Are You Wired or Leashed?
A little distance from clients can save your sanity.
By Monica Bay
BY NOW it's a given: Most lawyers keep in close contact with the office when they're on the road. But there's a difference between being wired and being hog-tied. How can you offer access to colleagues and clients, yet maintain some space for a private life?
One camp fervently argues for speedy response times, and equates access with productivity. They check e-mail obsessively; consider drive time cell phone time; and tap out Blackberry messages to colleagues and outside counsel from taxis, airports, and courtrooms.
Others keep a moat around them: They rely on support staff to buffer them from colleagues and clients. Productivity, they insist, revolves around controlling time and access. They sniff at at overly-connected colleagues as "electronically leashed."
Which approach suits you best is not only a matter of personal style, but of law firm, corporate or client culture. We asked some of our regular contributors and LTN Editorial Advisory Board members for advice. Here's their counsel:
1. Use your cell phone as your primary mode of communication.
Mark Chandler, senior director, worldwide legal services for San Jose-based Cisco Systems Inc., believes in extreme access. He's wired to the max via electronic communication devices. Not coincidentally, Cisco makes devices that form the nuts and bolts of the Internet. "My business card has my pager, my cell phone, my office phone, and my e-mail. And I'll give my home phone number to anyone who asks."
Theda Snyder, an in-house insurance lawyer in Southern California -- who insists she's "not so high-tech" -- says she uses "just a cell phone, as my principal lifeline." She does admit to owning a Palm organizer, "but it is not critical" to her practice.
Another cell phone addict is David Bilinsky, practice management adviser and staff lawyer of the Law Society of British Columbia. "I have a Sony cell phone that is on 24/7," he says. Bilinsky also takes full advantage of the voicemail attached to both his cell phone and his home office. "People in my own office have said that they are often unaware when I am traveling or in the office."
"Everybody needs a couple hours of sleep each night," says Donna Payne, of Seattle's Payne Consulting Group. When she travels, she calls her staff with phone and fax information.
But, confesses Payne, "I do give my cellular phone number to clients if we are working on deadline or if they ask for it."
2. Do not give out your cell phone number.
Another school of thought: Use e-mail as your primary means of communication. This group's mantra: "Just say no." Refuse to give your cell phone number to anyone other than your inner circle (family, close friends, boss, secretary/assistant).
Bruce Dorner, a New Hampshire solo practitioner, lets his staff run interference for him.
"I generally don't give anything other than my e-mail address to clients, and trust that my staff will deal with most emergencies and call/page/e-mail me when it's appropriate." But Dorner admits that he's wired, wired, wired.
"I worship at the Church of Perpetual Connection," he jokes. Dorner uses a Sprint PCS cell phone, and, when voice is not an option, a BellSouth two-way pager. "I love the ability to tap out a message on the pager -- it's far easier than on the phone keyboard." The pager also offers fax message, e-mail and voice message capabilities, explains Dorner.
Intellectual property lawyer Dan Coolidge, of Boston's Fish & Richardson, admits that he tells a little white lie to clients.
"My cell phone is unlisted. I give it out to clients, but I tell them it's in my car, and only when I am in the car will I hear it ring," he confesses. (In fact, it's portable.) Coolidge's cell phone voicemail message instructs callers not to leave a message on the cell phone, but directs them to call his office phone or to e-mail him instead. "I sometimes carry a pocket wireless e-mail device, but not always," says Coolidge.
"I only carry it when something is going on that I know is critical, and for which I am responsible. I do not tell clients I have it."
Companies sometimes limit cell phone access to a must-know basis. Stephen Jacobs, general counsel of American Lawyer Media, Inc. (the publisher of LTN), says a limited number of AmLaw executives have a cell phone list. Anyone outside the inner circle is asked to leave a voicemail message on his office telephone.
3. Never give out your home phone.
Here's a tip almost everybody agrees with: Set limits, and do not give out your home number. "I rarely give out my home phone number to clients, unless involved in a multinational transaction across faraway time zones," says Coolidge.
"I make it clear they are not to abuse the privilege, and have even fired a client for repeatedly calling late at night and very early in the morning."
