed full-time at InTouch Legal, I was invited to travel to Ft. Worth to speak to the Family Law Section of the Texas Bar about law office technology. I enjoyed my conversations with the many Texas practitioners I met at that event. Hopefully I will have a chance to return someday.