Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The "FUN" in Function!

Technology Provides Opportunities: Work Flow Continues While On Vacation

Long ago, I toiled away at a traditional law firm career, with all the benefits of secure employment, including regular paychecks and annual paid vacations. I always wondered if the paid time off was really worth the tortuous frustration of returning to a severely neglected desk. Floater coverage, no matter how expert, still resulted in chaos upon my return. And, let’s face it, I am competitive and controlling, not the type to let anyone else tinker with my files. So, for many years, I took my vacation time with trepidation.

Fast forward to my “retirement” and things have dramatically changed. Yes. I still am working – self employed as a contract paralegal and legal document assistant. What this means is that I no longer have to show up but I no longer receive law firm benefits and the security of regular paychecks is but a dim memory from a past life.

My practice is small, there is only myself and my partner, Michael. I do have backup in the form of fellow paralegals who are ready and willing to jump onto a project if necessary, and I have Michael, who manages all of our enterprises and business interests. My semi-annual group cruise plans were touch-and-go because our LDA practice had taken off, flying high on the wings of a revamped marketing plan. Once again, poor timing proves to be the main thread of my existence. Right when we hit the "big time," with large numbers of new clients pouring in daily, I was scheduled to leave on an extended vacation. I am a cruise leader and it is my destiny. I cannot miss the ship. Colleagues could easily cover the phones. Unfortunately, I felt the full burden of responsibility. I could not turn Catalyst over to anyone else, including my partner, Michael, who while confident and charismatic, is no legal beagle.

I figured I could forward the three office lines to my cell and handle calls until the 5th, when we would board the ship and sail off into international waters. With that plan in mind, I set off on my “working” vacation. During the two-hour connection in Philly, I retrieved an email forwarded to my Blackberry and caught up on my voicemail. After calling a potential new client, I sent a PDF contract for signature and return, and before boarding my plane destined for Miami, I received her signed contract and info-docs via our office fax number which forwards fax-to-PDF-to-email right in our inboxes. A green note: the $4 per month is well worth the savings in toner and paper.

Michael also setup a secure credit card processing that is available to ‘scan cards’ and print the receipts whether in the office or Bluetooth via a cell phone. This service includes secure website and email links so we can take credit cards via website sales, at the office, or standing anywhere using my cell phone. My office is with me no matter my locale and so is my IT guy. He can securely log in to my screen with remote screen support, keeping my machine well maintained and secure, and often, assisting me with software functions and training.

Later that evening, as I dined on seared ahi at Van Dyke’s in South Beach, Miami, I patted myself on the back for selling a disso quickly and efficiently while being transported from one side of the country to the other – it definitely paid for our dinner.

The next morning, as I sat in the air conditioned lobby cafe at the Loews Hotel, sipping strongly brewed Cuban coffee and watching the machismo men and beautiful women, freaks and frauds strolling by I continued to take calls and quickly typed up the documents for the disso sold the previous day. I was on vacation and working. I pdf’d the docs and emailed copies to my client along with filing instructions. Mission accomplished.

We arrived in South Beach Florida a week early to shop, party and celebrate July 4th. There were 22 of us and we wanted to see everything. I was able to go everywhere including the beach using my Blackberry for calls and emails. I have four email accounts that feed into my cell and this feature frees me from my notebook. I handled calls until the 5th when we boarded our ship -- destination Cozumel.

I bought minutes from the ship's internet cafe. While costly and slow, an internet connection at sea allowed me to IM and email my partner and communicate with select clients each day. Michael faxed important office snail mail to me daily and emailed other messages and information. We also used IM to chat at assigned times. I kept my cell phone off to avoid $2 per minute cell phone charges. Having prior knowledge of the huge charges associated with data plans and international rates, I turned off the radio function on my cell phone so emails would not download if my phone was accidently turned on while traveling internationally.
Having a corporate domain, we utilize state of the art control panels, and secure webmail technology with spam and virus filters. My computer works as if in the office when connected to Wi-Fi. All my email addresses are available on my notebook even when I am not in the office. This means wherever I log on my emails will continue to be sent from

I was able to work while at sea. After a full day of swimming with stingrays and snorkeling the reefs in Cayman, I reviewed an email from one of my San Diego attorneys asking me to prepare paperwork for a former client. We held a short teleconference after which I emailed the client a contract. She returned the signed contract along with payment info via fax (which dropped into my inbox). I prepared and emailed to her a first draft federal court complaint and motion and I charged her card. Fortunately for me, I had prepared the very same documents previously so I had an existing and workable template on my notebook. In this case it helped to be prepared. Without that form I would not have had all the tools available that I required. This is an excellent reason (and reminder) to maintain your form files.

So yes, I was able to continue to work while traveling internationally – and at sea to boot. I sold and met the needs of my clients while working from remote utilizing technologies providing freedom from the office without neglect. You can forward telephone numbers to your cell phone; free video and audio conference call, fax to pdf or tiff multiple emails; and, with use of a pdf writer (available as a free add-on to valid Office 2007 software – hint, one can choose whether or not to buy Adobe) scanner and Wi-Fi, and using shipboard or remote satellite internet connections and webmail-based email accounts you can service anyone, anywhere. This allows me to continue working - and making money, despite the fact that I am across the country or even abroad while on vacation. So, did I write this little ditty from remote? Heck No! After all, I was on vacation!

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