January 23, 2012

Working remotely with my semi-virtual immigration law firm

I have a semi-virtual immigration law firm. What is that? you might ask. Well, in my definition semi-virtual is not completely virtual because we have an brick and mortar office space clients can come and see and my assistant works out of. I work from my home office in Dubai remotely through my Houston office.

I went back to Houston for a week and a half in December to visit clients, have in-person consultations, and check with attorney friends and my assistant.

Here are some thoughts about my work-life balance having been in the office for a bit after having worked remotely for 6 months from my home-office in Dubai:

Downsides to working in a physical office:
1. You have to commute there, traffic, time, gas, tolls, wear and tear on car, time spent where you could use it elsewhere, like working or being with your family.
2. You have to park or pay for parking or pay for clients' parking
3. Almost everyone is late because they get lost or like one client, he showed up 4 hours early and that was difficult because he was waiting in his car. Poor guy had the wrong time of the appointment.
4. You have to get all dressed up and put on makeup. :) Well I realize that with my post-natal body shrinking over time, I haven't invested in proper dress clothes as I wait for the right size of my body to come along.
5. You waste time, driving, getting ready, waiting, giving directions, etc. Maybe this is #1 again but it is true.
6. Had to take the extra time to have my son watched by a friend or if I was living in Houston, he'd be in daycare.

1. I think the main positive is that for some people, they want to see the attorney in person and this helps them build trust. I think a lot of this can be developed in a video Skype consultation and reviewing my website and reviews but this helped some people sign up for a consultation.

In Dubai, with phone or Skype consultations, we are efficient. The client signs up online or via phone, they pay online, and they can be talking to me during their lunch break or in their pajamas on Sunday morning. I only talk with them if they schedule the consultation and pay in advance. There is no getting lost or stuck in traffic or having to find parking. I have childcare at my home so I can walk away from my son and work for a block of time. I really only have to look nice from the waist up if I do video consultations.

If I need to review a documents, the person can scan/email or fax the documents in advance so I can review in the consultation. One person in Houston, brought a thumb drive to the consultation and I had to print the document.

To figure out how I would like an attorney like me (virtual), I hired a Texas estate planning attorney who lives in North Carolina to do my wills. I have never met her in person, like several of my clients, but we communicated via Skype, phone, and her virtual law office portal online. We got the job done.

I think what my firm is doing, being paper-less as possible and leveraging technology to the maximum, is the wave of the future. We cut out a lot of waste of time and get to the pure and raw exchange of information with the least amount of distraction and waste. I have a physical office that files are kept at and clients can stop by and drop off documents but most work is done remotely with Dropbox, Skype, email, phone, scanning, electronic fax, and Voip.

Honestly, when I go back to Houston, I plan to keep this model for most of the week so that I can be more efficient with my time and help cuts costs for my clients.


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