Consultant Catherine Pennington Paunov agrees: "Make sure you have some down time. Unless it is a real emergency, you shouldn't be getting calls at 3 a.m."
Says Seattle's Payne: "You need some away-from-technology time. For example, I don't carry my cellular phone when walking my dogs. I do not carry a Blackberry or a pager. I will work with all my might for our clients, but without setting limits I could not function as well."
Another option: Ditch the desktop computer and use a laptop computer everywhere -- even at the office (they can be plugged into a "dataport" and used with full-sized monitors and keyboards). Set up a remote system that plugs right into your network.
"When only the heavy artillery works, I carry my portable computer and extend my office umbilical cord to whatever hotel or location I'm using," says Dorner.
So does Bilinsky: "I have an IBM laptop, with dial-in access to the mother ship, that travels with me everywhere. This gives me access to all my e-mail as well as the resources on the corporate network." Bilinsky also carries a Palm organizer "to keep me on top of my appointments." Like many Palm addicts, Bilinsky could have just put a calendar program on his laptop, but feels that sometimes it's just inconvenient to boot up a computer.
Payne says she's never without her laptop and Web-browser cell phone that connects to that laptop for immediate e-mail access. But like many road warriors, she's come to realize that less is decidedly more, at least when it comes to weight. "One of the best steps I've taken recently was giving away my heavy laptop and purchasing a three-pound Gateway laptop, customized for my needs. It has an integrated network and modem, modular CD/DVD, and the keyboard is actually usable, even though it's smaller than the standard keyboard size. I recently took it on a hiking trek. Being able to hook up my cell phone to this laptop makes staying in touch a breeze."
Other jet-setting lawyers have jettisoned laptops in favor of small (deck-of-card-sized) Internet-accessible "PDAs" (personal digital assistants), such as high-end Palm organizers and Research in Motion , Ltd's Blackberry devices. (Or they've added wireless modems from companies such as OmniSky to lower-end units; or bought souped-up cell phones.)
Palm Inc.'s organizers still dominate the PDA market, and run from basic models in the $200 price range to Internet-accessible Palm VII units that cost just under $500. Handspring's Visor line also operates on the Palm OS.
If you're a Windows addict, Microsoft Corp. has revamped its CE handheld operating system into "Pocket PC," which generated new handhelds from Hewlett-Packard's (Jornada 540 series); Casio Inc.'s Cassiopeia; and Compaq Computer Corp.'s iPAQ and Aero lines.
"I love my Clio Windows CE device," reports Seattle consultant Tom O'Connor. "It has a much better interface/compatibility with Outlook than the Palm."
Then there's RIM's popular Blackberry system -- think a pager on steroids. Users can get messages and e-mail, send faxes, and even type messages on a mini-keyboard that most lawyers use with their thumbs.
Even cell phones have leaped into cyberspace -- many new units from Ericsson, Nokia, Sprint, and other vendors now offer Internet access. So far, Web access by these PDAs and phones can be limited -- some offer only pre-programmed Web access (to frequently-used venues such as weather, stock market, and news sites) or "Web clipping" services; and some units' Internet access is available only in major cities. And while some phones offer free access to the 'Net, other plans get quite pricey quite quickly.
But that hasn't stopped the major legal vendors from leaping aboard the wireless train. West Group has launched Westlaw Wireless, a service that allows users to access many of that company's tools, including retrieving case information from Westlaw, KeyCite histories, and legal eBooks. Competitor Lexis-Nexis has launched lexisONE Wireless.com, a site that offers, among other things, information about mobile lawyering and wireless service providers.
Despite the hype, some legal technologists say it's still an immature market. Says Jo Haraf, head of tech at San Francisco's Morrison & Foerster: "If you want a 24/7 wireless system in most U.S. locations today, go with Blackberry. It's not perfect, but it's darn close."
Use public phones? What a concept! Sometimes, however, being away from cell phones, wireless e-mail devices, and "smart" phones isn't voluntary. Jacobs, for example, says he's deprived of his cell phone when he goes to court and has to check it at the door.
"In those cases," he says, "I carry around film canisters full of quarters."
Monica Bay, editor-in-chief of LTN, is still figuring out how to use her new Ericcson Internet cell phone. You can't have her number, but her e-mail address is email@example.com.