A Colorado Lawyer’s Tribute To Virtual Law Practicejustie
Yes, I’m Talking About Working From Home!
Law practice has changed. A lot. In the coming months, I’ll be talking more about the shifts in how today’s lawyers are serving clients, but in honor of National Work From Home Week, let’s first explore remote working (a.k.a. the “virtual law practice”).
First of all, let’s be honest: every week is National Work From Home Week for me. I maintain an office in Fort Collins to serve my Northern Colorado and Colorado State University clients, but many of my days are spent working from my home office. And I get so much done in my home office. I’ve covered every surface with things that make me happy: from pictures of my son, to fake succulents, to rose gold accents, and real plants. Wow, working from home sounds awesome, doesn’t it? Think you can do it, too? Let this Colorado lawyer lend you some insight into what it takes to successfully work from home and start your own virtual law practice.
You Can’t Take the “Home” Out of the “Working from Home”
Working from home is awesome … right up until the cat throws up on your computer. And your neighbor, who you can only assume is building a time machine, starts firing up all sorts of power tools and noisy machinery across the street.
There are certain wildcards in and around your house that you just can’t anticipate, but it’s good to think about every eventuality at an early stage in the transition.
A major consideration is whether you want to see clients at home. If cat hairballs are a real concern or the partition between your office window and your neighbor’s drum room is only two feet wide, it might be wise to find outside meeting space. If you feel comfortable bringing clients to your home office, get appropriate insurance. And think carefully about security and whether having clients in your house will create privacy and security issues. It’s understandable that you might not want everyone having your address. If you take meetings outside of the home office, set up a USPS or UPS Store box for mail since even a virtual law practice still gets plenty of snail mail.
It’s Not All Pajamas & Lounging on the Couch
Theoretically, working from home should be work! And there’s more to staying focused than just making yourself sit at your desk and work. Going through the motions of getting ready for work and the rituals that you participate in at the office can be an important part of making the remote office experience productive. My virtual law practice runs on caffeine just as much as comfy slippers. My morning joe really gets me going!
Here are some tips that may seem obvious but, as any remote worker knows, take some practice from time to time:
- Get Dressed: Wear pants, or shirts, or both even! It may surprise you office workers, but when working from home, it can be really easy to get your day started in pajamas and next thing you know it’s 4 p.m. Getting dressed (properly dressed) can you help feel more productive. Plus, clothes are kind of a good thing if you have clients coming to your house.
- Eat lunch and take breaks: Sounds easy, right? But it often isn’t. Time can stand still when you’re working from home, and if you don’t make (and take) time to eat, walk around, and refocus your attention on other things periodically, you’re going to burn out. And then productivity dives.
- Structure your day: Don’t just sit at your desk and work straight through the day. I know, you’re thinking “How could that be possible?” Trips to the office kitchen, walking into your colleague’s office to chat, walking down the street to coffee — there are so many ways at the office to prevent yourself from working a full day. But there are fewer of those at home, and you won’t realize it until you’ve slashed your To Do list and it’s still early in the morning.
- Avoid time sucks: Social media, I’m lookin’ at you. With no boss or colleagues looking over your shoulder, it’s easy to spend all day checking your Twitter feed, posting your food selections on Facebook, or catching up on the latest episode of Law & Order. If that is what you do for work: awesome, please hire me! If that isn’t what you do for work, these distractions are only going to keep you working longer. Save the distractions for breaks. If necessary, time those breaks (more on that in the next paragraph).
- Block your time & utilize other productivity tips: Keeping away from distractions so that you can focus on work requires a thoughtful and deliberate approach to segmenting your day. Simply thinking “No” often doesn’t work. Try putting blocks on your calendar so that you know what you need to be working on and when. This will also help you remember what you do not need to be doing and when you shouldn’t be doing it. Applications can help you time block, and there are even extensions for your browser that will block, redirect, or time-out social media (or whatever page you need to limit). Momentum is a great one, in my opinion, and it’s free.
- Utilize the “Send Later” button: It’s inevitable when you’re working from home that you’ll be working at odd hours. But your clients don’t need to know that. They don’t need to receive emails from you at midnight, and you don’t need them to respond to your emails at midnight. Trust me. If you need some help with this, I recommend Boomerang, but I use gmail rather than a fancy law firm server (helloooo, FREE?!).
- It matters where (in your house) you work: Just because you can work from the couch doesn’t mean you should work from the couch. (Just remember how terrible your back feels after falling asleep watching CSI the other night.) Pay attention to the ergonomics of your office space, just like your office manager would if you worked in the office. Take advantage of a good office chair, a steady height for your desk, and add some personal touches that make it fun.
- Music: I’ve learned that while I can work with Netflix on, I shouldn’t do complex tasks with programs playing. Music on the other hand … Music boosts my creativity. And sometimes I don’t want words, just instrumental. But it’s all about you. Know yourself and if you find your funk: get up and dance!
- Enjoy the pets: Who doesn’t love having an #officedog?!
#10: Your Home & Office Are Not the Same
The last, and perhaps more important piece of advice, is to remember to turn it off. Setting boundaries is crucial for the remote worker and virtual law practice is no different. When your office is in your home, it’s easy to get the two confused at times. It’s easy to switch quickly between being at work and being at home. And very rarely does this serve either your home life or your work life. Hell, I’m posting this at 9 p.m. on Sunday… ugh. Fail! (But, also, one fail doesn’t ruin the whole weekend).
Additional Resources on Virtual Law Practice
Whether you’re just starting a virtual law practice or looking to boost productivity, here are some resources that might help:
- FindLaw, Casey C. Sullivan, Tips for Making Your Home Office Your Law Office (April7, 2017)
- HubSpot, Work From Home: 20 Tips From People Who Do It Successfully
- FindLaw, Andrew Lu, How to Stay Sane in Your Home Office (Sept. 5, 2012)
AND, don’t forget to find your tribe. Whatever you do, there are those of us out there who are in the same boat. Social media is great to connect, but feel free to reach out any time for direct advice at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re so inclined. And be sure to check back regularly for our next tips from our NLO Practice Management Series of blog posts over at www.nicollawoffices.com/blog (or just hit the back button!).