Home Office Tour: Tips for Setting Up a Virtual Workspace
By Gina Bongiovi, Esq.
I started my practice in 2008 with a phone and a laptop, and I remain convinced you need little more office technology to run a law firm. I carry my laptop with me everywhere I go and can access every single file I’ve ever created during the last 12 years with a few keystrokes. Of course, we are all used to having more tools than that, so I’ll discuss some of the necessities of building a virtual workspace, specifically for lawyers.
You must first “neuralyze” your brain, Men in Black-style, to rid yourself of all assumptions about how connected you must be to a physical space. The goal here is to untether yourself from your office, your servers and your file cabinet, and create an environment where you can accomplish most of your tasks from anywhere in the world, and the rest from the comfort of a home office.
Let’s start with equipment. Here are my recommendations for home office equipment, listed in the order you should buy them:
1. Scanner: Fujitsu ScanSnap ($400-500)
This is the piece of equipment I use the most, after the computer, phone and printer. I run a (mostly) paperless office, so every piece of paper gets put through this little miracle machine. It scans multiple sheets at a time, can handle sheets of differing sizes at once and scans both sides of each sheet. You can then have the resulting scan save as a .jpeg or a .pdf, send it to your e-mail application, print it or OCR (optical character recognition) it. It takes up very little space on my desk and I keep it within arm’s reach. Oh, and the best part is that many models come with a full version of Adobe Acrobat, which makes it well worth the sticker price. Lifespan: 6+ years.
2. Label Printer: Dymo LabelWriter 450 Twin Turbo ($80-100*)
I don’t even want to think of how much of my life has been wasted struggling with sheet labels, aligning templates and running the same sheet through the printer multiple times, only to have it jam. I recommend the Twin Turbo because you can load one side with address labels and the other side with postage labels, so you can print your very own stamps. (More on that later.) Online merchants hold sales of this printer pretty frequently, so keep an eye out for it. The rolls of proprietary labels aren’t cheap, but they’re worth it considering how much wasted postage you’d use estimating overweight envelopes or standing in line at the post office. Lifespan: 10+ years
3. Certified Letter Software
I went with Walz’s CertifiedPro.net to send certified letters because they supply post office-approved forms pre-printed with your firm name. You can send these forms through your printer and create your own certified mailings right from the comfort of your home office. Pair this account with a Stamps.com account so you can print certified postage right onto your envelopes.
4. Law Practice Management Software (LPM)
I prefer cloud-based applications because you can access them from any device, and they are typically a lot less expensive than software you’d install directly onto your hard drive. Plus, you don’t have to VPN into a desktop to access the native software, which is often more trouble than it’s worth. Discussing the pros and cons of the different LPM software offerings can justify an entire article, so I’ll leave it at that.
5. Data Storage
File storage probably provides the biggest source of heartburn for traditional practitioners. Many lawyers still have paper files, which gives me an immediate ulcer. Many more lawyers have migrated to digital files, but maintain them on a server that stays physically in the office and creates the VPN issue mentioned above. I have always used, and highly recommend, cloud-based data storage. I use a variety of offerings for different reasons, as follows:
- Dropbox for non-sensitive files, such as our internal forms bank, law firm administrative information, financials, licensing, marketing materials, etc.
- Box for client files, because Dropbox has experienced a data breach and Box has a higher security protocol. We maintain Dropbox rather than migrating all our files to Box to accommodate our clients who are more comfortable with Dropbox.
- Google Drive for collaborative files. I upload a document to Google Drive, share it with the client only, and we are able to track our changes in real time on one document. It’s far more efficient and far less frustrating than exchanging different versions of one Word document.
Virtual Meetings: Tech and Tips
Ah, the exhausting meme-worthy virtual meeting. “Who just joined?” “You’re on mute.” “Where’s your video?” “Your audio is garbled.” Whether you are partial to Zoom, Google Meet, Skype or Webex, these days we are often attending meetings from home in our jammies.
How do you dress up your “studio” to make a halfway-decent impression on video? First, take note of your background. I had fully intended to conduct my video calls from my home office until I realized I had corporate books from a dozen or so clients on my bookshelf. So, to the dining room table I went. Unfortunately, the ergonomically-correct positioning of your laptop on a table makes for a horrifying accidentally-opening-front-facing-phone-camera double-chin situation, so you may find it helpful to elevate your computer a good six inches so that the camera is slightly higher than eye level. I’ve used any number of empty Amazon boxes to raise up my laptop (proving that quarantine-induced online shopping is a serious thing). Lighting is also an issue, so I ordered a tripod with a light from Amazon. (Okay, it’s called a “selfie ring light” but I promise I only use it for Zoom calls.)
Most laptops come with built-in cameras and microphones, but if you need to buy any additional equipment, Amazon is your friend. I like keeping my home office desktop camera-free so that I am certain that no accidental video will be taken of me wearing a pore-reducing face mask.
The biggest impediment to successful video meetings is a slow internet connection. Garbled audio, video that cuts out and delays in transmission can all provide a steady source of frustration not only for you but for your fellow attendees. If you plan to embrace the virtual workspace and conduct more calls via video, make sure to upgrade your internet speed.
Fully embracing a virtual workspace requires a resetting of traditional approaches to the practice of law. Being able to work from anywhere provides a sense of freedom and control not often found in our profession, which I highly recommend.
Gina Bongiovi is Managing Partner of Bongiovi Law Firm, a boutique firm that provides on-demand outside counsel services to businesses of all sizes and licensed attorney support to overloaded in-house legal departments.